I am a huge fan of Amber Argyle. She is one of the very few authors who delivers great stories with memorable and absolutely amazing characters back to back. When I heard that she was writing prequels, I had doubts and for the longest time, even thought of skipping them. I would have been an idiot for doing that because, like her previous books, Witch Fall was brilliant.
Witch Fall is the story of Lilette, a Keeper who came long before Brusenna (the protagonist of Witch Song and Witch Born.) Her story continues from the novella where we first met her and can be summed up as, “out from the frying pan, into the fire”. Lilette’s refuge is shattered when she is captured by the prince, Chen and forced to go the ruling city of Harshen, Rinnish. She goes from being Chen’s concubine to his betrothed and finally his wife in a span of just a few days. She has no allies and no one to turn to. She bides her time and resolves to escape to her own people, the Keepers, witches with the power of Song.
At 303 pages, it is a short novel without a single dull moment. There are no long lapses of time with nothing happening. The pace is fast and yet never at the expense of the story, you never feel as if you’re rushing through it. The narrative is also very visual without long paragraphs spent in descriptions. Another thing I like about Amber Argyle is her writing. Her books are genuinely well written and suck you in completely. I hated putting it down for even a minute and at the same time tried, hopelessly, to make the book last as long as possible. It was riveting and engrossing. I also liked the way every new chapter started, like a very brief introduction. It was a smart thing to do, almost like introducing two characters at once. The only thing that I had a problem with, was that in some places there was no reference as to how much time had passed. I had the same problem with Witch Rising and even the end of Winter Queen, where it was unclear whether a day, a week or a month had passed or if any time had passed at all. This confused me somewhat.
Like her other books, Witch Fall also features romance and while it is integral to the story and the protagonist, it never overshadowed or distracted from the central plot, that of the witches, their society and its impact on the rest of the world. The romance was natural and believable and more intense because it was subtle and underplayed. It took its time to grow and cement the bond between these two people who had both lost so much. I prefer such love stories as opposed to the ones where the two leads fall in love immediately.
Argyle’s books also feature truly interesting characters who have depth and dimensions, with plenty of grey characters. You will not find one-dimensional cut-outs here. The worst kind of evil is that which thinks it is noble and these are precisely the kind of villains I find most despicable. They are blinded by their own ‘righteousness’ and honestly believe they are doing the right thing (whatever that might be.) There were characters that I hated who I came to like and love as the story progressed and others, I liked in the beginning that turned out to be revolting.
Lilette is the protagonist of this story. She is someone who has had a very tough life: she saw her parents die pretty much in front of her and that has a very lasting effect on her. In books, we often meet heroines who are only too happy to go into battle almost as if they have to prove to the male characters that they are not inferior to them, these decisions are also wrought with much drama as everyone involved knows how futile it is, and these heroines decide to proceed regardless of the consequences. What was different about Lilette was that she had to learn how to retreat. She often had to go against people far stronger than her, with more resources at their disposal, people she had no chance of winning against. And she wanted to live; she did not spend the book constantly putting her life in danger. This is also rare, most heroines love playing the martyr. She was also decisive, and once she did decide something, she did not waste her time second-guessing herself (also, she usually just did not have time to second-guess herself). Yes, she had the other traits that a typical heroine is supposed to have, for instance, she was kind, brave and generous but there are plenty of things that differentiate her from the usual mold and I found myself genuinely rooting for her.
Amber Argyle also writes great male characters who are not saddled with insecurities and ego hassles. They complement the female protagonists perfectly and treat them with respect and trust them to make sound choices. Han is the love-interest in the story and one of the characters I hated initially. What made him even more annoying is that he struck me as someone who knew that what was being done was wrong but he went ahead anyway. But, just like Lilette, he too grows through the course of the book. And no, he did not suddenly go from being a brute to a lovelorn hero who was misunderstood this whole time. His transformation was gradual and he became a source of strength and support for Lilette in a way nobody else could. He was someone Lilette could trust implicitly because there were no hidden agendas where he was concerned. He was honest and blunt and did not waste time in doublespeak. I liked that he let her make her own decisions and respected her enough to let her choose for herself. He was a very solid character, steadfast. This line from the book describes him perfectly:
“Lilette was like a star—full of light and distant beauty. Han was like the shadows around the stars—he let her shine”.
Jolin was also one of the important characters. She becomes Lilette’s friend and their friendship is also an important aspect of the story. You get to see their relationship evolve and change as they grow into their own selves. She was ambitious but not heartless and ruthless. Like most of us, she wanted to create a name for herself and be free of the burden that comes with having very accomplished parents. It was also nice to see how another character perceived Lilette. It was a pleasant contrast to what Lilette thought of those around her.
There were a bunch of other characters, some friends (Pan, Salfe, Jolin) and some enemies (Chen, Bian) but pretty much every character, however peripheral, made an impact and was memorable. This was one of those rare books where almost every character did something less than decent but this only made them more relatable and realistic. People are rarely all good or all bad and Argyle’s characters reflect that.
Reading Witch Rising and Witch Fall make me want to re-read Witch Song and Witch Born because now I am curious about how Lilette and the islands of Harshen was portrayed. Sadly, I seem to have forgotten quite a bit.
Witch Song was already a great series and Witch Fall is a fitting addition to it. I am glad that we got this insight into the Keepers’ history and the events led to what we saw in the other two books. At its core, it is a wonderful story with excellent world building and incredible characters you want to root for. What more could you ask for!