“Witchbreaker” is the third book in James Maxey’s “Dragon Apocalypse” series, following “Greatshadow” and “Hush.” However, if not for the appearance of several previously introduced characters and the continuation of the Church of the Book’s conflict with the primal dragons, you’d be hard-pressed to realize this is the same series.
This review will contain some mild spoilers for the first two books.
I don’t know how to feel about “Witchbreaker,” honestly. Under normal circumstances, I’d praise it as an above average, if not stellar, fantasy novel. But the massive changes in the story following “Hush” are jarring, and I feel something special about this series has been lost.
But let me back up a bit. I should explain what’s so different about “Witchbreaker.”
The first two books in “The Dragon Apocalypse” were pretty clearly a love story. Sure, there was lots of action, humour, and general craziness, but ultimately, it was the story of Infidel, the superhuman pirate, and Stagger, the ghost of a witty old drunk who’d loved her in life.
It was an incredibly unique tale, and very touching in a bittersweet way. Furthermore, Stagger’s wry voice made the books come alive much more than the standard third person perspective would have.
But “Witchbreaker” takes an entirely different direction. Infidel doesn’t appear in this book at all, and Stagger has only a brief — if awesome — cameo near the end. The story shifts to a standard, and fairly dry, third person perspective.
The story now focuses on an heretofore secondary cast member: Sorrow Stern, a woman every bit as cheerful and charming as she sounds.
Sorrow is a witch, a sorceress who has gained power over the material world by hammering nails into her own brain. Recently, she has fused her soul with Rott, the primal dragon of decay and entropy, gaining god-like powers of destruction at the cost of her humanity.
Sorrow hopes to use her newfound powers to fulfill her lifelong mission of destroying the Church of the Book, but of course, it’s never that simple.
Each time she uses Rott’s power, she draws closer to being consumed by the dragon’s essence, and even with her immense power, she is still only one woman, and she will need allies to free the world from the Church. To this end, she seeks to learn more about the ancient witches whose footsteps she follows in.
Along the way, she uncovers an amnesiac warrior in a glass coffin. The man bears a striking resemblance to Lord Stark Tower, the legendary Witchbreaker who all but rid the world of witches. But Tower has been dead for centuries. Surely this man cannot be him…
Other characters include the Romers, a super-powered family of seafarers introduced in “Hush”; Brand, a former circus performer and associate of the Romers; and Bigsby, Brand’s diminutive transvestite brother.
Maxey hasn’t lost his touch when it comes to inventive casts.
If it feels like I’ve just given away the whole book, I’ve actually barely covered the opening chapters. This is an incredibly eventful book, and I honestly don’t know how Maxey crammed so much into just four hundred pages.
One thing that hasn’t been lost from the previous books is the breakneck pacing and thrilling action. This is a book without a single dull moment.
Also preserved from the first two books is the incredibly inventive world-building. This is most definitely not your standard high fantasy, and even the more cliche aspects are given fresh spins and fun twists, or else made intentionally cliche as a tongue-in-cheek parody.
This was a very fun book, and I enjoyed reading it a lot, but I can’t help but feel something was lost in translation between “Hush” and “Witchbreaker.”
I blame Sorrow for much of this feeling. Now, Sorrow is a very interesting character, and I enjoy reading about her, but she is not at all a good choice for a viewpoint character.
Sorrow is very cold, almost to the point of inhumanity, and that makes it very difficult to get emotionally engaged in “Witchbreaker” — a sharp contrast with how much the first two books would grab you right in the feels.
Sorrow’s joyless nature also robs the book of much of its humour, whereas the first two books were hilariously funny.
Given the choice, I would much rather have a read a book from the perspective of, say, Menagerie or Gale Romer.
Still, I have high hopes for the rest of this series. If the viewpoint character has changed once, it could change again, and there are a lot of fascinating characters whose tales are yet to be told.
It’s also clear we’ve barely scratched the surface of this world, its cultures, and its primal dragons. I see vast potential for future stories in “The Dragon Apocalypse.”
Overall rating: 7.9/10 A fairly big disappointment compared to the first two books of the series, but a high quality novel all the same.