The Witch Hunter is probably one of this summer’s more buzzworthy Young Adult titles, if the amount of coverage I’ve seen for it is any indication. Most of my friends who have read it also enjoyed it, while others were not so keen. If nothing else though, the book did succeed in getting my attention, and I was grateful to receive the audiobook for review, which is actually my preferred format when it comes to reading YA.
The story starts off by introducing us to its protagonist, Elizabeth Grey. She’s sixteen years old and already an accomplished witch hunter, part of the king’s elite group of agents trained to track down and capture sorcerers. But when a nighttime rendezvous goes awry, Elizabeth is accused of being a witch herself and is taken to the dungeons to await burning at the stake.
On the eve of her execution, a strange man pays a visit to her cell. Believing her to be a witch, he helps break her out of prison. As it turns out, her mysterious rescuer is none other than Nicholas Perevil, the most powerful sorcerer in the kingdom as well as leader of a group of young rebel witches and wizards who are unhappy with being persecuted by the king’s laws. By helping her escape though, Nicholas has also turned Elizabeth into public enemy number one, forcing her to accept his terms or be left on her own to deal with the authorities. Reluctantly, Elizabeth agrees to help Nicholas break a deadly curse that has been laid upon him, and the group also takes her in as one of their own.
But of course, Elizabeth knows that it’s all a lie. Not only is she not a witch, she is one of the hunters whom they hate and fear, and there is no telling what Nicholas and his group might do when they find out the truth about her.
Now that I’ve finished the book, I feel I can better understand the different reactions I saw across the board. My own feeling lie somewhere in between. The Witch Hunter is a story peppered with tropes and familiar clichés, making it a very typical middle-of-the-road YA fantasy. As a protagonist, Elizabeth was not exceptional, nor did she really strike me as particularly sharp. Are you really telling me, that in all the years of witnessing countless examples of her mentor using magic as a tool in their witch hunter training sessions, Elizabeth never once suspected he was a magician? The logic is not strong with this one. It was also one of the bigger plot holes I tripped upon. The story itself is rather simplistic too, with the obvious message of “magic itself not being inherently evil, it just depends on how you use it” being presented as the crux of the conflict. Not exactly profound.
For all its flaws though, The Witch Hunter also has plenty of redeeming factors. The novel’s strength is in its light and adventurous tone, which had me chuckling at a couple places in response to some clever lines of dialogue. I especially loved the conversations between Elizabeth and Fifer, the only other female in their group. When Fifer’s character was introduced, I despaired thinking she would be yet another typical “girl rival” whose only purpose in the story is to make the heroine look good. Suffice to say, I was glad to be wrong. I also enjoyed the lack of a full-blown love triangle, and I felt the romance arc was stronger for it.
Most of the time I also prefer to listen to YA novels in audiobook format. I’m less likely to get hung up on world-building (or the lack of it) when I’m experiencing a book in this format, and characters feel richer to me when a narrator gives them a voice. This isn’t the first time I’ve listened to an audiobook narrated by Nicola Barber; in fact it was just a few weeks ago that I listened to her on another title so her performance was still fresh on my mind. I find myself very impressed with her versatility. For The Witch Hunter, Barber sounded younger, giving the protagonist the bubbly, energetic personality which her character called for, and her deftly delivered curses of “Damnation!” made me think, yep, that’s Elizabeth right there.
Simply put, this book was a lot of fun. I may have called the story simple, but that in itself is not necessarily a weakness. In fact, if you enjoy tightly woven plots and are tired of the ostentation and gimmicky shticks cropping up all over the genre these days, this one might very well work for you. It’s mainstream and not looking to break new ground, but it definitely knows what it has to offer....more