Review – Bitter Night
  • Posted:
  • April 8, 2010


This is the first time I have read Diana Pharaoh Francis, as well as her first time writing Urban Fantasy. Seems appropriate that I come to her with something fresh, now doesn’t it?

Bitter Night has a bit of a complicated mythos to it. I’ll try to simplify. There are these powerful witches who maintain covensteads for their own protection. They build up armies of warrior guardians called Sunspears and Shadowblades. To keep them loyal and ensure that they do their duty the witches instill compulsion spells into the bodies of her warriors. The warriors must protect the witch at all cost. A side effect of the magic is that sunlight and moonlight can burn their skin.

Max is a Shadowblade to Giselle. A few decades prior Giselle and Max were roommates in college. One evening while drinking Giselle asked Max if she would like to live forever if she could continue to be young and healthy. Max agreed, not knowing what was at stake. Giselle changes Max into her personal Prime, the most powerful Shadowblade in her coven. Now Max is pissed off. She doesn’t respect Giselle for what she did (and does) to her and she flaunts her authority at every turn. The combination of torture and painful compulsion spells eat at Max’s sanity on a daily basis.

That is the long, and short, of the back-story. Now we come to the actual plot.

Giselle is at war with other covens. Many plot-driven factors reveal themselves as the book unfolds. There is a touch of romance that begins in the first few pages and is hinted at through the story. The problem is that Max is not her own person and, as such, does not have the freedom to conduct herself as normal people would. She must protect her witch no matter what…Even if what remains of her humanity is compromised.

Seems simple right? It’s not. I found myself out of the game for a large chunk of the reading. Too much of the book feels over written. The battles and the world building is long and very detailed. I wonder if she is setting up so much here so that she does not have to revisit it in subsequent books? I found myself fading in and out for those passages.

What I loved was Francis’ character building moments, that’s what redeemed the book for me. The bits where Max and co. are sitting around the tables eating (mass quantities of food) and chatting, even the torture scenes are enjoyable. It’s refreshing to see an author beat up her own creations instead of handling them with kid gloves. A warning though, the torture scenes are pretty damn gruesome.

Overall, a 4 out of 5. My curiosity is piqued for the sequel, Crimson Wind. I just hope it’s faster-paced.


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