Friday, November 15, 2013

WOGF Review: Witch World

Andre Norton
Completed 10/8/2013, Reviewed 10/8/2013
3 stars

My mother-in-law is a huge Andre Norton fan.  She’s living with us now, and because of our tight living quarters, a lot of her and our stuff is in storage.  So when I told her I thought I’d read “Witch World” for my WOGF challenge, we took a trip to our storage unit, opened about six boxes of books until she found it, as well as the next three books in the series. 

“Witch World” is iconic fantasy with some SF mystery thrown in.  It’s about a man, Simon Tregarth, from the post-WWII present who’s offered a chance to be transported from a dangerously difficult situation to a world that is more suited to who he really is.  Taking the offer, he is whisked away to the Witch World.  There he immediately rescues a damsel in distress, who turns out to be a witch, is welcomed into her culture, learns their language, and joins their forces to fight a growing menace in the west.  There are hawkers who can communicate with their raptors, shape-shifting, an evil zombie army, and a strange hi-tech invading force behind the evil.

Sounds kind of standard fantasy, no?  Well, yes and no.  This book was published in 1963.  In fact, the copy I have from my mother-in-law has no reprinting listed, the cover is tattered, and the pages are deep sepia.  The significance of this is that it comes from very early in genre literature.   While it seems like standard fantasy now, it wasn’t quite so standard fifty years ago.  And throwing a little SF into the mix is, I think, that much more surprising for this period.

When I began reading this book, I had a hard time following it.  I partly blame the tiny font size in this ancient paperback.  Besides the density of the text, writing style is quite dense.  I often found myself getting tired and losing focus.  After finishing, I decided I needed a second read before I could review it. 

Upon my second read, it fell into place.  The prose is gorgeous.  For some reason, while reading, I could imagine Norton pounding this out on her typewriter in a stereotypical black and white movie about a writer.  I have to remember that this book is from the era of pulp SF and initial publication in magazines.  I think if she were writing today, this initial story would have been quite a bit longer. 

I liked Simon.  I wish I could have gotten more into his head.  His integration into his new environs was a little too straight forward.  I wanted to experience his growth into his new life in this magical place.  I also really liked the setting, a fantasy in a middle ages-like place with a touch of modern technology and a sprinkling of SF.

As much as I liked many of the parts of this book, as a whole it left me a little “meh.”  It felt like something was missing, that the parts were greater than the whole.  My sense is that it’s because this comes from the Amazing Stories era, and was conceived with an episodic, long-term sensibility.  I also realize that Norton’s work is considered juvenile fiction.  I give this book three stars just because it feels like something is missing.  But I’m really intrigued by the rest of the series and would love to see how all the mysteries begun in this book eventually play out.  I would just like to spend more time in Simon’s head.

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