Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Review: The Witches of Jericho, by Sam Hammack

By Jessica Veter

Having fled the destruction of Jericho by the Horde, the witch Evelyn searches out her brother and discovers he has created a weapon which should never have been made. Attacked by evil witches, Evelyn’s brother is killed and Evelyn flings herself and the weapon into the forbidden Sea of Dreams. Ten years later, her daughter, Sophia, returns to the city of her birth, a dangerous impulse as witches are outlawed and actively hunted there.

The Witches of Jericho is the first book in the Edenwitch series, following Sophia as she attempts to discover the fate of her mother and her own true purpose.

What a treat to read an SP fantasy novel that actually pays careful attention to the details of scene. Here we have a writer who knows that a pretty map at the beginning is no substitute to actual written description. The reader is placed directly beside the characters as they move through this world, and for the first time in a long time, I did not feel like I was going along with blinders on. Hallelujah.

I also found myself intrigued by the bad guys in this story. Too often antagonists justify their antagonism by being, simply, bad. They are given little or no motivation and as such are shallow, cardboard cut-out figures. Interestingly, the ‘Dark One’ (I’ll vent about unimaginative names for bad guys some other time), while he does seem to be ‘bad because he’s bad’, adds this fascinating piece of information: he does not know his own motivation. He has been this way for so long that he no longer remembers his own reasons. This is extremely cool. I do hope it’s not dropped in books two and three. Also great fun are the bonded witches Regina and Claire. They hate one another and hate their bond, but their disparate methods of dealing with this, while clich├ęd, make them much more interesting characters than any of the good guys are.

At least, I think they are the good guys. Not having been given any reason why witches are being exterminated, I can’t be sure. The Horde sounds bad, but maybe they’re just misunderstood? You know, like coyotes are. Or teenagers.

The biggest barrier between me and this story, however, was the abysmal editing. (I don’t mean proofreading. The proofreading is immaculate. Sam Hammack needs to take his proof-reader to the nearest pub post haste and buy him two pints of best bitter.) Perhaps his proof-reader could suggest a good editor.  Someone who can reign in the author’s purple prose (like when describing the ‘sarcasm that coat[s] the entrails of her rosy voice’); suggest that while rodents might scamper, people generally do not; point out that ‘most everyone’ uses an adverb to modify an adjective; inform that the past tense of ‘drag’ is ‘dragged’, NOT ‘drug’, and explain that the use of modern idiomatic phrases (‘to jump someone’ as a euphemism for having sex) and modern vocabulary (‘condo’ [c.1962] and ‘barista’[c.1992], for example) are very jarring when the novel is set in a pre-modern world.

I am aware that the tens of dollars authors earn puts a real damper on hiring an editor, which is why SP authors need to be rigorous self-editors. Clauses such as: ‘men, women and children were drug into the waters and drowned out of their last remaining breaths’ should not make it into the published version of any text. At all. Ever.

Two stars. One for the tour, the other for the bad guys.

Sam Hammack lives in the Horde-free zone somewhere between the endless cow pastures of Kansas and the rolling green hills of Missouri. He spends most of his time with his wife and their beautiful baby daughter and the rest of his eccentric family, which of course includes Roxy the Rottweiler. He will never turn down a game of pool or Clue, but is very difficult to reach during baseball season. He has written many novellas, short stories, and some poetry, but this is his first published full length novel.  Check him out on Goodreads.

About the Reviewer - Jessica Veter is a novelist raised in rural Ontario. Having escaped to Toronto, she spent the 90’s over-educating herself at York University and then the University of Toronto. Once she accepted that there were never going to be any job listings in The Globe and Mail headed “Medievalist Wanted”, Jessica went to Japan. There, she met her husband and they lived in England before returning to Canada with a son and a greyhound.  Now in rural Flamborough, Jessica and her husband raise 3 boys, 6 chickens and are owned by 1 dog. You are welcome to visit her at www.jessicaveter.com.


  1. Oh dear. That sentence is lovely! What do you mean it shouldn't be there?! O_o
    lol - yea, I have read some doozies lately too...I struggle with rating against that type of thing vs the story. One book I read was spellchecked only. Everyone's heads were titled instead of tilted. Offputting, upsetting yet funny.
    great review!

  2. I understand what you're saying, but in my opinion editing and proofing are essential to the finished product. Also, it is a mark of professionalism. I might read one book which is poorly edited, but I will probably not pick up another book by that writer. Producing a book is a complete package: planning, writing, rewriting, rewriting, editing, rewriting, editing again, proofing, and so on.

    I once was asked to review a book which had not even been spellchecked. The author's reasoning was that if enough people bought it, then she would spend time cleaning it up. Unprofessional.

    I would argue that in order to be respected, SP authors (and I am one) need to go over and above what traditional publishers provide for their readership. Editing is an essential part of that.

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