Review: The Mark of the Witch by Maggie Shayne
Published September 2012 by Harlequin
Received review copy from the publisher
The Mark of the Witch is a delightful soft paranormal romance. Unlike many books in the genre, Mark features two human protagonists in a recognisable contemporary world with just the perfect amount of magic sprinkled in.
Indira is having strange dreams of a former life. Though she is a lapsed Wiccan, she turns to a witch friend to make sense of what is happening to her. Father Tomas, on the other hand, has been trained his entire life to stop a witch from summoning a demon – but whatever he was expecting that witch to be, it wasn’t someone like Indira.
The central conflict in The Mark of the Witch is that Indira has no idea what is happening to her, while Tomas has more information about the situation and is charged to stop her. Perhaps even to kill her, if all else fails. While this premise could have been pretty horrifying (I’m honestly kind of tired of people falling in love with their murderer-to-be), both Indira and Tomas are down-to-earth, grounded people. The threat of violence never materialises, and though there is plenty of conflict to be navigated, they’re pretty great together from the get-go.
Since this is a (paranormal) romance, the plot is a vehicle to develop the relationship of the hero and heroine. There was a good balance between plot and character development, keeping up the suspense through blurred loyalties and slow reveals of Indira’s past life. Though mythology doesn’t feature heavily in the book, it does provide a sensitive and positive portrayal of pagan religion. I especially liked that faith is never an issue in the book – even though Indy is a (former) witch and Tomas is Christian, they fully respect and appreciate each other’s views. Even reading this as an atheist with a low tolerance for strong religious overtones in fiction, The Mark of the Witch never gets preachy.
I don’t often read romance, and while reading The Mark of the Witch I realised why. Especially within the paranormal subgenre, the alpha male is the stereotype. Stern, overbearing, macho – the muscular alpha male will grunt and brawl his way into the heart of the heroine, usually by physically threatening anything in her vicinity. The Mark of the Witch features the complete opposite: Father Tomas is a gentle, steadfast man. He wants to help Indira, not intimidate her. He is supportive, sweet, and though he is conflicted about the whole she-might-summon-a-demon thing, he never lashes out in anger or fear. There is an element of forbidden romance which was resolved neatly, and though the ending of the book was rather abrupt, the characters development was satisfactory. The book deserves some final extra brownie points for featuring a female friendship that passes the Bechdel test.
Trigger warnings (highlight to show): the heroine is mutilated by a spirit in her dreams – the bloody markings on her body can be a trigger for self-harm. Mild violence. Heroine in a past life has committed suicide so her partner didn’t have to kill her.
She was born to save what he is sworn to destroy. A lapsed Wiccan, Indira Simon doesn’t believe in magic anymore. But when strange dreams of being sacrificed to an ancient Babylonian god have her waking up with real rope burns on her wrists, she’s forced to acknowledge that she may have been too hasty in her rejection of the unknown. Then she meets mysterious and handsome Father Thomas. Emerging from the secrecy of an obscure Gnostic sect, he arrives with stories of a demon, a trio of warrior witches and Indira’s sacred calling. Yet there’s something even Tomas doesn’t know, an inescapable truth that will force him to choose between saving the life of the woman he’s come to love and saving the world
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