I'm a big fan of Tim Marquitz's The Blood War Trilogy, a grimdark fantasy series following an alliance of loosely-allied nations against a genocidal army of magic-wielding wolfmen. I also loved his grimdark apocalypse novel, Dirge, which followed a master thief charged with stealing a mystical artifact during a zombie apocalypse. So, I was interested in what his latest fantasy novel would be like and whether it would live up to the example set by previous volumes.
So, does it?
Witch Bane follows the adventures of Sebastian and his father Darius. Sebastian is one of the few warlocks left in the world after the Witches' Council discovered they could achieve immortality by bathing in the blood of their male associates. Now one of a hated minority, Sebastian has been trained by his father to seek out and kill the Witches Council to avenge both his mother as well as liberate the land from their tyranny. Along the way, he'll encounter the resistance against the witches as well as an old enemy of his father who may or may not now be an ally.
The plot of an evil empire and the plucky rebels against it could have been cliche, especially given Sebastian's status as one of the last warlocks in the world, but Tim Marquitz manages to make it interesting by portraying the resistance as arguably no better than the empire. By making Sebastian and Darius outsiders to the struggle against the Witches' Council, we get a slightly more nuanced story. There's also the fact Victor and his lover Emerald are people who could very well be the heroes of their own story but who Darius hates for their pasts together.
At the end of the day, Witch Bane is still mostly a straightforward story of good versus evil. The Witches are horrifically bad, murdering their own male children for immortality, and Sebastian is a noble good-hearted soul who is only vaguely tempted by the resistance offering him hot and cold running hookers among other offers. There's even a case where Sebastian is required to make a moral choice of immense difficulty where he chooses to do the "right" thing where many of us would choose the opposite.
As a big fan of moral ambiguity in fantasy, this was kind of off-putting and I would have appreciated the protagonists having more in the way of flaws. Luke Skywalker, at least, was immature and hot-headed during the majority of the trilogy. Sebastian manages to get over that flaw in the opening chapters.
Despite this, I give props to Tim Marquitz for doing something very few authors have the courage to do and that's write a "one and done" story. By the end of Witch Bane, Sebastian's story is over and the majority of the plot threads are resolved. There's a hook at the end for a possible future story but I'm confident in saying that it may well just be viewed as indicating the universe will continue on, with or without Sebastian.
Tim Marquitz is a master of fantasy action as always with the book possessing many wonderful fight scenes that use a combination of both magic as well as sword techniques. These are some of the most entertaining parts of the book and show rather tell why Sebastian is a threat to the witches' dominion.
In conclusion, this is a fun epic fantasy novel but not a terribly deep one. Still, Tim Marquitz at his mid-level is better than most writers at their best. The plot is classic, the action fun, and the moral conundrums enjoyable even if everything is a bit too familiar for my tastes.