The Black Witch by Micheal Rivers

REVIEWER’S NOTE, Jan. 24, 2012: Just learned that the typos referenced in this review were an inadvertant error of the publishing process which is currently being corrected. THANKS! Gary

Let me begin by saying that writing a novel is a terrific achievement, and one that I have yet to make. My hat is off to anyone who can complete a novel.

That said, here is my honest opinion of Micheal Rivers’ The Black Witch, a supernatural-horror story which I finished reading yesterday afternoon.

Characters: The Black Witch features a strong, colorful cast of characters. Micheal defines his characters’ traits through a good combination of description, action and dialogue. Their actions and dialogue stay true to their traits — mostly.

Sometimes they seem a bit over the top. For example, the protagonist, William, sees his gruff old father passed out in a chair, with a half-emptied bottle of rum nearbye. William fears the old man might be dead, so he touches his father’s chest to feel for a heartbeat.

The next thing William knows, he’s stretched out on the deck with two teeth knocked out. The old man stands over him cursing, and says if he’d had his cutlass, he would’ve killed his son. William, by the way, is a grown man.

So I struggled with that in several ways. It seems an unrealistic over-reaction to me, but if that’s how the characters act, then that’s how they act, and I did accept.

But how an old man, half drunk, can go from eyes-closed in a chair, to knocking down his grown son with a blow so hard that it takes out two teeth is harder to accept. Of course I don’t mind suspending disbelief, or I wouldn’t read paranormal fiction to begin with. But it’s the writer’s job to help you suspend disbelief by keeping things real.

This is a nautical tale, as well as a paranormal one. Micheal’s old-timey sea dogs definitely talk the talk and walk the walk. Even in the above example, I have to admit I enjoyed the old man’s piratical rant:

“Blast your eyes mate, if I had me old cutlass you would be fodder for the fish by now! State your business or be on your way.”

Earlier in the book, the old man refers to a tugboat captain whose performance is not meeting expectation as a “Sheep head.” Love it.

The characters could’ve used a little more physical description than they got. Pet peeve of mine. The character triangle — action, dialogue and physical description — all are needed to bring characters fully to life.

Micheal created strong characters nevertheless, thanks to the intensity of their actions and dialogue.

Plot: In 1935, the new owners, their guests and the crew of a refitted three-masted schooner with an ominous history, the “Black Witch,” set sail on a pleasure cruise. They soon discover the ship is possessed by a terrible demonic force. They experience horrors so ungodly that even an encounter with Nazis seems like a refreshing break.

Settings: Most of the story takes place at sea, on board the Black Witch. Some action, mostly in the beginning, occurs in what sounds like coastal North Carolina, near or in Ocracoke. The story also visits Ascension Island in the South Atlantic.

Micheal’s descriptions of sea- and beachscapes work well. Though having grown up around Virginia Beach, Sandbridge and the strangely named Pungo, Va., I would’ve loved to have had more — especially since, after years at sea in the Navy aboard aircraft carriers, I’m now located in landlocked Kansas!

What I thought could’ve been done better: Micheal’s book lacks — sorely — attention to grammar and syntax. Many times I felt I was reading a first draft.

“The men from the village past through the thick brush of the island like ghost in the night.”

Should be: “The men from the village passed through the thick brush of the island like ghosts in the night.” Isolated occurrences are forgivable. The Black Witch features, at a minimum, several in every chapter.

The problem is that these errors jar readers out of the spell the writer tries so painstakingly to cast. It’s a credit to Micheal’s powers of storytelling that even this poor grammatical performance doesn’t completely sink The Black Witch.

But it doesn’t help her keep an even keel, either.

Chris James, in his fiction writer blog, does a great job detailing why attention to grammar and syntax are so important to quality fiction — much better than I could do here.

Micheal’s genuinely scary story deserves this much, and so do its readers — especially PAYING readers.

What I thought was good: Micheal definitely knows the terminology of ships and the sea. That expertise, well-displayed, helps offset the grammar problems. He knows a kitchen from a galley, a cabin from a room, and a deck from a floor.

I also enjoyed, as I already mentioned, the salty lingo of the story’s veteran sailors.

Of course the real star is the supernatural horror Micheal unleashes on his unsuspecting characters. Obviously, I can’t detail too much of it here without spoiling. But I’ve often said it’s the writer’s job to make problems for his characters. Micheal does.

The story is in some ways reminiscent of Harlan Ellison’s horror/sf classic “I have no mouth and I must scream, and in other ways, Stephen King’s Christine.

Frankly, I love a good damnation story, and Micheal delivers.

Overall: So who writes a perfect story? On the 100-point scale, I have to give The Black Witch a 75. Fix the grammar and it’s a solid 90. If you’re not going to fix the grammar, Micheal, knock the price down to .99. In any case, I’m glad I read it, and I enjoyed the spooky stuff.

Next up:

Chasing Amanda by Melissa Foster

The Ophelia Trap by Kate Burns

Happy literary trails!



About honestindiebookreviews

Reader, writer, runner, dog dad
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