Bitter Night by Diana Pharaoh Francis (Pocket Books, Oct. 2009)-Bitter Night has been on my shelf for a while. Staring at me. Beckoning to me. So, over the holiday, I picked it up and could have kicked myself for waiting this long to start this series. Max is a Shadowblade Prime, in service to her witch, Giselle. The problem is, Max didn’t choose this job, Giselle tricked her into it 30 years ago when they were best friends in college. One minute Giselle was asking her a series of what-if questions (what if you never got old, etc), the next minute, she was bound to Giselle and undergoing the worst forms of torture. With friends like Giselle, who needs enemies, huh? Max can only be outside at night, because otherwise she’ll melt into a puddle of goo under too much sunlight and a series of very strong compulsion spells tie her to Giselle and brook no thought of getaway. And Max has tried to getaway, boy has she. She always comes back though (those damn compulsion spells), and continues to fight Giselle’s battles. The problem is that Max is rather devoted to the Shadowblades that she commands, whether she wants to admit it or not, and is even fond of her daytime counterparts, the Sunspears.
When Max meets Alexander, the Shadowblade Prime of a rival witch, sparks fly in more ways than one, and when she finds out that their covenstead, Horngate,might soon be under attack, and the entire human race may be in danger, an uneasy truce with Giselle, the witch she hates and lives to someday kill, may be necessary to save those she loves. The Guardians (big, powerful, ancient suckers) have decided that they’re not happy with what humans have done to the earth, and are planning on a cleansing of sorts. They want the most powerful witches to be their lieutenants in the war to come, but Giselle isn’t too keen on this plan, and she’s not the only one. Max is one tough cookie, but soon she’ll be challenged more than she ever has been before, not only with her body, but with her heart.
Max is my new favorite heroine. Yes, she kicks plenty of butt and is super tough, like all heroines are, but she’s also deeply flawed. She’s been so blinded by her hatred of Giselle that it’s taken her a long time to realize that although she gave up her biological family many years ago, she’s made a new family of sorts with her Shadowblades, and when the possibility that she may lose them looks more and more likely, she’s forced to look inside herself a little more and examine the anger that she’s held inside for so long. It doesn’t help that Alexander seems to awaken something in her that’s more than mere lust.
Lest you think this is your usual urban fantasy novel, think again. Yes, there’s plenty of heat between Max and Alexander, but she’s been closed off for so long, it’s near impossible to let anyone in, but boy does he try, and the author teases you with a possible relationship to come. However, it’s not gonna happen in Bitter Night. Most likely, this is part of what’s going to make you rush out to snag Crimson Wind (with a quickness) after reading this one. See what the author did there? Max certainly recognizes her attraction to Alexander, but she’s most focused on saving the convenstead, and yes, even keeping Giselle safe. There’s so much more to this book than initially meets the eye. I don’t think I’ve seen a character take more physical damage than Max in a single book, and there’s more than enough action to satisfy the most discerning UF reader. The author has created a rather unique universe where witches are extremely powerful beings, and angels can be made to do their bidding. You’ll love her angels too, promise (no flowing robes and halos here-they’re distinctly other and beyond fierce.) Bitter Night is not to be missed for not only urban fantasy fans, but I think fantasy fans would also enjoy this unusual and ceaselessly entertaining series starter. Lucky for you, books 1-4 are already out, so you can race through them one after another (which I fully plan to do.)