In Review: Witch Creek

This was a mixed bag of a book for a newcomer.

Witch Creek by Laura Bickle

Published by Harper Voyager, February 27, 2018. Paperback of 370 pages at $7.99. 

The cover: Against an overcast sky, a man with a shaded face looks down to his left. Opposite him crows scatter. Below the birds is a raging stream with seafoam colored water. The book’s title is at the top, a plug from B & N SciFi and Fantasy Blog is below the man, and the author’s name is at the bottom. This is a decent cover, with elements purposely hazy to make the composition mysterious. The cover photographs are by Fernando Cortes/Shatterstock; Hills Outdoors /Shutterstock (river). Together, these images create the right tone for this book. Overall grade: B

The premise: From the back, “As the daughter of an alchemist, Petra Dee has battled supernatural horrors and experienced astonishing wonders. But there’s no magic on earth that can defeat her recent cancer diagnosis, or help find her missing husband, Gabriel. Still, she would bet all her remaining days that the answer to his disappearance lies in the dark subterranean world beneath the Rutherford Ranch on the outskirts of Temperance, Wyoming. Gabe is being held prisoner by the sheriff and heir to the ranch, Owen Rutherford. Owen is determined to harness the power of the Tree of Life — and he needs Gabe to reveal its magic. Secretly, the sheriff has also made a pact to free a creature of the underground, a flesh-devouring mermaid. Muirenn has vowed to exact vengeance on Gabe, who helped imprison her, but first…she’s hungry. Once freed, she will swim into Yellowstone — to feed. With her coyote sidekick Sig, Petra must descend into the underworld to rescue Gabe before it’s too late…for both of them.” I haven’t read any other books featuring Petra Dee, but this summary seems to be giving me enough background to jump in. Overall grade: B+

The characters: Petra Dee is the protagonist and she’s in bad shape: she has leukemia and is dying. The book opens with her recovering from chemo in the hospital. She’s in pain physically and mentally, because she knows her husband is missing. She wants to find him more than anything, so much so that she checks herself out of the hospital. Petra looks for her spouse but is continually tired and weak. Author Laura Bickle has created an interesting situation in giving her protagonist this form of cancer. If she wants to truthfully show the effects of this disease then her character shouldn’t be physically able to do too much. If she wants to have the character do heroic or brave things, she’s going to have downplay some of the disease’s effects. Bickle chooses the former and it’s a truthful portrayal. I lost my mother to leukemia and I could relate, painfully, to what Petra is feeling. Unfortunately, it makes her journey through this book repetitious: look for Gabe, collapse, get rescued, recover, look for Gabe, collapse, etc. Granted, there is a major change for Petra by the book’s end, but her journey to get there wasn’t thrilling, it was sad. Gabe’s scenes in the book are primarily with captor Owen. Having nothing to lose, he writes down what the sheriff wants, before being given to Muirenn the mermaid. Together, this duo had the most interesting scenes. Apart, the mermaid was incredibly engaging. What she did was horrific, yet, by her own sick standards, appropriate. Owen essentially appears twice, not doing much. There’s a side story with Lev the bartender that came off as something that could be omitted; in fact, one could skip those chapters and ignore the character until he joins up with Petra. The state of the protagonist hurt my enjoyment, though the mermaid was an engaging character. Overall grade: C-

The settings: Set in present day rural Wyoming, the book is set primarily at the Rutherford ranch, above and below ground. It’s underground where the most occurs, Gabe’s cell, the mermaid’s waterways, and the endless twisting tunnels. They are described extremely well, almost to the point where I felt I could have mapped where the heroes and villains were going. Outside the ranch, the hospital is visited often, as is Petra’s trailer. When the mermaid escapes her bonds, she travels the rivers looking for prey and those vistas were realistic. Overall grade: A

The action: It’s not until the story follows the mermaid does the book approach any thrills. When Gabe is found and Petra has a change in character, things also improve. The majority of the book focuses on Petra’s inability to find her husband and that got old fast. However, Chapter 17 has things beginning to race and the book is fine from this point on. There are several pages devoted to Gabe’s writings that interrupt the story and were not needed. They might be of interest to long time readers of Petra’s exploits, but this being my introduction to her, they derailed the story and kept me from the dangers in the present. Overall grade: C

The conclusion: There is an incredibly clever thing that occurs to Petra, which has me tipping my hat to Bickle for doing what she does, and the final battle with Muirenn is terrific. The book ends well, but it takes a long time to get to it. Overall grade: B-

The final line: The book might have been more enjoyable had I read the previous installments and if Petra hadn’t had leukemia. The magic is minor in this supernatural tale, though the terror of the mermaid is pulled off well. This was a mixed bag of a book for a newcomer and doesn’t encourage me to try another, sadly. Overall grade: B-

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Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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