Witchy Eye: A creative alternate history

Witchy Eye by D.J. Butler science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsWitchy Eye by D.J. Butler science fiction and fantasy book and audiobook reviewsWitchy Eye by D.J. Butler

D.J. Butler’s Witchy Eye (2017), the first book in his WITCHY EYE series, is an alternate history set in a 19th century United States that’s almost unrecognizable.

In Appalachia, a scrawny teenager named Sarah Calhoun is being raised by her grandfather. Her most notable features are her razor-sharp wit, her willingness to stand up for herself and others, and her eye which is swollen shut and looks gross. Sarah’s life is turned upside down when a priest and his minions attempt to kidnap her. She’s saved by a travelling monk who tells Sarah the secret of who she really is. To avoid the bad guys who are trying to capture her, she sets off with the monk and Calvin, her devoted cousin, to claim her destiny.

Butler’s alternate world is creative. Americans are ruled by the greedy and ambitious emperor Thomas Penn. Isaac Newton was an arch wizard, Robert Hooke and Black Tom Fairfax are zombies, and Oliver Cromwell was a necromancer. Some residents are not human and may have magic abilities and/or may have animal body parts, for example, the head of a dog or a bird. Martin Luther taught that these beast folk, or “first born,” were descendants of Adam and his first wife (before Eve), that they don’t have souls, and they should be removed from all positions of power. Emperor Penn follows this teaching. There were too many religious components for me in Witchy Eye. While I think they’re cleverly used here, I just don’t really like those kinds of elements in my fantasy.

We get the perspective of several characters besides Sarah. There’s Ezekiel, the priest who’s hunting Sarah. He started off with good intentions, but got off track somewhere. Obadiah is a young thug who works for Ezekiel. A man in New Orleans who calls himself Bad Bill has been in exile from emperor Penn’s court for 15 years. He’s deep in debt and the chevalier of New Orleans is after him. And, of course, there’s Calvin Calhoun, who’s in love with Sarah and is, fortunately, not really her cousin. The characters whose perspectives we take are well done, though I can’t say I loved any of them.

The plot of Witchy Eye is full of action. Sarah Calhoun and her companions are constantly on the run, traveling, hiding, and fighting for their lives. The battle scenes go on a little too long and get repetitive by the end, especially because they keep fighting the same enemies who keep catching up to them.

While I like the world that Butler has built in Witchy Eye, I’m probably going to skip its sequels, Witchy Winter and Witchy Kingdom. These books are too long and, while I like the characters, I don’t like them well enough to want to spend that much time with them. And while the plot is interesting, it’s not compelling enough to keep me tuned in.

The audiobook version of Witchy Eye that I read was released by Tantor Audio in March 2020. Courtney Patterson gives a great performance. The audiobook is 22.5 hours long.

Published in 2017. Sarah Calhoun is the fifteen-year-old daughter of the Elector Andrew Calhoun, one of Appalachee’s military heroes and one of the electors who gets to decide who will next ascend as the Emperor of the New World. None of that matters to Sarah. She has a natural talent for hexing and one bad eye, and all she wants is to be left alone—especially by outsiders. But Sarah’s world gets turned on its head at the Nashville Tobacco Fair when a Yankee wizard-priest tries to kidnap her. Sarah fights back with the aid of a mysterious monk named Thalanes, who is one of the not-quite-human Firstborn, the Moundbuilders of the Ohio. It is Thalanes who reveals to Sarah a secret heritage she never dreamed could be hers. Now on a desperate quest with Thalanes to claim this heritage, she is hunted by the Emperor’s bodyguard of elite dragoons, as well as by darker things—shapeshifting Mockers and undead Lazars, and behind them a power more sinister still. If Sarah cannot claim her heritage, it may mean the end to her, her family—and to the world where she is just beginning to find her place.

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KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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