A Nameless Witch

July 7, 2008 at 3:20 pm (Reads) ()

A Nameless Witch by A. Lee Martinez

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Do I need to go on again about Mr. Martinez?  I hope not.  After the rollicking fun of both Gil’s All-Fright Diner and In the Company of Ogres, you shouldn’t need more convincing.  But I suppose this is what I do, and I shouldn’t disappoint you.

A Nameless Witch delves back into the realm of fantasy, which is going to beg comparisons to Terry Pratchett.  This is all fine and good (being compared to Pratchett is far better than being compared to, say, Britney Spears, after all), but it detracts a bit from Martinez as a good writer in his own right.  In this novel, we meet a witch without a name, and follow her on her quest with a demonic duck familiar, a troll, a magic broomstick, and a White Knight.  The book is narrated by our titular witch, who was cursed into undeath many, many years ago, and now is a stunning beauty with a ravenous taste for human flesh.  And though none of this, on its surface, sounds all that funny, somehow Martinez manages to pull it all off and keep us chuckling, even as serious events are taking place.

Consider this: The characters are a bit cartoonish, as is the setting.  As a result, it tends to put you into a state of mind that nothing going on is serious, or “real,” in the same sense of a cartoon.  We see a coyote fall hundreds of feet to the canyon floor, but we know he’s going to get up in the next scene.  We see a duck kill a couple of assassins, and we have an inkling that maybe — just maybe! — they’ll get up in the next chapter.  But they don’t.  The author manages to give the events a sense of importance, and finality, so that while we may be happily joking along with the main characters, there’s a sense of danger and unease to what we might see as horseplay.  And he manages to do this quite well.

This, I think, is Martinez’ true talent.  His previous two novels had this same sort of feel, of cartoony unreality, but with a sense of importance underlying it all.  None of these books are the kind that will be studied in literature courses some hundreds of years from now, but for a casual, entertaining story, his type of fiction hits the mark.  It’s fun and mindless, but it also has a narrative style and structure worth admiring, with plenty of quotable portions along the way.  It all keeps you guessing as you try to balance the wacky with the serious.  Which part of the story will be the one that captures you?

Aside from all that, Martinez is gifted at creating sympathetic characters, and giving them life beyond the words.  It’s hard not to root for the witch as the core of the story develops, and you might find yourself smiling when the main characters smiling.  This, suffice to say, is a good thing.

The author has another book already out, The Automatic Detective, and I’m eager to see what he can do in the realm of science fiction.  And now that I’ve checked his website, I see that he has another fantasy novel due out in September.  Very good, very good.  Mr. Martinez, if you happen to happen across this review, let me just say that if you keep writing them, I’ll keep reading them.

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