September 29, 2020

Novel Lives

Book Publicity, Reviews, Author Interviews, and Discussion Posts by Susan Crosby

Wonky Eyed, Bad Mannered And Unabashedly, Unapologetically Herself, Sarah Calhoun Is The Young, Female Protagonist We Didn't Know We Needed

Oddly I’m going from never have done this before to doing it twice in one month. I suppose there is something to be said for novelty. I’m going to provide the summary of Witchy Eye, the first book in the Witchy Eye Series, by DJ Butler, because most of this review is going to focus on the protagonist, Sarah Calhoun. The summary is also in the Summer Fling post, but in the interest of simplicity I put it here.
I will discuss other parts of the book, in coming reviews of the series, but there is an overarching reason to my discussion of Sarah. It is, in my opinion (which you are willing to take or leave) something I couldn’t put my finger on until I read Witchy Eye, but once I did, I believed to be of vital importance.
Witchy Eye Cover

Thank you to Baen Books for a copy of Witchy Eye in return for an honest review

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.

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.
Disclaimer- I’m sure that after reading the below there might be pushback that this was written by a male. How dare anyone say that a male author can write a female protagonist better than a female author. I understand the want to go that route.
However, I refuse to ignore what I see in front of me just because the author isn’t female. Again- my opinion- do what you like with it.

  • Off the bat understand Sarah, THE MAIN CHARACTER AND PROTAGONIST, (I’m highlighting that because I’m not talking about secondary characters in a cast) is fifteen-years old and categorically that should make this series Young Adult Epic/Alternative Fantasy, but it is categorized as Adult.
    • As discussed at length, whether anyone agrees with it or not (and that is not my main point here, but it plays a role), mainly young adult books are determined by the age of the character. I discuss this with Butler, and we will go further into it with his Q and A next week.
  • Sarah is not beautiful.
    • Her wonky eye never disappears due to some magical tonic. In fact, it becomes an essential piece of an intricate puzzle. But still, it never fails to scare. In fact, once it begins to show its powers, it scares her more than when it was a festering unhealed, oozing plight.
    • She is not even a diamond in the rough beautiful. There are no hints that underneath her Appalachian, poor upbringing that she will “clean-up” nicely. Nope. Not Sarah. I am not saying a protagonist hero can’t be beautiful. I’m just saying I’m getting a bit tired of the many versions of this trope.
    • The poor hero getting cleaned up and suddenly she’s a beauty to all around her and can replicate a princess.
    • The male protagonist becomes enamored with the peasant that is found out of nowhere and becomes, accidentally to have infiltrated his world.
    • etc… or yes, she doesn’t dress to impress but that is 
    • She doesn’t dress to be a beauty, but it is stated over and over that underneath her basic clothes and tom-boy (for a catch all phrase) she has womanly features that never go unnoticed.
    • This is not Sarah.
  • While Sarah does get to win the gene jackpot lottery and find out she isn’t who she thinks and is in fact heir to something much greater than she ever realized.
    • However, unlike most, she finds a great deal of betrayal in much of it
    • Many she considered family had known her whole life
    • She doesn’t like to be bothered by people. She doesn’t want anything to do with it and even tries to run away from it.
    • Suddenly it is her cousin, or who she thought was her equally poor but loyal cousin, suddenly offering to marry and run away with her- not some wellborn prince.
      • Now that’s some kind of complicated. It is also not likely to happen. There is no romance friend to lover, enemy to lover or cousin to lover there.
    • This doesn’t mean dashing off into some fairytale happily ever after. It means sludging it out down the Mississippi River with a monk, as wizard priest, dragons, lazars (the undead) and a host of others evading death due to something she isn’t even sure she wants.
  • Sarah never has to nor wants to dress up as a boy to do anything.
    • There is a running theme that for a girl to be a heroine in a plot she must dress up as a boy to do so. But why?
    • I want a girl to do the thing as a girl. Screw the men. Screw the boys. Get it done girl. As a girl.
      • Again, don’t get me wrong, before I read this book, and still after reading it?  There are books over the last year or so I’ve read and will continue to read the series that I have liked with this trope. I just hope there will start to be more female heroines who can get it done without having to hide themselves in the guise of being a boy.
      • Also, I don’t want to discount the couple of female heroines that have been written where they were female the whole time. Because I know that there have been some (please don’t go back 5-10 years or outside THIS genre, I’m not playing that game).  I’m talking about a recently developed trope or maybe trend is a better word? 
  • There isn’t shift in personality.
    • As Cal says early on, Sarah is so stubborn she embarrasses the mules.
    • She won’t bend to anything, even she finds out her heritage.

“Ain’t you gonna tell us where we’re a-goin?” Sarah asked. “I don’t reckon you’re fixin to live the rest of your life in some pagan temple cave.”

“Aren’t You should practice your Penn’s English,” Thalanes advised her. “Not only will people take you more seriously, outside of Apalachee, but you’ll be less conspicuous.”
“Ain’t that something of a contradiction?” Sarah defied him.

Sarah is flawed. I haven’t bulleted that because that is a commonality that should always be continued. Everyone is flawed and everyone has doubts. Even once she comes to grips with who she is meant to be, and her eye reveals its power, she doubts her ability.
Anyone would. This is something that is natural. If you don’t doubt an ability or the revelation, or acquirement of a responsibility that is beyond the scope of comprehension than you are likely to abuse it. For all her stubbornness and sarcasm, Sarah is not immune to doubt.

“I can see so much,” she whispered, and she slipped the patch back down over her eye. “But I know so little.”

I don’t know many who can’t relate to that feeling at one point in time in their life. Sarah is a completely different female hero that is refreshing, unique and, I believe, needed in the fantasy genre.

%d bloggers like this: