When Sarah Hoyt released Witchfinder, her first wholly "indie" novel, last week, she immediately got nervous. "I didn't realize," she wrote on her personal blog (where Witchfinder was originally composed in bits and pieces over the course of a year), "how much COURAGE those of you who published indie had. I apologize if I ever told you to stop being a ninny and start putting your stuff out because you didn't need a gatekeeper to tell you it was good enough. I was right, yes, but I had no comprehension at all of how SCARY it all is."
Well, having read Witchfinder, I don't think Sarah needs to be too anxious. It's a good book -- one that, I'm sure, will please fans of her other works.
The back-story behind Witchfinder, essentially, is this: Due to a major magical event, the earth has been split into an infinite number of alternate worlds in which magic is present - or not - in varying degrees. We have, for example, modern-day Earth as we recognize it, where magic is severely attenuated but technology has developed to fill the gap. We also have Avalon, where magic is an everyday fact of life. And we have Fairyland, which is not an "Earth" per say but a strange sub-universe in which "reality" is determined by the thoughts of the perceiver. Travel between these alternate worlds is possible, but may be illegal depending on the laws of your point of origin. (Avalon, for example, has proscribed such travel on grounds that resemble the Prime Directive.)
This may sound rather convoluted, but despite having to juggle several settings at once, Sarah never really lost me in her execution. Her plot - in which the protagonists must unravel a conspiracy that threatens both Avalon and Fairyland (and possibly the other worlds as well) - is complex but well-constructed, and her world-building is clear without being pedantic. Aside from her primary villain, who struck me as a bit flat and a little too obviously evil, her characters are strong as well. I like that Sarah allows her heroes to be flawed without completely vitiating their heroism.
The other thing I like about Witchfinder is the overall message. The story is lightly sprinkled with certain ideas that mirror themes found in Sarah's award-winning Darkship series. Once again, our villains are motivated mainly by their desire to seize power and lord it over others -- while the good guys recognize that true leadership requires humility, a desire to serve, and a willingness to allow people to exercise their God-given rights. If you liked the libertarian red meat that is A Few Good Men, there's a high likelihood you will like Witchfinder as well -- even if the libertarian sensibility is more covert.
Overall, whether you're a fan of Sarah Hoyt's other works or not, I definitely encourage you to pick up Witchfinder. It is a solid fantasy novel that successfully held my interest.
Final Verdict: Recommended