A Bewitchingly Good Read
On average, I come across a new author who really grabs my attention once or twice in any given calendar year. They are normally newly published authors - it's rare that someone with an extensive catalogue of titles to their name springs forth, fully formed as it were, and disrupts my reading schedule. Dave Butler may just prove to be the exception to that rule, however.
Butler first came to my attention when Baen released a teaser, a free short story which was set up as the prequel to his upcoming novel. I made a note of it, but didn't get around to reading it before the novel itself arrived. And why, you ask, did I order a hardback copy of a novel by an author I'd never come across before, without at least dipping my toe into the water first? Well, the honest answer is that I trust Baen as a publisher. They publish many of the authors who form my staple reading diet - David Weber, John Ringo, Eric Flint, and Tom Kratman, to name but a few. If Toni Weisskopf and her team were willing to recommend Butler's work, then I was willing to give it a go.
And it turned out to be a real page turner. A blend of real-world history and other-world magic, it reminded me Katherine Kurtz at her best, with more than a hint of Keith Robert's 'Pavane', and a touch of John Whitbourn's 'Dangerous Energy' series to boot. But those tantalising aftertastes don't detract from the fact that what Butler has created is a unique, well rounded and thoroughly endearing world all of his own.
In a nutshell, Butler's version of history allows that Oliver Cromwell was, in fact, a necromancer, raising his New Model Army from their graves in an attempt to establish some sort of eternal kingdom over which he might reign. The short story I mentioned, 'Dei Britannica', covers some of that detail, and is available free of charge from Baen via this link. His subsequent novel, 'Witchy Eye' jumps forward from there by a couple of hundred years, and lands the reader in an altered set of colonies in which George Washington didn't battle to defeat Britain, but battled instead against demons and otherworldly powers, and where the States became a series of Electorates, loosely held together under the leadership of the Penn family.
A fair-to-middling author would have trouble making even a portion of that believable, but Butler has no such issues. He crafts his backstory with just the right amount of detail, and gives his characters just enough flesh to allow them to take on a life all their own. Several would have been quite at home in a Dickens novel, and one or two might have had ancestors in Sir Walter Scott's more gothic creations. Suffice to say that, at the end of almost 600 pages, my only real worry was when the sequel was likely to come out.
And then I discovered, quite to my surprise, that, while this was a Baen publishing first for Butler, he had a whole list of previous titles to his credit - novels that range from Sci Fi, through Fantasy, Dystopia through Redneck Americana. This is a guy I'm going to have to investigate more thoroughly in the months ahead, and he's certainly someone who's now on my 'please pre-order me a hardback' list. If, like me, you'd never heard of him, give his 'Witchy Eye' a go, or dip your toe into 'Dei Britannica' if you're more hesitant - you won't regret either decision this side of an apocalyptic resurrection of the zombie horde!