The premise of John Lawson’s Witch Ember is tantalizing to contemplate: the possibility that all people in the world depicted in his novel has a piece of the magic stone still within them. The size of the piece varies from person to person. Unfortunately, as is the case in the real world, those who have the most magic left are the most different and therefore the most tormented.
There is an unsettling mixture of fantasy terms and all too familiar twenty-first century profanity throughout the story. It is a bit disconcerting at first, but once the reader settles into the skin of Esmeree it becomes more palatable. A very helpful addition is the glossary at the back of the book with the interesting fantastical words given equally interesting definitions.
The borderline sexual encounters, rape and seduction, are so deftly handled that the reader may feel the emotions described on the page. The pacing is adroit in these particular scenes, by turns quick and harried then slow and languorous. There is an impressive attention to detail, which is necessary in a work of fantasy. However, at times the detail is a bit over the top and causes imagery overload.
Yet, we do care about the final fate of Esmeree. Perhaps it is because of the offhand references to her less than idyllic childhood or her scrappy little spitfire personality. Either way, part of the reason that the overabundant detail grates on the reader’s nerves is because the outcome of Esmeree’s quest is held tantalizingly just out of reach.
The smatterings of drawings that grace the pages range from the macabre to the sublime, attesting to the imaginative skill of the artist, and are a pleasant addition. They are a bit of an intellectual sorbet to clear the mind and allow the reader to move between disparate situations without feeling tugged along. The illustrations are sprinkled judiciously throughout the book so that they only add to the impact of the story without becoming so prevalent as to be overwhelming.
The ending runs the gamut from sweetly satisfying to tastefully titillating. The final scene switches from recalled heartache to current bliss with seemingly little effort but actually quite a bit of skill. As a whole, Witch Ember has this reader anxious to see more from John Lawson.