Bitter Night is the first book in the Horngate Witches series by Diana Pharaoh Francis. It was first released in 2009 and I recently decided it was time for a reread. Let me start by saying that I am not caught up with the series. I stopped reading it after book three but I’ve decided to give it a shot again. So although I’m a little late on these reviews, I’ll go through the series in order.
Bitter Night is a very good debut. Diana has created an interesting world that isn’t so complex you’re completely lost from page one. Instead, it’s easy to follow along as you discover Shadowblades, Sunspears, Witches, Guardians, Angels, and more. I appreciated how Diana introduced the world through Max. It unfolds slowly, but at each step of the way and at each new introduction, I learned more without being caught up in endless pages of backstory.
One of the unique aspects of Bitter Night is that it is definitely Urban Fantasy but it’s written in third person and provides the view point of the main female character, Max, and the main male character, Alexander. This actually gives it a slight Paranormal Romance feel but the plot line doesn’t fit the conventional romance arc. I enjoyed this and yet it is slightly disconcerting. While reading the third-person narrative, I found myself really wanting and rooting for the romance since that seemed to be its direction, and yet, the romance is only a minor subplot. Personally, a single viewpoint or even first person may have been a better fit.
Since the story is Urban Fantasy, at the end of the day, Max is the main character. She’s a Prime Shadowblade with a giant chip on her shoulder. I enjoyed Max. She’s sympathetic and likable, although her extreme hatred for Giselle and her life can get old. Max’s journey is going to be one of self-acceptance but it’s probably just a little too obvious and overdone. In spite of that, Max’s story is enjoyable. You can’t help but appreciate her willingness to put it all on the line, over and over again. What I really love about Max is that she’s tough. She’s no damsel in distress. Instead, she’s kick ass—even more so than her male counter-part.
Alexander is the main male character and he’s the Prime Shadowblade for a rival witch. This, of course, creates immediate tension between Max and Alexander and forms the basis for a large part of the story. Alexander is not quite as likable as Max. In fact, it’s difficult to know how to feel about him. Sometimes I liked him. Sometimes I thought he was a little whiney. Sometimes I wanted to just hit him over the head and be done with it. He’s not a typical Alpha male, and to be honest, he’s a much weaker character than Max. At the end of the day though, Alexander works in the story and I expect that he’ll grow on me as the series continues.
Other side characters, including Max’s witch Giselle, round out the story and the world. However, none of the other characters really get a spot light and stand out. You’ll dislike Giselle because Max hates her so much, and can you really love a character who loves to torture? The other Shadowblades and Sunspears also make an appearance, but to be honest, none of them really add too much to the story. It’s really a story about Max and Alexander and as long as you’re okay with that, it’s enjoyable.
The story itself is captivating and that’s why it deserves 3.5 stars. After the romance, and Max and Alexander’s journey of self-acceptance and change, the world has a lot of issues and Max has a lot on her plate. It’s up to Max to save her family, save her home, and most likely save the world. Bitter Night will draw you in and keep you reading just so you can figure out how Max makes it through and what happens next. I’m already on book two and would recommend the series as a pretty good addition to the Urban Fantasy genre.