April 20, 2013

Christopher Pike: "Witch World" ("Red Queen")

Title: Witch World (edit, June 2013: new title for the 2014 reprint is Red Queen) [on Amazon | on Goodreads]
Series: Witch World (1st of ?? books)
Author: Christopher Pike [Facebook | Goodreads]
Genres: Urban Fantasy, Multiverse, Paranormal, Sci-Fi
Year: 2012
Age: 14+
Stars: 3.5
Pros: Unique approach to witches and alternate universes. Fastish pace (except for the very first chapters and some largely talkative interludes). Incorporates history in a creative way.
Cons: Heroine reads like a slightly different version of Sita (The Last Vampire/Thirst). Prose is mostly dialogue. Writing sounds lazy sometimes (see review).
WARNING! There's the steaming prologue of a would-be sex scene, just so you know...
Will appeal to: Those who like feisty female leads. Those who can tolerate some gore and not memorable prose if a story draws them in.

Blurb: Heading off for a weekend in Las Vegas with her friends, Jessie Ralle has only one worry - how to make it through the road trip in the same car with her ex, Jimmy Kelter. The guy who broke her heart five months ago when he dumped her for no reason. The guy who’s finally ready to tell her why he did it, because he wants her back. But what Jessie doesn’t realize is that Jimmy is the least of her problems. In Las Vegas she meets Russ, a mesmerizing stranger who shows her how to gamble, and who never seems to lose. Curious, Jessie wants to know his secret, and in response, alone in his hotel room, he teaches her a game that opens a door to another reality. To Witch World. Suddenly Jessie discovers that she’s stumbled into a world where some people can do the impossible, and others may not even be human. For a time she fears she’s lost her mind. Are there really witches? Is she one of them? (Amazon)

Review: As a whole blog page dedicated to the man testifies, I'm a long-time Pike fan...but not a biased one. I don't shun criticizing his works if needed. And honestly, while this novel is original as far as alternate universes and witches are concerned, I have quite a few issues with it. So I decided I'd address them first...leaving the positive remarks for last. Weird procedure, I know. But then again, I'm weird ;D.
My main issue with Witch World is Pike's apparent incapability of distancing himself from his most famous heroine. I would have probably liked this novel better had it departed from The Last Vampire/Thirst series more. Most of the time, I felt like I was reading about a slightly different version of Sita - not only because of what Jessie does or says, but also because of some small or not-so-small incidents scattered through the book. Also, Jessie is not your average witch - and I do praise Pike for that - just like Sita is not your average vampire. Anyway, my point is - as much as I love Sita, I don't feel the need to have her shadow lingering over a character from another book.
Next to that, there's the writing...and yes, I know, that's nothing new. Pike's style hasn't changed that much during the years - he's never been big on description, and always more inclined to write pages full of dialogue. Still, this book has a huge amount of conversation/discussion interspersed among the action-driven scenes - which sounds anticlimactic. Also because, when I say "dialogue", I mean almost entire pages of she says he says, without much else in the middle, like asides or inner thoughts/emotions. The novel sports some lazy writing as well, which is unlike anything I've ever experienced in a Pike book before (not that I've read them all...yet). There are awkward repetitions such as "I explained how I owed Alex an explanation" or "She doesn't care as long as I care for her". Also, Jessie's voice suffers from a mild case of schizophrenia. One moment she sounds so much older than her age while recounting her story - and this may be understandable, since she's telling it from a distant future ("I turned eighteen a long time ago"); though, mind you, her voice sounds the same in the past that she's revisiting. Then Pike occasionally seems to remember that Jessie is supposed to be a young girl when her witch-awareness first arises, and makes her utter such squeaky sentences as "Whip had a tail!" or "That's so cool!", whose exclamation marks, for some reason, urge me to laugh every time. Then again, very few YA in this book seem to have a realistic teenage voice.
Also...this is explained in the book, but still I can't buy it entirely, because it's too convenient...most characters have a certain "small" thing in common. Funny how they actually manage to, since it appears to be such a rare condition, as Jessie's new friend Russell states when they meet in Witch World.
My last concern about this book is the amount of disjointed incidents...something major happens, then the characters go off at a tangent, then they're back on route again. A lot of stuff is going on that doesn't seem to be tied-in.
So, you must have started wondering why I rated this book 3.5 stars despite my amount of criticism. And I'm about to explain just that. Care for following me a little further? ;) [...]

1) Pike wrote a book called Witch in 1990, but that one was about your average (so to speak) gifted individual. Jessie is a different kind of witch, and so are all those of her kind. To be a witch, you have to possess from one to ten specific genes, which makes it a sci-fi concept more than a supernatural one. Also, they grant you different powers from those of an "average" witch - and you don't need potions or spells to strengthen them.
2) The alternate universe Pike describes is even more original. Witch World is a parallel dimension, only one day ahead of the real world, inhabited by the same people (with only one exception...but a massive one), who live a loosely matching, but still completely different life. As a witch, you are unaware of living the same day twice in the two parallel universes, until you become connected - that is, until you go through a death experience that activates your powers in both realities. Jessie's ordeal is particularly scary and deliciously creepy - also, it shows how strong and resourceful she can be, even before she achieve awareness. And what happens if you actually die in one of the two worlds? Ah, it depends on the world you're in...or maybe not. Not gonna spoil that - you'll have to read the book to find out :).
Note: Witch World is also very likely a pun, evoking the expression "which world", because the characters live in two parallel but mutually exclusive realities. I'm very proud I thought of this LOL (...well, honestly, I guess I owe the revelation to an old Charmed episode called "Witch Way Now?").
3) As a rule, I don't like history - but the way Pike weaves it into his novels, I get enthralled. He has a way to use real historical events as a background for something his ancient characters experimented or caused in the past - or (like in this case) he even has them play an active part in such historical events. 
4) Jessie is a kick-ass heroine, and I love to "see" her fighting. Because I actually feel like I can see her - Pike does an effective job at that. Though the part where she lifts up the SUV - with Jimmy inside - to show her boyfriend she does possess peculiar abilities is kind of hilarious...and not in a complimentary way.
So yeah, this is a faulty book in many respects - and I underlined most of them mercilessly. But still it managed to keep me interested and wanting more. Just so you know, there's a cliffhanger at the end...but not of the annoying kind. It's more of a "to be continued" sort of thing. And again, just so you know...the story loses a couple of important characters...but for one of them, this is not entirely true. Still it took guts to do what Pike did to said character. But he was never very happily-ever-after inclined - which is totally fine with me.
Right now, while I'm busy deconstructing Witch World, Pike is giving the last touches to the next installment in the series, that will probably be out in Spring 2014 (he announced that much on his FB page). To date, he hasn't specified how many books the Witch World saga will be made of. I bet he doesn't even know himself yet ;D.

For more books by Christopher Pike click here.

Edit, June 2013: 
I've just found out that this novel will get a Paperback reprint on January 07, 2014, with the new title Red Queen. On the right, the gorgeous new cover! Not only it's relevant to the story, but it also features Jessie the way she should be, as a redhead! I usually have little, if any, interest in covers - but on the other hand, I tend to get annoyed when cover designers use random photographs or images for them. Also, this one is really pretty. Too bad I bought Witch World as soon as it came out.


Edit, November 2013:
apparently, the above cover will not be used anymore...which is disappointing, because I did love it (though I would have never bought a copy of a book I already have just for the cover, but it was nice to see it around). The new Red Queen version will come out on August 19, 2014, with the cover you can see on the left. Which is of course consistent with the one for the second installment of Witch World, called Black Knight - and is pretty. Not to mention witchy :). I still like the above one better, but I can see where the publishers are coming from.


  1. I used to love Christopher Pike books! The worldbuilding sounds awesome, but the other issues might annoy me.

    1. I hear you :). He's got wild imagination and over-the-top, original ideas...after all, he did start the dead-girls-books trend and rekindled the myth of vampires many years ago, long before anyone else even thought of doing that. But his writing is, let's face it, uneven at best.


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