Review: Blackwatch by Jenna Burtenshaw

Blackwatch (Wintercraft #2)
Jenna Burtenshaw

Greenwillow (06.26.12)
320 pages
YA / Fantasy / Magic

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Ten years ago Kate Winters' parents were taken by the High Council's wardens to help with the country's war effort. Now the wardens are back...and prisoners, including Kate's uncle Artemis, are taken south on the terrifying Night Train. Kate and her friend Edgar are hunted by a far more dangerous enemy. Silas Dane ' the High Council's most feared man ' recognises Kate as one of the Skilled; a rare group of people able to see through the veil between the living and the dead. His spirit was damaged by the High Council's experiments into the veil, and he's convinced that Kate can undo the damage and allow him to find peace. The knowledge Kate needs lies within Wintercraft ' a book thought to be hidden deep beneath the graveyard city of Fume . But the Night of Souls, when the veil between life and death is at its thinnest, is just days away and the High Council have their own sinister plans for Kate and Wintercraft. To help Artemis, Edgar and herself, Kate must honour her pact with a murderer and come face to face with the true nature of death.

When I read Shadowcry a few weeks ago, I wasn’t very impressed. I fear that, once more, I was heavily disappointed by my expectations not matching up with reality, something that is not the book’s fault. I went in expecting a YA fantasy, only to find something much simpler targeted to a younger audience. This didn’t make it bad, just disappointing. I found Kate bland, the world a little colorless and everything a little “been there, done that”. Perhaps because of this, my expectations for Blackwatch had been lowered or maybe I just went into it better prepared. Either way I found Blackwatch much more enjoyable and more interesting than its predecessor.

Spoilers for Shadowcry ahead.

At the end of Shadowcry, our lead, Kate, kills the bad witch, saves some souls and brings Silas’ spirit bird thing back to life. Silas runs off to the ends of the earth and Kate is left in limbo, not entirely sure where she’ll be accepted. Blackwatch opens a few weeks later with Silas a hunted man attempting to get out of the country of Albion and Kate being tried for murder in the underground city where the Skilled – those who can see through the veil – live in secret. While there’s a fair amount of talking to start in order to set up the major plots of this volume, the beginning heavily relies on Silas, who was always a much stronger character than Kate. His exploits that eventually find him captured by the Blackwatch of the title are exhilarating, though I did find his sudden need to protect Kate and regret for leaving her behind a little out of character compared to who he was in the earlier book. Despite that, his journey that takes him closer to death than he’s ever known is still the most interesting part of the book.

But that’s not to say that Kate with her friend and only ally Edgar attempting to escape the clutches of all the various factions that want her head and abilities to walk amongst the shades of the dead wasn’t interesting. Unlike her travails in Shadowcry, Kate is an active participant in her journey. Instead of reacting to circumstances, she along with Edgar attempt to take control of their own situation. Whether they actually succeed would be a spoiler, but I liked that, despite the small change in time, Kate felt as though she’d grown and acted with more maturity. Edgar remained the loyal friend, who may or may not have other feelings for Kate. Luckily Burtenshaw hasn’t really ventured down the romance path, a quality that I really admire.

Our new villain is an ancient Skilled, Delilah Grey, who wants Kate’s powers in order to drastically alter the relationship between the worlds of the living and the dead. She had a lot more depth than Da’ruu and felt more like a worthy advisory considering how strong and rare Kate’s powers are described. We also spend a lot more time with her and see exactly how manipulative and evil she truly is, something that we only heard through second-hand tales with Da’ruu. Either way Delilah is deliciously evil, though makes the common evil mastermind mistake of not sticking around to make sure her jobs are completed successfully.

Blackwatch could have easily fallen into the trap of simply being a bridge between books one and three because it does involve a lot of running, chasing and traveling to get characters from place A to place B. Instead Burtenshaw takes the opportunity to fill in a few of the spaces regarding the tombs and history of Fume and explain a little more about the war between Albion and the continent. Kate’s powers are also explored more deeply and I enjoyed the glimpses into the history of her Wintercraft book. While it might not be action packed from beginning to end, Burtenshaw intricately weaves together history, her world’s mythology and character development so every scene has a true purpose.

It ends on a heart-breaking cliff hanger that sets up a clear agenda for the third book. I hope that wherever the author chooses to take the next volume in this series, she’s continues the momentum, pacing and characterization that makes Blackwatch a far superior book to Shadowcry.

 

An advanced copy of Blackwatch arrived unannounced on my doorstep from the publisher and in turn I'm providing them an honest review. The link to Amazon above is an affiliate link, so if you purchase anything through it, I get a little bit to go towards contests.