The Water Witch by Juliet Dark

Sometimes I think I hate paranormal romance.

I love paranormal romance, in theory. I love the fantasy genre. I love the urban fantasy sub-genre. I love the romance genre. I even like horror, if it’s not too horrifying. Paranormal romance is a blend of all these ingredients I enjoy separately, so I should love it. Sometimes I do. More often, though, it lands on my “meh” pile.

Ballantine listed both The Water Witch and its predecessor, The Demon Lover, on NetGalley, and the two-for-one aspect attracted me. Plus, I do tend to love fairies-among-us stories. How does this series stack up to my paranormal standards?

Water WitchThe Water Witch

by Juliet Dark

Ballantine Books, ISBN-13: 978-0345524249, February 12, 2013

After casting out a dark spirit, Callie McFay, a professor of gothic literature, has at last restored a semblance of calm to her rambling Victorian house. But in the nearby thicket of the Honeysuckle Forest, and in the currents of the rushing Undine River, more trouble is stirring. . . .

The enchanted town of Fairwick’s dazzling mix of mythical creatures has come under siege from the Grove: a sinister group of witches determined to banish the fey back to their ancestral land. With factions turning on one another, all are cruelly forced to take sides. Callie’s grandmother, a prominent Grove member, demands her granddaughter’s compliance, but half-witch/half-fey Callie can hardly betray her friends and colleagues at the college.

To stave off disaster, Callie enlists Duncan Laird, an alluring seductive academic who cultivates her vast magical potential, but to what end? Deeply conflicted, Callie struggles to save her beloved Fairwick, dangerously pushing her extraordinary powers to the limit—risking all, even the needs of her own passionate heart.

Guess what?

Meh.

The series looks great on paper. The heroine is powerful but unskilled, torn between two heritages, torn between two men, torn by the guilt of banishing one of those men from the world for something he didn’t do, torn, torn, torn. There’s a lovely part fairy tale, part Gothic vibe. I thought it sounded like a series I could get into long-term. Unfortunately, it’s more like one-night stand material: looks great, the conversation isn’t terrible, and the sex is fulfilling enough, but those qualities correspond with a lack of depth and an off-and-on wit that doesn’t quite translate into intelligence. I got its number but won’t be calling for a second date.

Don’t get me wrong. I finished the book. I highly enjoyed some elements, like the Undines and Callie’s attempts to harness her magic. The romance got sweeter than in the first book. I didn’t hate the story.

I think the biggest sink/swim factor in the paranormal romance genre is the heroine. Some readers might argue that it’s the hero. I say that if the hero is awesome and the heroine isn’t, the book is only more frustrating because then you can’t accept that the hero would find the heroine attractive. Suspension of disbelief shatters, and if you can’t suspend your disbelief, you can’t enjoy any paranormal read.

I have the same issue with Callie (formally Cailleach, pronounced Kay-lex, as she keeps reminding us) that I had with the heroine in Discovery of Witches. She’s extremely educated, but she isn’t smart. I had the bad guy spotted, the good guy figured out, and the problem with Callie’s magic pegged long before she did, which left me rolling my eyes and trudging through to the ending, in which the author proceeded to off my favorite character. The issue seems endemic, as I had the same problem with the first book.

The world-building is fun if unoriginal, but Dark needs to raise the stakes and Callie’s IQ for the third installment or this series is going on the scrap heap of forgettable paranormal romances.

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