The Witches of Jericho is a fantasy novel that takes place in Eden, but this is no Eden you ever heard about in Sunday School. This Eden has an Eve, but she’s a witch, and her husband is not Adam, but a Guardian named Saul. The Dark One, however, is true to form, stirring up trouble. The real protagonist of the novel is Sophia, Eve’s daughter. Eve and her family escape their home city of Jericho after it is invaded by a mysterious group of witch killers known as the Horde. One of only a few surviving witches, Eve goes on a journey seeking answers and never returns. Ten years later, Sophia, now a young woman of 18 and herself a witch, sets out to find her mother and right some very serious wrongs afoot in Eden. Part Bildungsroman, part fantasy, this story is a gripping and satisfying read.
So often in fantasy of this type, description takes a back seat to action. Not here. Hammack has a knack for describing characters who are in altered states (ill or extremely tired or in strange mental states). I found myself feeling dizzy or confused or weak as the character experienced these states. His settings are beautifully rendered as well. I found it easy to see the details of Jericho and other locales. The characters, however, are the strongest aspect of the book. Not only are the individuals well-drawn, but the relationships between them are very nicely done. The interaction between a man and his aging mentor gives insight into both characters without burdening the reader with backstory. The relationship between Sophia and her close friend is quite moving but not saccharine. Hammack handles emotion with an earnest but easy touch. Hammack also does a great job of balancing the fanastical elements of the story with the universal human concerns. While describing magical beings in a magical land, he never loses the essential humanity that keeps readers interested in and connected with the characters.
While The Witches of Jericho is a smooth and easy read, at times the language is so lovely you want to pause and savor it:
Aching hardwood steps creaked and moaned under her feet . . . .
And this description of the Sea of Dreams:
Toward the Sea every man, woman and child drifted each and every time they slumbered, like ghosts drawn to a graveyard. Babies in the womb were said to swim within the Sea’s waters. From within the Sea the subconscious mind formed the images and ideas that would be molded into dreams. The Sea was the blood that gave life to dreamy emotion – fears and desires, worries and needs. Without the Sea, mankind was doomed to sleep in a dark emptiness, devoid of color or image or sound.
Hammack brings to this fantasy novel touches of literary fiction. If you enjoy fantasy, but like your fantasy to come packaged with great characters, good settings, and at least at times, lovely language, you will probably enjoy The Witches of Jericho as much as I did.
My only complaint with this first in the Edenwitch series is that it ended too soon. Just as I got to know everyone and what they were up to, the story ended. In a way it seemed as if the entire book was mostly an introduction to the characters and the situation, yet it didn’t leave you feeling as if you’d been cheated of the story. I do think this may have worked well as the first section of a much longer book, though. I am looking forward to the next Edenwitch book and more by Hammack as well.