The Witch Watch:Open Thread

By Shamus Posted Thursday Mar 1, 2012

Filed under: Projects 131 comments

So now some people have had a chance to read The Witch Watch (which you can buy here) and have been expressing an interesting in talking about it. The print version comes out tomorrow, but I wanted to make some space for the early readers.

So, the usual open thread rules apply: Talk about the book, and don’t worry about spoiler tags. If you have a question for me specifically, be sure to put my name in there so I can tell you’re asking me and not just opening up a discussion.


“Shamus, is Darth Vader Luke’s father?”

…will get a definitive answer, and…

“Hey, do you think Darth Vader is really Luke’s father?”

…will be left alone so that readers can come to their own conclusions. And obviously I’m not promising to answer everything.

Someone asked about what actors would play the parts of the characters in the book. I’ve mentioned before that I often write a character in the “voice” of an actor I have in mind. (I do this when reading other people’s books, too.) For example in Free Radical, Nomen Nescio was (in my mind) Laurence Fishburne. I don’t think Deck was played by anyone in particular. The Director was played by Michael Rooker. This all comes back to me being an audio learner, and the fact that it’s easier for me to keep people straight if I can “hear” them in my head.

If you have this same habit, I’m curious who you picked for the characters in The Witch Watch. I had a couple of actors in mind when I wrote it, (Gilbert, Alice, and Moxley) but I don’t want to obliterate your own take on the characters with mine. I can share mine later if you like, but being the author I’m worried that my picks will carry more weight than they should. (They shouldn’t carry any!)

Feel free to ignore this silly actor business, which is completely irrelevant to the world of books.

So… what say you about the book?


From The Archives:

131 thoughts on “The Witch Watch:Open Thread

  1. *hears crickets, or maybe it’s the rustling of paper*
    People that do not wish to offend you do not dare to speak,
    those who love it still can’t put it down or are afraid of spoilers,
    then there are those who have read it but really do not wish to speak first,
    then there is me who haven’t read it but just wanted to break the ice in this thread.

    1. noahpocalypse says:

      Nice. Did you steal that from someone else, or was it on-the-spot?

      I was unsure if the topic I posted of below was too personal, so I empathize.

      1. On the spot indeed. As to whether my mind pieced it together from things I’ve seen/heard/read previously I truly do not know.

        Writers and Musicians in particular struggle with this (Maybe Shamus will talk more of the writing process later?), you write or compose something awesome and a moment later you realize it’s from something you read/heard in the 80’s or something.

        Programming is a little different, as there is usually always a way to improve or do it differently than the original code. But in Writing and Composing it kinda sets you off balance and you loose your feeling/momentum for a while until you managed to rewrite the part in question so it feels like it is “yours”.

  2. noahpocalypse says:

    After reading the autoblography, I mentally analyzed the three main characters:

    GILBERT represents’ Shamus’ desire to do right, and how he sometimes just takes the direct root. This side understands little to nothing of technical stuff, but can appreciate it (he adores stained glass windows).

    ALICE represents the programmer and the scientist in Shamus. She is well-read, and has a natural curiosity in all systems and desires to understand them. She has little interest in things outside of her sphere.

    SIMON represents his frustrations with corporations and governments and ‘evil’ things in general. This was especially prevalent when Simon learned that his teachers were barely competent themselves and were just being jerks. He has an interest in everything which was quelled by poor, poor, poor teachers.

    This is not something I regularly do, probably because I don’t have the insight into most author’s lives that Shamus gives us into his. Anyway, is that somewhat accurate Shamus?

    1. Shamus says:

      You have already put more thought into that than I did. :)

      1. Parkhorse says:

        Gotta love the whole death-of-the-author, post-structural theory-crafting. On one hand, I’d say there’s a small element of “making it” when people start that on your works. On the other hand, there’s something really weird about this in a thread the author himself started.

        EDIT: and months after posting as Parkhorse as a joke in the Assassin’s Creed Spoiler Warning, I just now notice that I’m still posting under that moniker. Wow, way to fail the spot check.

    2. rofltehcat says:

      Don’t forget the fatherless main characters who wished that they had been able to spend more time with their father! This is of course a reflection of Shamus’ childhood. *insert one more page of analysis, interpretations and reading tea leaves*

      (You know, there is often too much interpreted into reading something about the author’s personality and life from his published works. But maybe there is a tiny tiny grain of truth in there sometimes.)
      However, if you know something about an author’s life, you can interpret soooo much into characters or the plot which actually isn’t there… I think I spent too many school years (in German lessons) where we would analyze poems, short stories and whatever and normally the person who could press the most amount of BS out of them (and interpreted the BS in a way that met the teacher’s interpretation) got the best grade.

      1. noahpocalypse says:

        I really hate this aspect of literature classes. And that seems to me to be the only way to appreciate modern art and get some respect for it.

      2. Mari says:

        In high school I had a literature teacher who also taught psychology. He was very solidly of the Freudian school of thought. In the first place he completely ruined a great deal of literature for me including “The Lord of the Flies.” But I discovered very quickly that the more Freudian my literary analysis was, the better my grades in that course. I aced the class while learning virtually nothing and being turned off to a lot of classics.

      3. X2Eliah says:

        That sort of collective wankery is what effectively ruined literature classes (and appreciation, consequently, of literary criticism) for me. These sort of methods are the butchers of literary work in its own right, and actively condone the pure enjoyment of reading…

        Basically, literary criticism is a cancer on literature as such.

  3. LazerFX says:

    I really enjoyed it. Bought it on Kindle, read it in two sittings (Which given my work load at present is saying something!), and will re-read it at a later point to fully mull things over.

    A question for everyone else – when did you realise that the electric lamps were the draining spell? For me, it was just after the battle, when Simon mentioned it was like he was in the draining circle again… it all clicked ;) I had wondered earlier what the continuous commenting about gas lamps / electric lights was…

    1. noahpocalypse says:

      I could tell that there was a circle of energy as soon as someone (don’t remember who) was acting tired, but I thought it was a circle drawn around the whole city or something. It was as soon as Simon started scanning the lights that it clicked for me.

    2. rofltehcat says:

      It was pretty obvious imo, as soon as Simon mentioned there was something off with the distribution of the lamps throughout the city, while they were still cluelessly walking north, I knew they were plot-centric. I was still pondering whether they were some sort of trap (huge explosion or whatever), rails (to direct the undead) or simply power lines (=the evil guys can use the power lines to connect to their feeding circles sooner).
      But as soon as the dark lord started spamming meteors, I realised… god damn, he is feeding off the whole town!

      And yeah, I also enjoyed it a lot. Finished it in 3 nights.

      1. Mike says:

        That’s when I noticed too.

        It was very well foreshadowed with the spell that has to be done without lifting the pen, and the unceasing talk of electric lights.

        1. Shamus says:

          I’m actually really glad people connected the dots on this. It means that:

          1) The story was working well enough that they were paying attention to the rules.
          2) The reader gets to feel smug for a few pages.

          If the author makes it too obvious, then the reader feels like the characters are stupid for not figuring it out. (Like Jensen not realizing the hacker was being remote controlled.) If the author makes it too obscure, then it feels like an asspull, or the reader feels like the author wasn’t playing fair. The “just the right amount of info” is a really narrow target to hit.

          1. Mari says:

            Yep. That’s probably the single greatest reason I keep giving the novel such glowing reviews. It’s such a tiny, tiny margin of entry and you really pegged it. Being more than a passing fan of the mystery genre, I LOVE when authors manage to stick that landing.

          2. Vlad says:

            Wow, reading the other comments on this until now, I realized I must have been one of the first to figure it out (not to brag or anything, I just thought more people would think this way). Like rofltehcat, as soon as I Simon kept mentioning the lights after their return to London I understood they were plot-centric. I paused a bit and thought about it, then connected the dots with the headmaster feeding circle and immediately realised why Mordaunt claimed he’d be so powerful. Truth be told, I was surprised they didn’t figure it out as soon as they felt like being in a feeding circle. EDIT: Oh yes, I forgot to mention that I also used the hint at the party about one of the Four Horsemen being “the industrialist that installed the city’s electrical lighting.”

            I loved it, finished it in about 3 days, several sitting of course. Bought it off Amazon and tested the Kindle Android app with it. It works great, and I love that you can synchronise it with the Kindle PC app and it just loads your last page, whatever the device.

            I also realised about halfway through that, since I was reading it in an eBook format, I could highlight and write down notes (akin to your Twitter reviews, Shamus). I found this practice to my liking and will continue to do so for future books. As for “The Witch Watch”, I plan on posting a full review using these notes I made in the near future. At the moment, I simply glowingly reviewed it on Amazon! :)

            1. Jondare says:

              Pretty much the same here, although it took me until the battle to realise what kind of circle it was they had made. And the hint with the horseman was the one that turned the gears for me :)

            2. Dues says:

              I fell like I figured out the feeding circle early because I knew Shamus was a Full Metal Alchemist fan. But if you figured it out without knowing that, then maybe I was wrong.

          3. X2Eliah says:

            I gotta say, it was a very clever way of guiding the reader into this revelation without showing your own hand too much. Plenty of increasingly mounting references, and the great revelation only explicitly laid out ot the last moment.

            Brilliant. Also, scarily manipulative. You wouldn’t happen to have a statue of a hand holding the globe in your front yard?

            1. Shamus says:


              It’s a baseball.

          4. Kaeltik says:

            I can’t remember the exact moment that I figured out the lamps, but I think it was the first time they were mentioned after the protagonists got back to London. The two-part Chekhov’s Gun was very well done.

    3. Mari says:

      I’m probably more savvy to the conventions and tropes of fantasy magic than I should be. I realized the lamps were plot-centric the second time Simon mentioned them. I understood HOW they were plot-centric as soon as Brooks outlined his plan at the dinner party.

      1. Vlad says:

        Nice, you were quicker than me to figure it out. :)

        1. Mari says:

          As I said, a lot of it had to do with being familiar with the conventions of fantasy magic for me. I had seen other authors use electrical wiring as a “conduit” for magic before (though never in quite this way – the closest would be Mercedes Lackey’s “The Serpent’s Shadow” where one of the main characters utilized the new electrical wiring in her home to facilitate building faster and sturdier magical shields) which helped me connect the dots more quickly than some people might have done.

    4. Scott (Duneyrr) says:

      I realized it right when Simon noticed that there were some streets with electric lights and some without (right after doing chin-ups). I was expecting to see the continuously drawn circle before the end of the book and it seemed to fit very nicely with an electric current.

    5. Uristqwerty says:

      Everything suddenly fit together for me at the dinner party, when it was mentioned that they were added by someone on the villain’s side. I guess that the irregularity was already odd, and associating it with the enemies made it clearly some sort of sinister plot (otherwise it would have had a more regular pattern to it), and it just fit naturally with the circle from the book.

    6. swenson says:

      I’ll admit to not realizing the electric lights formed a feeding circle until the characters did (although I realized they were in a feeding circle slightly before them), but I knew the lights were significant and had something to do with his plan. I actually was suspecting the streets with/without light had to do with some sort of a signal, so I was sort of close (in that both are communication? I dunno!), but not close enough, unfortunately. :(

      1. Jimmy Bennett says:

        I will also admit that I didn’t figure it out until Simon did. I knew that the street lights were plot significant, just because Simon kept paying so much attention to them, but I didn’t realize why until Simon started mapping them out (this was right before the big reveal).

        Of course, I’m usually pretty dense when it comes to plot twists. I’m slightly jealous of people who can see plot twists coming. I almost never do.

        I will say, I was a little confused by the scene where they’re looking at the page with the map of the giant feeding circle. They’re looking at it and wondering what it is. I got the impression that they still hadn’t figured out what the spell did. Simon said that it was a feeding circle for Mourdant, but the way everyone reacted (or, more precisely, didn’t react) I got the impression that he was just throwing out a guess.

        I thought the mystery was “What does this strange spell do?” not, “Why is this feeding spell on a page all by itself, written in such a funny way?” Of course, if you’d made it more obvious it might have spoiled the twist. It’s hard to know where to strike a balance with these things.

    7. 4th Dimension says:

      Realized it when Simon mentioned that the order of streets with light and without was off. I was guided to that conclusion because in Good Omens Demon Crowley does something similar with a roundabout around London.

    8. Even says:

      I figured that there must be a circle somewhere but didn’t connect it with the lamps. My mind just ignored the whole lamp thing.. The thought of a city spanning circle just felt too ridiculous to me, only to be corrected a few paragraphs later. One hell of a gambit in retrospect, if you think about their overall plan.

    9. FuguTabetai says:

      I finally got around to reading the Witch Watch. I really enjoyed it (kindle version.) I was curious when other people realized that the Electric lights were some sort of sorcery-based circle. For me, I knew the electric lights would be plot-centric and forming some sort of circle when Alice and Simon found the Headmaster’s small spell book with the circle drawn without lifting the pen. It was clear (to me, I have an EE degree along with a few CS degrees) that the diagram needed to be contiguous to complete a circuit, which is when I realized that the electric lights were going to play some role that was heavily plot-centric. I didn’t realize it would be a feeding circle until the dark lord started to throw around fireballs like someone who just discovered TILTOWAIT.

      One of the things that I really enjoyed about Witch Watch is that the magic system was well thought-out. I also loved that none of the characters did dumb things, and generally followed Shamus’ list of things not to do in video game narrative and design.

      The only thing that bothered me a bit was that Shamus did not spend enough time talking about the drawbacks of being undead. For example, he did not talk about the extent to which Gilbert would need to be careful not to injure himself beyond useful repair. In the final battle he mentions that the undead can be hacked in half and still move, but I was worried that Gilbert would say, break a leg bone in half. Then his leg wouldn’t support his weight, right? Is he animated by magic, such that a broken leg bone can knit back together? I just wanted a bit more clarity on what Gilbert could do as an undead. That is somewhat answered in the end, when Alice re-attaches Gilbert’s arm, but I’m still curious about the mechanics there.

      Finally, I would like to recommend that people who enjoyed Witch Watch take a look at Brandon Sanderson’s Elantris ( which is another good book with a well-thought out magic system (always a hallmark of Sanderson’s original work) and “undead”. Kind of. And perhaps an even larger similarity that I won’t go into.

  4. Warhobo says:

    Shamus, did Gilbert ever get in contact with Mother after the tale ended?

    1. Strangeite says:

      I am curious about this as well. While Gilbert had little interaction with people, those that he did have contact with didn’t exhibit some sort of complete revulsion to his undead state (think Leopold’s reaction). It seemed slightly odd that he wouldn’t take the opportunity to “make peace” with his mother.

    2. rofltehcat says:

      I guess this could be material for a sequel (if Shamus is planning anything of the sort). The end really hints that the future activities of Witch Watch might change the way magic is seen in public from
      “any form is evil and needs to be destroyed” to “we need to understand and research it to protect innocents from evil people using it and need to use it for good if needed”.

      If such a change is really perceived in public, he might visit his mother and talk to her. I just wonder whether this would actually help. It might just open old scars.

    3. X2Eliah says:

      Probably not.. Given the story universe’s revulsion at abominations, plus Gilbert’s own disapproval of such things, he’d more likely do the “right” thing and not burden his mom with knowing her son’s a walking pile of bones animated by evil magicks.
      Gilbert’s always been of a “self-sacrificing for the right” kind of man in this novel – I don’t think that would change after the novel ends.

  5. Sheer_falacy says:

    I very much enjoyed the book – pretty much the only issue I had was how quickly the guards attitude toward Gilbert changed after he hid in the coffin – I’m sure it was needed for the story but it didn’t even get dialogue, just narration that they decided he was an okay guy.

    And I had figured they’d dig up the copper or sabotage the generator, but both of those were brought up with good reasons they wouldn’t work.

    1. Guvnorium says:

      This is actually pretty much the only problem I had with the book. Well, this section, and the first battle at buckingham palace. Both seemed to move really quickly and not really have enough description. Of course, those are minor issues, in my opinion.

  6. Mike says:

    Really loved the book. I was a little sad that Gilbert didn’t die. He didn’t seem very happy in his new “life”. I don’t feel like the princess did him a favor by letting him keep her Vigor. Rescuing her and giving the princess her Vigor back was his noble goal and a reason for being an abomination. I don’t feel like being on the witch watch can fuel that same drive, and he’ll spend a lot of time depressed.

    I can’t believe he let himself get captured on the Callisto. He really has to be the most stupid person ever. I can understand the chase, but once the guy (can’t remember his name) started yelling “He’s right behind me” there is no way even a zombie without a brain would be so stupid as to keep following. That was one of those moments where I was trying not to yell at the book. “STOP FOLLOWING HIM YOU MORON. IT’S A TRAP!”

    1. Shamus says:

      I do feel bad about not propping that moment up a little better. In my mind, Gilbert had only recently remembered how he died, and the part these guys played in it. He was pissed, restless, and yes, not being very smart.

      Of course, this doesn’t excuse not putting this in the book. I can make all the asides I like here in the comments, but it wasn’t in the book, and so the story stopped working for some people. It’s always painful to see bits like this that could have been fixed with just an additional paragraph or sentence.

      1. Clint Olson says:

        Yeah. It did seem a bit like Gilbert was holding the Idiot Ball for a bit there.

      2. Mari says:

        Maybe it’s a chick thing or maybe it’s a “me” thing (I tend to emotionally identify strongly with characters) but I totally “got” why Gilbert was being stupid there. It made perfect sense that in the heat of the moment, the disorientation of just discovering how he died and the annoyance of being “trapped” in the room he would go tearing out at the slightest provocation and when the provocation was one of the clowns that had a part in his death he would completely lose his head.

        All things considered, Gilbert was a very emotionally driven character throughout the novel and had a history of being impulsive to his own detriment so it was very much “in character” to me.

      3. Simon Buchan says:

        Though I was very surprised that he decided jumping into a net was not the stupidest possible thing he could do, his (metaphorical, in the circumstances) head-slap afterwards sold it for me! Along with all the other uh… lapses of judgement? Gilbert displays, it’s perfect Sue-busting – countering all the Cursed With Awesome [link elided for humanitarian reasons] and just general Lawful Goodness his character could have suffered from.

    2. 4th Dimension says:

      Okay I could understand him thrying to run Sooth down, but jumping on an net laying on the floor?!? Really?

  7. Strangeite says:

    I don’t really have specific actors in my mind when I read a book, they do have distinct voices, but not necessarily aligned with real actors.

    However, now that you mention it, here would be my list.

    Gilbert: Ron Perlman, an American actor with extensive experience in European films.

    Alice: Keira Knightley? Proved in Pride and Prejudice that she can pull off the dresses.

    Simon: Aaron Johnson. Young (21), English and was pretty good in Kick-Ass.

    1. Vlad says:

      Oh yes, I forgot about the actors. I never do this kind of thing with actors for books, but Foxley has GOT to be made after Stephen Fry. I could not accept it otherwise!

      1. Shamus says:

        I guess that one was pretty obvious. Yeah.

        He didn’t START as Stephen Fry. While researching the book, I ended up reading about Oscar Wilde and the “dandies”, which were very roughly akin to “metrosexuals” today, both in behavior and how they were regarded by society. I thought that sort of person would make a nice contrast to the rest of the characters in the book, and move away from the bog standard “English Gentleman” trope. I didn’t some monocle-wearing, top-hatted chap toddling about all, “I say old chap! Pip pip! Tally ho!”

        Then as I wrote him, the voice of Stephen Fry took him over and there was nothing I could do about it. :)

        1. Strangeite says:

          Stephen Fry is too large (physically) to play Moxley in my mind’s eye. I could see Alan Cummings in the role.

        2. Vlad says:

          So anyway, Shamus. Is, er, Byron gay? And in love with Moxley? Why was he so always so huffy when Alice visited Moxley?

          1. Simon Buchan says:

            I felt that he was just pissed at all these randoms showing up in his house. Also, that he was a moron.

          2. Guvnorium says:

            Well, it was mentioned that Byron would not permit Moxley to grow a beard, on top of the two of them having a secret apartment together. I assumed they were.

          3. Mari says:

            I can see an argument both ways but ultimately I find that I just don’t care.

            1. Guvnorium says:

              Heh. I can see why you wouldn’t. Ultimately, he’s awesome, and it doesn’t really matter.

          4. Scipio says:

            Seemed pretty clear to me that Moxley and Byron were secret lovers. Byron’s generally possessive attitude towards Moxley and his anguish when Moxley gets arrested seemed pretty indicative. The secret apartment was also pretty telling. Plus Byron seems like the kind of lover that Moxley would seek out. He’s basically a dumb, but good looking, boy toy. Moxley couldn’t risk a relationship with anybody politically connected. as being outted would be political suicide.

            I really liked how it was just suggested though, without actually coming out and saying it.

    2. Mari says:

      I was somewhat wondering about Dan Radcliffe for the role of Gilbert. Of course, he’d have to get his kit off by the end of the film. :-P

      Carey Mulligan would be a great Alice.

      And Eddie Redmayne as Simon.

      Obviously Sir Christopher Lee must play the part of Brooks.

  8. Mari says:

    I just have to throw my favorite quote out there now that I’m allowed to give spoilers. “There was simply no protocol for what to do when a host was shot in front of his own dinner party.” I howl with laughter every time I read that. So what are your favorite quotes from the book, folks?

    1. noahpocalypse says:

      That. Definitely.

    2. Vlad says:

      Gilbert looked up, “Are you really complaining about the quality of your profane and grotesque education? Would you really be happier if you'd been taught sorcery properly?”

      “Yes!” Simon said in frustration. “It's the only thing I was ever taught. And now I learn that it was useless. There's no reason I couldn't have learned more with less hardship under a more qualified tutor.”

      Shamus’ regular readers will know why.

      1. noahpocalypse says:

        That is when I realized what part of Shamus Simon represents. And when I started profiling the other characters.

    3. Guvnorium says:

      Abomination is such a harsh term. I prefer
      to think of myself as an affront,” it replied.

      I laughed so hard at that one. My second favorite one is definitely the one about the one about the host getting shot at his own dinner party.

      1. swenson says:

        That was a pretty excellent turn of phrase. Just because, well, I love when people aren’t particularly impressed by the thing that’s supposed to impress/frighten/offend them.

    4. Vlad says:

      Oh, I have another good one.

      “So the core of your arguments, as I understand them, is that these four powerful men should be charged with the capital offenses of trespassing on their own property, wearing the wrong robes, and staying up late?”

      I don’t know how to explain it, but this is such a “Shamus” thing to say. It’s his signature way of writing, and my eCopy of the book is full of these passages I highlighted while writing down “Shamus style”.

      It’s interesting how I’ve come to recognize his written mannerisms, and I just now realize that I’ve never been this close to an actual author of an actual book before (where close = he sometimes answers my comments on his website).

      Yep, you’re an author now, Shamus. You’re moving up in the world!

    5. Gothmog says:

      Same here. Great quote.

    6. Katesickle says:

      I love the bit where Gilbert is talking about “buying some company for the night” and Alice asks “Wouldn’t the company be rented?”

    7. Muspel says:

      “You stand before the mighty Viscount of Pugilism!”

      I nearly broke my Kindle by laughing soda through my nose when I read that.

      1. Jimmy Bennett says:

        That was a great line. It also seemed like a bit of a Rutskarn line, if that makes sense. It seemed like something I might read on Chocolate Hammer, or like something the ‘Skarn might say on Spoiler Warning when he was joking around.

  9. Rick says:

    I just bought it (had issues with Kindle on my phone) but haven’t started reading it yet. Grabbed Free Radical to read again too.

    Shamus, when does the movie come out?

    1. Shamus says:

      Next summer. It’s directed by Michael Bay. Gilbert will be played by Shia Labeouf. Alice is played by some girl you’ve never heard of, but she was in Maxim so I’m sure she’s sexy enough for the part, and should be able to pull off the tight corsets outfits that Alice will be wearing in the film. Simon is played by Jake Lloyd.

      Some thematic changes were made. Moxley is now a suave, dapper fellow that flirts with Alice constantly. We’re hoping Daniel Craig will take the part. Callisto is being re-written as the Titanic, because people will be confused if something goes wrong on a boat not named titanic. Instead of trying to take over London, the bad guys just want to blow it up.

      I can’t wait. (For the check to clear.)

      1. Sheer_falacy says:

        London? No no no, It has to be New York. Who’d want to watch London being attacked?

        1. Jimmy Bennett says:

          I just wanted to say this comment cracked me up. Nice work.

      2. Dave B says:

        That sounds great, but it still needs something…

        How about a pair of buffoonish low-level villains for some comic relief? You could even make them a racial minority and then give them lots of stereotypical traits so the audience doesn’t mistake them for some kind of social commentary. Every movie needs that.

        1. Vlad says:

          The headmasters two henchmen would be perfect for this role. Soot would be retooled into a Danny DeVito type character, while Ivar would be Arnold Schwarzenegger. Wait a second, I think I’m stuck in the 90s.

      3. Mari says:

        Has Alice’s watch become a cell phone yet?

        1. Vlad says:

          This sort of thing CAN be done justice if in the right hands. See the modern day BBC adaptation “Sherlock” of our favourite Victorian detective. You’d think it wouldn’t be proper to have Sherlock Holmes using a cellphone, but it turned out amazing, and I simply cannot stop recommending the series.

          1. Mari says:

            Oh, I know it can be done well and I adore “Sherlock” despite initial skepticism. Just joining in the fun of “Bay-ing” Shamus’ novel.

            1. Vlad says:

              All right then, carry on.

              Instead of Alice wearing trousers purely for practicality’s sake, she’d complain loudly and often about dresses and she’d just generally be much more progressive-minded for a woman in that era, to avoid any sort of Values Dissonance that would confuse the audience or, worse, make them think.

      4. rofltehcat says:

        I’m sure Michael Bay would LOVE Alice’s fireballs. He’d make many more things explode than actually needed. The fight against the headmaster would be in some kind of oil refinery or whatever so everything could explode at the slightest idea of fire being nearby.
        Plus all the gunpowder barrels distributed between the soldiers in the battle for London!

        Boom! BOOM! Boooom!

      5. swenson says:

        Alice has also been turned from someone who is very much a lady, just with an inquisitive and scientific mind, into an absurdly over-the-top “tomboy” who flagrantly wears tight pants all the time and is a sharpshooter with her pistol, which has suddenly gained a much larger magazine and automatic fire capabilities.

      6. X2Eliah says:

        In that case, the moment that is briefly reflected in the novel – Gilbert walking into Alice in her quarters and “not feeling anything” would be a major centerpiece of the first half of the movie. Give the audience some erotica before flooding them with explosions.

    2. Kayle says:

      I supposed Shamus could pull a Shinkai Makoto* and animate the whole thing himself… or perhaps he could direct a whole bunch of willing slaves volunteers.

      * who made several anime almost entirely himself, She and Her Cat and Voices of a Distant Star which launched his career as a director.

  10. David W says:

    I really enjoyed the book, enough that I recommended it on its own merits, so I think I can count myself responsible for two of your sales. That said, I was a bit disappointed in the antagonists. Especially when compared to SHODAN (and to a lesser extent, Diego).

    There just wasn’t any personality to them, aside from evil and vile and nasty. No goal aside from generalized power, and most of the actions of theirs we saw seemed unrelated to their actual goals. Although I can understand the purpose of threatening Gilbert’s Mother, for instance, I don’t understand the point of actually carrying it out, nor the value in attempting to destroy Gilbert rather than capture him. If all they cared about was getting him out of the way – why not make a trail onto the ship, then sneak back off, and let him enjoy a three week round trip? I think the telling sign is that I can’t remember the name or description of any but Mordaunt himself, and Ivar (and Ivar I remember mainly for killing Gilbert).

    Compare to SHODAN: her goals seemed clearly a combination of gaining control and knowledge, and although many of her decisions were wrong, I could at least follow the reasoning. SHODAN and Diego had a habit of missing the bigger picture, in pursuit of generally selfish short term goals – and their short term plans worked! It was just that the long range consequences of them blew up in their faces. Morduant had the bigger picture locked down, only losing in the end due to the heroes, but none of his visible decisions seemed to make any sense.

    All this said – I see you left yourself an option for a sequel, and I hope Witch Watch sells well enough that you can write one! I liked the setting, and the protagonists, and the style. I just would prefer more effort spent on the antagonists next time.

    1. Guvnorium says:

      I actually really liked the villains. They were power hungry fellows with a rather stereotypical goal, but their plan made sense, and power seems like an excellent motivation.

      1. Scipio says:

        While I generally liked the book, the villain’s plan seemed really lackluster to me. Based on the descriptions of the Viscount’s estate, I sort of got the impression that the villains were supposed to be caricatures. Which explains their completely unachievable goal of seizing power.

        The whole concept of physically overthrowing the government and taking the monarch hostage just doesn’t have any possibility of succeeding. Remember that the undead are reviled by everybody with any decency. Plus the Church is completely against them. To make a modern comparison, imagine if Al Queda somehow invaded Washington and took the president and his family hostage and declared themselves the new rulers of America.

        Sure, there might be a hostage standoff, but there’s no way that people would acquiesce to a completely illegitimate and reviled group seizing power. You can argue that Victorian era Brits were less nationalist and coups were more accepted there, but it’s a huge difference between another noble with at least a colorable claim to legitimacy and the feared and reviled undead.

    2. Simon Buchan says:

      On the other hand, I got the feeling at the dinner party that our villains were sincere in their belief that a Lich is the only good government – otherwise the Lord what got shot (you might have a point on the names…) would not have kept trying to argue. Also consider how much effort Mordy went to to not kill the soldiers – I don’t feel the argument about feeding from them holds water when they are less than a few thousand out of a town of millions.

    3. Naps says:

      I kind of felt that way too, then remembered that Mordaunt had been dead for 3 years before Gilbert’s quest began. That’s plenty long enough for someone who can only express himself as a disembodied voice to lose his grip and make mistakes out of sheer frustration with his circumstances.

  11. OldGeek says:

    I bought the book for kindle and just started reading it. It’s very god so far, and I look forward to reading more AS SOON AS MY WIFE STOPS HOGGING THE MACHINE!!!

    1. Mari says:

      This is why you need another Kindle. Three Nooks in a family of four isn’t enough for us.

  12. Jason says:

    I enjoyed the book a great deal.
    I think Free Radical is better.
    I look forward to the sequel for Witch Watch.

    My main gripe was how very obvious (to me – it may just be me; I’ve been accused of sideways thinking and of having read far too many mystery/spy novels)
    My main gripe was how obvious it felt as soon as they talked about a feeding circle written with a continuous line.

    This made some of the hints (about the feeding circles’ oddity) along the way feel irritating.

    I found it conceptually nifty and amusing, and am recommending it to friends (:

    I have seen few books take a scientific/deductive approach to magic, and do it as well as witch watch.
    Thanks for an awesome piece of literature.


  13. swenson says:

    Can I just say how much I appreciate the character of Alice? So, so often in historical fiction (especially historical fantasy), there’s so much “political correctness” that the author thinks needs to be shoehorned in, and all their little philosophy and whatnot. And inevitably, this takes the form of the female protagonist wearing trousers and fighting and doing everything better than the men because gender inequality is bad. I just really liked how Alice seemed like an actual person from Victorian England. She was inquisitive, intelligent, and had a scientific mind, but she was still a lady, and she got by just fine as one, thank you very much.

    It was the scene where she reveals how little she likes wearing trousers (but has to because they’re practical) that did it for me. That’s when I knew I was really going to like this girl! She is realistic for the time period, and this doesn’t make her suddenly lose her intelligence or awesomeness just because she’s not wearing men’s clothing.

    So thank you, Shamus, for showing that women don’t have to act like men to be capable, interesting characters. (or worse yet, having to act like a man to get equality with them!) That’s the worst sort of sexism there is, the kind that masquerades as political correctness.

    1. swenson says:

      Also, I loved the scientific approach to magic. Telemain from the Enchanted Forest Chronicles has always been one of my favorite magic-using characters for that reason, so another book about magiscience is great!

      1. Simon Buchan says:

        I pretty much had this in my head every time Alice was about.

        1. Gothmog says:

          Yes. Girl Genius. Shamus- talk to Phil Foglio about making Witch Watch into a comic!

  14. Kevin says:

    I really enjoyed the book as well, read it in 2 nights. However, I’m still trying to figure out how Gilbert got into Mordaunt’s tomb. Mordaunt was killed after taunting the church, Gilbert was mistaken for him. Why would the church allow a self proclaimed wizard/sorcerer be buried in a tomb? I thought they routinely burned all their criminals. Also, wouldn’t the people who placed Gilbert on the slab 3 years prior notice it wasn’t their boss/friend? I doubt the church would embalm, dress and pose peacefully someone whom they had just executed.

    I also have been trying to figure out the rules of sorcerer circles. I think there are some rules regarding them:
    1. It seems that they require mental and or physical effort to activate.
    2. Circles are like a “cheat mode” to get to the basic underlying nature of the physical universe.
    3. You could not use a machine to automatically make a circle, nor can you direct a person ignorant in what the circle means to create one (this seems to be contradicted by the lights around London however).
    4. The language used to build the circle is not important.
    5. Circles would not benefit from mass production- making a mold and stamping out hundreds, or printing them with a printing press would not work.

    Are there any other rules that I missed or misinterpreted?

    1. Jason says:

      Burned alive.
      Also, Mordaunt had puled strings to make sure the church took care of him, rather than the witch watch.
      It is likely there was a church official on his payroll, because the church was big enough and corrupt enough at the time.

      Whereas the witch watch was a very small, tight knit group.

      Mainly, it’s the difference in power.
      Witchcraft in Victorian england wasn’t treated the same as Americas.
      America was filled with the religious fanatical nutjobs.
      England was filled with the corrupt, i-respect-people-because-of-their-parentage fanatical religious nutjobs.


      Re #2: it seemed that it wasn’t so much physical will or anything. it seemed that it was truly just the lines and the lines being close to right (remember the eggshaped circle that the headmaster used to reawaken the real Mordaunt?) Also recall the lines being placed on a door so the door being closed would activate them? I would imagine a machine could be built to make this work in the Witch Watch universe.

      Re: #3 it’s just that people make mistakes without training.
      Look at a cabinet, and check the squareness of the corners.
      Now check the squareness of a room, and lastly the squareness of a building.
      The larger the size, the less needful of perfect angling for it to be acceptable.

      Re: #4 Huhm, I seem to recall the language was Black Latin, but I’m not positive. A quick skimming did not reveal any information to refute this position.

      Re: #5 I can’t wait for Shamus to weigh in on this one (:

      1. X2Eliah says:

        #4: Black latin was used only as a form of encryption – encoded Greek. Since it was made up well after the beginning of the universe/magics and whatnot, it is reasonable that the language does not matter. “modern” sorcerers use that language because they quite possibly don’t really know of what black latin represents, and therefore reproduce previous spells from drawings or combine them on a logic-effect basis. And the few sorcerers who do understand Black Latin might aswell keep using it since they are familiar with it and it makes bugger all sense to anybody else.

  15. Bryan says:

    I mostly loved your book Shamus- it was very good, better than most other books I read these days in almost every respect. One part bothered me though- it was the part on the ship, the Callisto. I saw the Ambush coming a mile away, and it was a huge facepalmer when the characters didn’t see it coming. That made me stop reading the book and find something else to do for awhile- which is good, because I needed to do my homework. Aside from that one facepalm moment, I loved the book- I can’t think of any other major flaws.

    One question though. Why didn’t Alice and the rest of the Department of Ethereal Affairs immediately head to the Queen when they heard about how Sophie had been kidnapped?

  16. Shamus – I noticed that you don’t give specific detailed descriptions of your characters’ physical attributes: Hair color, hair length, face shape, eye color, skin color, nose size, mannerism ticks, etc.

    Did you intentionally keep their physicality vague to allow the reader to apply their own imagination? Or was this an unconscious omission?

    I find it a bit disconcerting when an author doesn’t give a clear and detailed description of a character’s appearance because without it, the character ends up being a bit of an amorphous blob in my mind’s eye.

    But I realize I may be in the minority on this.


    1. X2Eliah says:

      I don’t know about that. To me, there were a few pages near the introduction that were dedicated to describing Alice’s (And Simon’s) apparel in quite a bit of detail.

      I’m not sure if I could have bothered if such descriptions continued on and on for pages on end.

      1. Can you describe Alice’s physical appearance? What color is her hair? How long is it? Is it wavy or straight? What is her face shape? Is it round, or narrow? Does she have chubby cheeks or pronounced cheek bones? What is her ethnic background? Is she Caucasian or a black woman?

        There are many ways for an author to convey this information without listing a page of traits like a D&D character sheet.

        1. krellen says:

          Alice’s hair is brown, because it is never described, and brown is the default. If it were any other colour, folks would notice that, rather than the ribbons.

          It is unspecifically long, but not short, as she grows it long to offset her need to wear trousers once in a while. However, it cannot be too long, as that would be unpractical. It probably drapes over her shoulders but not much more.

          Her hair is probably somewhat wavy, which is also a default; it is neither curly nor straight, as either of these would be noticed and described by our narrators.

          She has a thin, narrow face – probably bordering on gaunt. She is consistently described as thin, and she herself points out that wizards are almost always thin and spindly.

          She is white, because she is a middle-class woman of some independence in Victorian England, and her father was a Minister of a Royal Ministry, which would not happen to a black man at the time.

    2. Mari says:

      I’m the opposite. I tend to “flesh out” characters based purely on my own sensibilities anyway so I hate when authors expend too much effort on describing characters. I have a very clear view of Alice, Gilbert, Simon, Mordaunt, Moxley, and Brooks in my head already. It’s only going to be a let-down when Shamus mentions how HE pictures them.

      1. Suburbanbanshee says:

        Yes. Books have a visual descriptive component, but it’s best used as a suggestive power rather than anything exact. You don’t get overly descriptive about appearance in a radio play, or a book, because the reader is expected to enjoy imagining it. Telling details here and there, not a full description.

        Of course, I realize that some authors really do “see” and “hear” their characters, and thus feel that they have to tell us exactly what they “see”. But a little of that goes a long way.

        Ditto with that “use all the senses” stuff. If the author uses all the senses for description in the book more than about five times, I’m going to have to throw the book across the room, because there’s only so much odor description I’m prepared to live with.

        Sensory descriptions of any kind are only worthwhile if they serve the theme, the action, the characterization, and the reader’s pleasure. (Ideally, more than one of these at once.) They are spices and sauces, not dinner.

  17. Gothmog says:

    Well done, Shamus. I enjoyed the book quite a bit. I look forward to a sequel!

  18. X2Eliah says:

    Great book.

    One thing that’s bothering me – the main characters are a bit mono-dynamic, aren’t they? Each one has a single defining character trait that completely covers what they are and what they do. And there’s not really much of an arc for Alice, and none at all for Gilbert (who was “good and noble and rash” before his death, in his death, up till the end of the novel and beyond). Some of secondary characteristics that would have fuelled proper conflict, or just given them more depth, would have been welcome, imo.
    I’ll admit, Simon does have an arc in theory (squirmy weasel finds courage and goodness), but even then, he doesn’t change much in character, he just gets a possibility to act as himself. He was never truly evil, or wretched, or even that cowardly (as implied by his reflection of his orphanage days, where he was driven by reason and circumstance, not an inherent cowardice)… I suppose the same would apply to the Dark Lord, Graves, and the rest of the villainous bunch. They were rather flat and singular in their goals and characters.

    Just.. some feedback. In your next book, you might want to seed your characters with more than one defining trait, and don’t let yourself be limited to “the good guys must always be good and the bad guys must always be puppy-kicking bad” (especially as you’ve ranted against that in game reviews a lot), let there be a conflict of worldviews, ideas and moralities. I suspect your own personal opinion has coloured this – your main characters seem to collectively agree and take for granted concepts that you would take for granted (e.g. not all wizards/sorcerers must be bad, church is pretty much a plague, the aristocracy and government businesses are a joke and pure politicking, an abomination can be good depending on his actions) even though the entire in-novel universe seems to be againt those notions as far as people are concerned. So.. what I mean is, don’t hesitate to let your main characters to think differently from you as the author.

    1. Scipio says:

      Excellent comment here I think. To be fair though, Gilbert was much more opposed to Sorcery than Alice or Simon, and there was a few hints of conflict there. (Thinking of the scene on board the Callisto where Simon offers to let Alice talk to her father.) Fleshing those disagreements out a bit would go far to establishing more solid characters.

      On the other hand, the general tone seemed to be similar to an action/comedy. The heroes were full of pithy wisecracks and the villains were very stereotypical. Generally, most action comedies don’t have a whole lot of character depth or growth. (Think Commando, or most any other Schwarzenegger comedy.) So part of it is probably the difference between what Shamus was trying to create and the more in-depth work I was hoping for.

  19. Matthias says:

    Shamus, I have one really important question that I’m surprised wasn’t asked by anyone else:

    How hard was it to resist the urge to make the joke “The king is dead, long live the king”? :-)

  20. 4th Dimension says:

    There are couple of things in this book that didn’t work for me.

    The fall of the Witch Watch from grace is one of them. One moment they are a respected group of witch hunters with a decade of good work, and next one they are getting ambushed, their manpower killed by obvious sorcerer minions, and on top of that they are closed down. And the guy who’s troops did the killing is under suspicion of having kidnapped a princess. It seems as if all forcess in Britain are more loyal to Brooks than the Queen.

    Same with that scene where Villain’s Lutenant Brooks, brags to an audience composed of his OPPONENTS about his glorious plan to dispose the queen. The fact that only Alice reacted to it, and the rest were apparently AGREEING with the plan to dispose the current sitting beloved monarch, simply didn’t work for me. I expected at least a dozen of people that were at least a bit honor before reason, and not to mention people that actually served in the military and thus took the oath to protect the QUEEN to rush Brooks and try to extinguish the usurper’s plan right there and then. And damn the consequences.

    And even after the party, there was no attempt by the loyalists to arrest the conspirators before the flee and bring their own army.

    It seemed that, as if the only loyal people to the royal family where in witch watch, and no temporal authorities tried to do anything, but stand by uselessly and wait to get beaten.

  21. Naps says:

    I had an issue with vigor, which I thought needed a little more explanation. Alice suspected Mordaunt was wrong about royal blood being necessary for revivification, but that’s something Mordaunt should have tested thoroughly, what with his vigor-based magical medicine and scientific approach to magic. I guess we can assume Mordaunt was right just because we have no reason to believe otherwise (other than Alice’s doubts), but it would have been better to have had that settled at some point. Maybe it was and I totally missed it?

    1. Guvnorium says:

      I figured that he didn’t want to risk it. Because your own resurrection, last time I checked, is not something you want to get wrong, and kidnapping a monarch early to test it strikes me as a bad idea. And he definitely was reviving people without royal blood; they were just mindless servants. Probably a different sorcery circle, but still.

      1. 4th Dimension says:

        Yup. Two different resurrections
        One summons the deceased back into his body, and teh deceased is fully aware of what he is doing, and is indipendent of his summoner
        Other one simply uses some vigor to animate the body, and then such abomination serves unthinkingly their summoner.

      2. Naps says:

        Given that Simon was made to perform the full revivification alone because of the danger of the spell being botched, I think Mordaunt had anticipated the possibility that more than one attempt would be necessary, and would not have wasted time kidnapping royalty unless the chances of success were zero without it.

        Perhaps his use of mindless undead is confirmation of that. It could also be that they don’t require youthful vigor to create and so are much easier to create.

    2. elias says:

      I came here to ask Shamus about this. If the healings Mordaunt performed used vigor, then was it true that royal vigor was more potent? Seems like it would be a plot hole if royal vigor wasn’t actually required and Mordaunt (having messed with healings and such) already knew that. Alice’s assertion that the necromancer’s belief in the need for royal vigor was incorrect should’ve been resolved with her discovering otherwise if that really was the case (and her wondering why, if no further explanation was presented).

      So my question for Shamus is, was royal vigor really required?

      Also, the transfer of vigor leaves another plot hole… if those with vigor removed are left in a sort of limbo state between life and death, what happens if their body is destroyed in this state (does it affect the person who currently holds the vigor)?
      – If no effect on the current holder of the vigor, why were Leopold and Sophie kept safe rather than disposed of?
      – If the current holder would lose the vigor, then where are all the people who were “killed” (really put in limbo) to perform all those healings? And further, if this is the case, would the original body of the vigor deteriorate as normal? Would the holder of the vigor die when the original body naturally decayed? (Maybe Mordaunt expected to be immortal by stealing vigor periodically as needed?)

      I guess the fate of Leopold and Sophie answers that question: the body can be destroyed without affecting the vigor. So then my second question for Shamus is: why were Leopold and Sophie kept safe rather than disposed of? They were pure liability…

  22. Katesickle says:

    Shamus, I have a question. When the Church ransacked Grayhouse, it was mentioned that they burned the contraband in the garden instead of the street, which was unusual. Was there an actual reason for that? It seemed a bit odd to make a point of that detail, and then not do anything with it.

    I really enjoyed the book, and hope you end up writing many more :)

    1. 4th Dimension says:

      It made me think there was some Bait and Switch going on. Namely they didn’t burn all the books (maybe not a single one), and good portion of them ended in somebody’s hands.

  23. 4th Dimension says:

    No TVtrope page yet?

  24. Kevin (smileyninja) says:

    I’ve been thinking about the implications of magic again.
    1. I don’t know if they were hoop dresses in the Victorian Era- with the metal rings. But a Southern Belle type could conceivably engrave a circle on her dress hoops that could have various enchantments and protections. Something like protection from missiles (ie bullets), or put a feeding circle on one for an enemy.

    2. It was stated that an abomination would be concious forever with just it’s head. But Alice attached GIlbert’s arm back with bolts andd he was basically just skeletal remains at the end of the book. Could an artificial body be fashioned for Gilbert that would replace his bones? Or do you think that his DNA is required (part of his name perhaps?) There is an old ad for Craftsman Tools where they make what appears to be a skeleton made up of various wrenches, hammers, and other tools that looks pretty cool. Could Gilbert become a self conscious golem made of metal parts? Could they attach his head to a train or a car and make something that could autonomously drive people around?

    3. How much royal vigor is needed to power a lich/abomination? Would a 5 year old be enough, could you go younger and use an infant? Would a collection of fertilized cells be enough? Could future scientists make a stem cell controversy where they mass produce “royal” stem cell lines to power Britain’s Industrial might?

    4, I still think that in order for magic to work, physical and/or mental effort is required, that is why a wizard is drained when tossing fireballs. To build a circle should require mental effort as well- if only for the gameplay mechanic. Otherwise newspapers could be printing functioning circles that could be used at home by anyone. Just open the circle of the week and stand inside for whatever spell was provided. This would make magic too readily accessible.

    5. How would the first sorcerer circle spell have been discovered? Perhaps a shaman or court wizard in ancient Babylonia would have noticed that certain shapes could impact his spells. Experimenting might have shown that placing an object inside a circle, then applying different methods to it would result in different functions. (see what I did there?) She would then save that spell for other projects that came up.

    I hope I’m not spoiling any plot elements and surprises you might have planned for the next book Shamus. These elements just seem to be a natural outgrowth from Witch Watch.

  25. hanging_rope says:

    I enjoyed the book, excellent work.
    One thing that annoyed me at the time, however was the fact that so little is made of the deaths of the majority of the Ministry of Ethereal Affairs.Surely there was significant emotional connection between Alice/Archer and the rest of the group, considering the amount of time they had evidently been working together, so they’re apparent lack of an emotional response was quite unusual.

    But even though it has its flaws, it is very well written and I shall be recommending it to my friends.

  26. David H. says:

    A more mixed review: I bought the book eagerly, and liked THE WITCH WATCH as a first effort, but it felt uneven in a number of ways. The opening was the strongest part, with the best flow; in some later parts, the book just seemed to stop. The bit where they were on the ship, in particular, could have used a complete overhaul. The characters talked, but their relationships didn’t materially change, so combined with the lack of action there were pages of nothing of interest happening at all. Until the bad guys actually acted, it was just a bunch of pages of “we’re on a boat.” There’s some really good stuff in the book — I liked all the characters, especially Gilbert — but THE WITCH WATCH really ebbs and flows in terms of its interest-holding. Worth bearing in mind when you do the next book.

    I liked the bit with the streetlights, but felt you could have made it a little less obvious — maybe by moving up the streetlight pattern to earlier, so the evidence would be displayed before the reader had the background to understand it. I actually wished more had been done with the circles — setting one up on the underside of where the bad guy is going to step is a great gimmick, as is drawing one in a way that it will be completed when a door closes. The book could have used a couple of additional sneaky uses like that.

  27. Jack V says:

    Shamus, thank you. There were a few bits I found a bit stilted, but Witch Watch was really excellent.

    I think my favourite line was “Actually, my mother is American” :)

  28. Solf says:

    A rather negative opinion incoming… the only reason I’m writing this is that maybe my opinion is shared by more than just me and maybe it might be considered when writing further works.

    My main problem with the book is that it basically failed to grip me. I did not really get that “one more page” feeling. This is not very useful as a “feedback”, so I tried to figure out why.

    I think it didn’t “work” for me mostly because I felt that protagonists are a bunch of idiots (exaggerating here for clarity) that bumble along without any real plan or idea of what they’re doing and only survive through the luck (and some creative spur-of-the-moment stuff which unfortunately feeds into my second point below). I am sure there’s an audience for that kind of story, but it is just not my thing.

    To give an example: original Witch Watch raid on Mordaunt estate where they apparently just charged in into the fenced grounds (I’m assuming that statue guards were actually posted *inside* the estate) without any reconnaissance or apparent plan. Another: attendance of Brook’s party strikes me as supremely foolish thing to do — basically go into your mortal enemy’s den without any weapon, plan, or idea of what is going to happen…

    Another issue I’ve had with the story is “deus ex machina” stuff (and I’m likely misusing the term, so let me clarify — stuff that happens without any expectation and/or explanation). How Witch Watch came upon The Four Horsemen in the very beginning? How did they track Gilbert & Simon to the church? How much damage Gilbert can take without impact on his capabilities (he sure seemed to stop swords with his arms, couldn’t that break an arm and leave it useless?)? The in-book viewpoint changes often play into this — e.g., at the end, when did Simon have time and opportunity to draw feeding circle close enough to Mordaunt (who was killing and blowing stuff at the time) so that Gilbert could put Mordaunt in there? Why didn’t their fight smudge & break the circle?

    One of the things I very much enjoy on this blog is deconstruction of inane storylines of games. Unfortunately the book itself seems (to me) to be a valid target for just a such deconstruction :(

    Overall I’d say I do not regret the money or time spent on the book — although that might have more to do with my respect to the author & the blog than with the book itself. Although it’s been quite some time ago, I’m fairly certain I’ve enjoyed “Free Radical” much more. I also enjoyed “How I Learned” much more — but that I read in the blog form which quite possibly has had a serious impact on my perception.

    I will also buy the next book and hope it is written in the style that is closer to my heart :)

    1. krellen says:

      I don’t have an explanation for the Witch Watch being there at the beginning; the rest, however, do have answers:

      They tracked Gilbert with Alice’s etherscope. It’s pointed out many times that he registers rather strongly on it.

      Before the ending, Gilbert still has a fair amount of flesh to cushion blows. Also, Victorian swords were not large and blunt broadswords, but slimmer blades like rapiers and sabres, designed more for cutting and stabbing than for crushing.

      It was explicitly mentioned that feeding circles were simple, that Simon was exceptionally fast at making circles, and that circles, once made, were harder to destroy – a scuff isn’t enough to unmake one. That’s why Simon made the feeding circle first, and the unbinding circle second.

      All that said, I do think I still prefer Free Radical to Witch Watch, but considering how highly I rate Free Radical, that isn’t much damnation for WW. It’s still a very good book (evidenced by the fact that I’m up at this hour, since this is when I finished it after receiving it this evening.)

      Oh, and Gilbert was an idiot. It’s one of his main character traits.

  29. Piflik says:

    This is not so much a review for other readers and more constructive criticism for Shamus. The kind of criticism I like to hear myself regarding my work, so it might be more negative than people would like…

    I just finished it and I have to say I liked it. It is a decent book. But while I won’t say it doesn’t deserve the praise it got, I think that much of this was from people who like you personally, Shamus.

    There are certain things, that I don’t like very much:

    1: The letters between Brooks and Alice’s father are a very easy way to establish some background information and lore.

    2: The detour to America is rather pointless. Not from Gilbert’s perspective, but from an author’s point of view. There is nothing gained in terms of story by sending the heroes to another continent. It could have easily been kept in Great Britain without sacrificing anything but the sinking ship (which could have been replaced by derailing a train). I don’t know why, but for me it feels out of proportion to send assassins to America just to kill Gilbert’s mother.

    3: Gilbert’s flashbacks surprised me, or rather their sudden stop. I expected Gilbert to rise the ranks of Mordaunt’s troops, getting them into shape and becoming Mordaunt’s second-in-command. That it didn’t work out that way and ended prematurely wasn’t really bad in itself, just unexpected, but the thing I didn’t like was how it unbalanced the book. The first half had these memory sections (and the letters mentioned earlier) while the second half had none of it.

    But it was entertaining and definitely worth the money. I’ll buy the next one, if there is one, and I recommend anyone to do the same ;)

  30. Chris says:

    I enjoyed the book a lot and will certainly recommend it to some of my friends of wich I know they like fantasy/fiction.

    My only critic is that the end was a little fast. Not so much as to seem rushed, but a little.

    That said, here are the things I liked:

    -) The pacing is good.

    -) Revelations that come later are hinted on before without being too obvious. Not so much that the characters seem dumb, not so few (or none at all) that everything seems like the next best plot advancement device and everyone in the story is just stumbling around completely clueless.

    -) I did not remember the “action sequences” to stand out much – which is a good thing. The action sequences are described in good detail while still being fast enough – if described too lavishly, the world suddenly seems to enter slow motion mode, annoying if it is not intended (which is the case all to rarely).

    -) Although very fantastic, there is an internal set of rules for the magic.

    I began suspecting a city-wide feeding circle after the encounter in Gilberts homestead when they discovered the “one-line feeding circle” in the headmasters book and Simons revelation that there was at least one permanent feeding circle. The thought ocurred to me some time after I had put the book aside (or rather the PDF, jay Smashwords). Following the logic of the story, the unbroken circle might have been special in regards to its mode of operation, and/or out of necessity due to the material it was made of. How big can a circle be? It may be because the feeding circle is integrated into some sort of superstructure, or it is the structure. Are there even limitations? Would it be possible to construct a satellite network, creating a circle around the entire earth? In the context of the story, a whole city would be reasonable. Oh please, let it be so, that would be awesome!

  31. Cuthalion says:

    I’m only partway through, so I haven’t read this thread (avoiding spoilers), but I noticed this set of lines:

    Gilbert felt suddenly compelled to wake up. At the same time, he felt that waking up would be wrong, perhaps even rude and offensive. … In the military he’d learned that when you’re called, you’re expected to get out of bed first and then wake up. This habit was deeply ingrained. pg. 3

    “Perhaps. But if I was sick and a wizard offered me a cure, I might take it.” Gilbert, pg. 35

    Gilbert had never noticed before how much of the rite was dedicated to commanding the deceased … to stay so …. Was he responsible for his return to this world? Could he have refused? He wondered. pp. 54-55

    Omoshiroi… Interesting…

  32. Even says:

    Got the book earlier this week, finished it today. Fate would have it that it was delivered on my birthday, which was nice. Enjoyed it from start to finish. Will have to read again at some point to get most out of it. There were a few things that bothered me, but nothing that would have ruined the book for me. Mainly the characters’ tendency to have philosophical discussions now and then. Which by itself wasn’t bad, but just some of the situations seemed odd, like the one where Simon and Alice where trying to find the place where the Headmaster and his men were communicating with Mordaunt on the Callisto, after Alice talked (lied) their way to the lower decks.

    Maybe it’s just me, but given their task, it just felt a little weird. Especially with Alice’s whole easily-sidetracked thing.

  33. Khazidhea says:

    I don’t know if there has been any section for typos, but I’ve found a couple minor ones in the printed version:
    page 229: “Alice curse herself for not talking a more careful count”
    And this probably doesn’t help at all because I forgot to take note of the page number, but I’m sure I saw the word “It’s” at one point with an upsidedown ‘.

    Haven’t quite finished it yet, but so far I’m really enjoying your book.

  34. Khazidhea says:

    Found an odd formatting bug that gave an indent of one space to lines where the previous sentence ended at the end of the last line. This didn’t happen all the time, and I only noticed from page 265, but here are the occurrences I found:

    Page 265: Second paragraph, before Alice and Simon were tired.
    Page 269: second paragraph, before A man sat at the table
    Page 270: paragraph four, before Faces come and go
    Page 272: paragraph 3, before “I did not say my spying
    Page 273: paragraph 8, before The sun was lost
    Page 281: paragraph 8, before Sometime in late summer
    Page 285: paragraph 9, before On the far wall; also before Between these
    Page 289: paragraph 1, before This earned another
    Page 289: paragraph 2, before Here the laughing
    Page 292: first line, before Confused, they listened
    Page 292: paragraph 7, before For those of you
    Page 294: paragraph 1, before Yes! You will
    Page 294: paragraph 3, before Surely it was

    I didn’t see any instances after this, but that could also be attributed to me being so caught up in the plot that I didn’t notice anything else. Thanks for writing such an engaging book.

  35. Michael says:

    I realise I’m a bit late to the party, thanks partly to not having Internet when the book came out and partly due to living in England and having to wait for delivery, but bear with me. For the most part I enjoyed The Witch Watch, but I have one criticism that no one else seems to have discussed yet.

    Shamus, you mentioned in the Origin and Characters thread that writing a historical novel presented you with extra challenges, and I’d like to extend that to read “a historical novel set in a foreign country.” You really made things hard on yourself! There were a few small errors or omissions that made it hard to buy into the English setting, but the most obvious problem was with the place names. The town of Buckingham is an entirely separate place about sixty miles from Buckingham Palace, and the Isle of Wight is always, always referred to by its full name.

    If you set a future novel in a foreign country, in addition to your own research I’d advise you to get someone from that country to check it over for you and eliminate any mistakes that break the immersion for them. 100% factual accuracy isn’t necessary, but if you get wrong something that’s common knowledge then every single (in this case) Brit that reads your book will be distracted by it.

  36. Ian Miller says:

    Tiny bit late, perhaps? No? Well, I loved it. Loved Gilbert, loved Alice, well, okay, thought Simon was less interesting, but the other two made up for it. The worldbuilding was delicate and beautiful, the plot was engrossing and well paced, the writing was strong (if occasionally misstepping), the humor brilliantly integrated. I particularly like the way the emotion and humor are overlaid on the relatively flat texture of the characters’s thought processes and the narrative voice – so that you don’t notice the way the funny and the sad and the joyful creep up on you until it’s too late.

  37. baud says:

    I’ve just finished reading it for the first time. I’ll start by stating that I’m not much of a discerning reader, I spend nearly all of my reading time with fanfiction. And I usually complains about inane issues.

    Overall, I enjoyed my time with the book, the settings is original, but relatable (or at least easy to fathom) and the main characters were good.

    So I was enjoying the book a lot, up until the trip to the US, which was for me a massive pace breaker, especially as it didn’t seem necessary for the characters to cross the ocean to stop the attempt on Gilbert’s mother: there’s no transatlantic cable yet? Or even no way to send a message to the US police, either on the same ship or via a courrier ship? I stopped reading for a year or more (?) after this part and only finished the rest of the book recently, so that explains why I have more remarks for the second part of the book.

    When confronting Brooks why Alice doesn’t tell that Mordaunt’s revival cost a life of the royal family (well, two)? And Simon could have said that the children were used in magic rituals too. Though Alice straight up shooting Brooks felt right.

    The end arc, with the invasion of London, is nicely done, with how Mordaunt has built a London-scale feeding circle and how Simon and Alice defeat him, relying on established knowledge. But there’s no or little feeling of urgency, it doesn’t feel like the characters are in danger (unlike say the sinking of the transatlantic ship) and their victory doesn’t cost them anything.

    I find Leopold’s fate to be abandoned a little too casually by the characters at the end. Having some closure for him would have been nice, though I understand why you would prefer to keep Gilbert and not Leopold alive.

    I still have the other kind of life to read, I had read the first few chapters at release and it seemed pretty good.

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