The Witch’s Price by SM White

“’With tears and rage am I called…I am called by throats that have gone raw with screaming. I am called by wailing babes who cannot yet speak or curse a name. Bu you I am called grandfather. By my enemies I am called death…I am Mhets Sorrowbringer, and my sword goes to the man with the most coin.’”

This novel, while short and of the fantasy genre, is defined by its pretentiousness.

While not a bad thing in many regards, the dramatics can be a bit overwhelming at times, from the medieval dialogue to the “woe-is-me” inner monologues. I came into this book expecting a light, fun read about a depressed man on a quest, a sad thief.

The last caught my eye especially. See, I write about a sad thief. Having never heard of this archetype before in any shape of literature, I was compelled to see how White portrayed Mhets. What I can say upon further inspection is that the anti-hero of this story is not a thief in the sense most would think, more a thug, a criminal. A thief doesn’t have to be charming, as I understand from writing my own foray into the idea. But a thief is made by his ability to steal. Mhets does not steal, save a boy he is tasked with doing so. He is better said to be a mercenary.

And there comes the plot.

Mhets and his sidekick (who he despises) Ramkin decide to stop milling about on the road and solve a problem. What’s the algebra, you may ask? Well, it appears Mhets is cursed, and the only way to save his sorry hide is to swallow a finger of a witch to begin some quest. Those begins the Sword and Sorcery vein trot to steal an innocent royal kid in the night.

Fairly standard stuff, right? Well, no. That would be wrong. This isn’t a light romp through the woods. Sorcerers are met. People die by Mhets’s blade. Women and children are attacked. It’s not for the faint of heart, nor is the prose.

I would like to congratulate a self-pubbed author in having a remarkable voice, a beautiful writing style that flows easily in my mind. Descriptions are easy to see, his action scenes some of the best I’ve ever read. They’re so clear, so painful and sharp.

It pains me to say the pacing is not.

The exposition in the prologue was a little wordy and wonky. I don’t understand why White had to describe each and every one of Mhets’s companions, right down to their personal articles of fabric, when he was going to kill them all off in the first chapter. It was baffling and truthfully not needed. Backstory would’ve been better. But I veer from that point onto another complaint.

White throws us into a sad story, expecting the reader to connect with Mhets’s plight from the get-go. He was a man who toppled a nation all because the love of his life was killed by the king. What is there to sympathise with from this murdering, gruff anti-hero? I faced the same wall.

Ramkin, though, and his conversations were a joy to read. While I didn’t particularly like the one-dimensional characterization of his love for women (all the time) it became more tolerable as he talked. The” friendship,” if you could call it that, that progressed was fun to watch, and I felt if White had stuck more to that, this would’ve been a great character story.

He has the melancholy tone down, it’s just excruciatingly heavy, even a writer like myself who revels in the sort of thing. White’s pacing dragged every time there was a chapter dedicated wholly to talking. That is what I feared made the dips go down, because when they rose, they ran to the sky.

But the first third of the story goes nowhere, them trekking to talk to the witch. It’s largely introspection, giving us the characters, and walking with philosophy. The next third is build-up, which I will note had great tension. But near the end, it drags a lot. No amount of sheer awesome writing could save that.

As was the ways Mhets solved one of his major problems. Imagine a mercenary leaving the city at midnight, stolen royalty on horse. The gates are locked, and the guards outnumber him too greatly to count. Why on earth would you attack the men, raising the alarm, and every able bodied soldier in the city? Why not just lie and say you were delivering the kid from some danger, the nation being in civil war and all? What if they didn’t even recognize the child? Why become belligerent and nasty because you are? It was maddening.

The resolution to their demon problem was the same.

Another scenario: You have a giant demon ravaging the world. Only you can save us. What to do, what to do? How about some fiddly magic that hasn’t been explained this whole time, sacrifice a guy’s soul to come back to life, (but don’t!) and defeat the demon by breaking yourself and letting out the inner demon which was never hinted at. Magic, you say? No. How about dues ex machine?

“’Those points of light, although often shrouded in darkness, still leave their impression. When men look to the night sky for guidance, they do not seek the darkness, but rather the stars.’”

Even with the irritating complaints I have, The Witch’s Price is still a very intriguing novel that had billions of potential plot wise. The writing is better than a lot of traditional writers I have read, and it saddens me that this tale was marred by slow pacing and my grievance with the plot.

But I tell you, this is not a light read. Very much philosophy dots the landscape, and in the end we have a really fun story, maybe not the best, though. White could’ve cut out the prologue and epilogue for starters.

Rating: 6.5/10

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