Title: The Black Act
Author: Louise Bohmer
Genre: Dark Fantasy, Horror
Publisher: Lachesis Publishing
Publishing Date: March 13, 2009
Paperback: 332 pages
Stand alone or series: Stand alone novel.
Summary: (from LachesisPublishing.com)
The history of a curse is fraught with bloody battles, bitter hatred, and dark secrets.
Through five generations, ghosts of war haunt the Wise Women. When the Rebellion of Glenna ends, their curse sleeps bound in the Tunnels of the Dead, waiting for its chance to re-awaken the battle between the Wood People and Dalthwein Clans.
Claire, a distraught young Wise Woman born in the sacred valley of the fae, unwittingly helps it escape imprisonment. While her twin sister, Anna, receives psychic glimpses of ancient secrets she must unravel. With her scribe teacher, Rosalind, she also struggles to uncover the reasons behind Claire’s strange behavior, ever escalating since the death of their Guild Mother, Grianne.
The Age of the Wise Women will cease, if the curse does not end with Anna and Claire. Perhaps inheriting the mistakes of their ancestors, and learning the truths of their identities, will bring great suffering for these witch twins?
Why did we read the book: Louise contacted us a few months back after we had read Joel Sutherland’s Stoker Nominated debut novel Frozen Blood. As it turns out, Louise was Joel’s editor for Frozen Blood which automatically piqued our interest – and when we read the blurb of her debut effort, we couldn’t resist.
Thea: My first impression of The Black Act was: this is clearly a debut effort. Ms. Bohmer has some fantastic ideas in this novel; her imagination and depictions of the fae are beautifully conceived. This author has put in a lot of effort in terms of researching and creating her world, and this sentiment comes across loud and strong on every page of the book. However, like many debut efforts, The Black Act‘s greatest flaw lies in its poor execution. The writing style, plotting and overall character narratives are jerky and uncertain, detracting from the overall reading experience. Though it is clear that Ms. Bohmer has a talent for imagery and a strong imagination, the writing just isn’t there yet.
Ana:When Louise Bohmer first contacted us, I thought for sure this was going to be a “Thea” book because it is classified as horror, one of Thea’s favourite genres. But when I read the blurb and the teaser on the first page and noticed the story had strong Celtic Mythology connections, I decided to read it as well. My first impression was that The Black Act was more Fantasy than Horror and the fantasy aspects as well as the premise were brilliant. Unfortunately I have to agree with Thea that the execution completely fail to do the premise justice. Which is a shame, because there was a lot of potential there.
On the Plot:
Thea: While the ideas in Ms. Bohmer’s writing are solid, the plotting and overall writing style are overwhelming detractors. The first two-thirds of the novel suffer from an extend version of a data-dump; the novel’s largest crime is – if you’ll pardon a cliche – its reliance on telling instead of showing. Ms. Bohmer has put an exhausting amount of research and detail into her world in The Black Act. Unfortunately, it is also tiring to read. The novel alternates in different times and different narratives, and the story jumps around so much to the point of disorientation – I found myself constantly backtracking, making sure I was in the right “time” and reading the right character perspective. (Also, on a more technical/editorial note, the initial switches between dreams/visions/times/characters were marked in italics, but then later switches reverted to plain-face text, adding to the disorientation factor.) Furthermore, the narrative tended to read like a history lesson at times, dryly dumping information about the early fae and human migrants. The writing, too, suffered from being overly – unnecessarily – descriptive. For example, “The wet ripping sounds and the animalistic snarls from the forest monarch made her, and the whole crowd, move back from the grisly display,” or “The book’s paper, made from a durable and absorbent form of plant found only in the Northern Forest across the river, greeted her with a whispering white page, begging her to take pen and ink and begin her work.” Sentences like this are strewn throughout the book – descriptions suffer from one too many adjectives, drawing attention in a bad way to the writing.
Despite these sizable qualms, the story is, at its heart, touching and well-imagined. The ideas are all there; for example, the sheer amount of imaginative strength behind the construction of the fae is staggering. Again, it’s the execution of these ideas and the lack of a distinct authorial voice that is missing.
Ana: I have to agree with Thea on this one. The plot follows 5 generations of Wise Women who are under a curse from one of their ancestors. One of the points of this curse us that they are not allowed to know about it until they reach a certain age : this is the starting point of the novel as twins Anna and Claire start to unveil the mystery of their heritage. Each of them follow a different path of discovery in what can only be described as a cacophony of voices and the sheer amount of jumping back and forth to past and present via either, dreams, visions, or disclosure from other characters, was completely disorienting. The different points of view – from Anna to Claire, to their ancestors Drea, Glenna, etc etc was such a mess, that left me completely lost in points. The fact that sometimes the dreams/visions/storytelling were in italics and other times, not, was definitely a problem ( although we read an ARC, so this may have been fixed in the final copy) along with the weird, sudden breaks the story had.
Despite all that and my initial desire to stop reading the book, it is evidence of Louise Bohmer’s interesting ideas that I kept on reading to learn the story of these women. Although, in all honesty, the way the story was told, it felt like I was reading a non-fiction book about a mythological tale instead of a fictional fantasy story and that is the reason why The Black Act failed to truly engage me.
On the Characters:
Thea: I have to say that my favorite characters were the fae in all their shapes and sizes and forms. Ms. Bohmer does a fantastic job of bringing her descriptions of these characters to life; for example:
She loosened one of her hands from his and traced the deep groove beneath his cheekbone. Her fingers followed the intricately woven birch-bark and wormwood fungus along his jawline and came to rest in the dark, mossy nest of beard that sprouted from his pointed chin.
The Wood Men, the Oak King, the Queen of Samhain – these are forest creatures and mythological invocations of the fae, and they do evoke Celtic images as Ana says. These creatures are strong and separate from their human and halfling counterparts, and are beautifully imagined in The Black Act.
Unfortunately, the human characters were lacking in comparison. The Wise Women, especially those generations of women cursed by their blood had flatter, almost interchangeable characters. I really enjoyed Drea McCleod story as the first of their cursed bloodline, as I enjoyed Glenna’s tale too. And yet, outside of these two characters, the ‘protagonists’ (sisters Claire and Anna) were merely passive observers and felt more like a vehicle for the story as opposed to fully dimensioned characters in their own right. The villains too were very one-note in their predictable evilness.
I agree with Thea that the Fae were the most interesting characters: Louise Bohmer was extremely faithful to original portrayals of these creatures, delving deeply in Celtic Mythology. So Instead of glorified, beautiful, shinning creatures (like for example, Galadriel or Legolas from Lord of the Rings) you have:
And the fact that these creatures were the men the Wise Women fell for made it all the more fascinating. The fact that the far were also described as detached from regular human emotions whilst at the same time, suffering from an undeniable desire for contact with them made these characters riveting.
Unfortunately the same cannot be said about the human characters. The villains were cardboard uni-dimensional characters until the last minute when they were given reasoning behind their acts. And as for the Wise Women, there were simply far too many of them: five generations and each had their story told. If you bear in mind how short the book is, this was way too much for too little pages, making it impossible for any of these characters to be truly and well developed , which also means that at the end of the day, I connected with none.
Let me put it like that: I read the book like I read a mythological tale. With a sense of detachment –enjoying the stories but without really any bond with the characters.
Final Observations, Recommendation and Ratings:
Ana: A good premise and an interesting tale with a poor execution. The ideas are there, but I think Louise Bohmer has still to hone her writing style. Then, she will be unstoppable.
Thea: I firmly believe that Ms. Bohmer has a strong eye for myth and promising, imaginative ideas. Though The Black Act is not without its significant missteps, Ms. Bohmer has an undeniable talent, and I am eager to see her future work.
Notable Quotes/ Parts:
Ana: You know, I really liked all the scenes with the Fae and I was horrified and yet strangely intrigued by the description of exactly HOW these Wise Women got pregnant.
Thea: I loved the scene with Drea and the fae court in all their splendor.
Additional Thoughts: For more on The Black Act (including book trailers and excerpts), make sure to check out the book’s page via Lachesis Publishing, the official book website, or Louise Bohmer’s website.
Thea: 5 – A debut effort through and through, but I expect good things from Ms. Bohmer in the future.