Review: The Witchkin Murders (Magicfall #1) by Diana Pharaoh Francis

I was able to read this book courtesy of Netgalley, but all opinions are my own.


Four years ago, my world—the world—exploded with wild magic. The cherry on top of that crap cake? The supernatural world declared war on humans, and my life went straight to hell.

I used to be a detective, and a damned good one. Then Magicfall happened, and I changed along with the world. I’m witchkin now—something more than human or not quite human, depending on your perspective. To survive, I’ve become a scavenger, searching abandoned houses and stores for the everyday luxuries in short supply—tampons and peanut butter. Oh, how the mighty have fallen, but anything’s better than risking my secret.

Except, old habits die hard. When I discover a murder scene screaming with signs of black magic ritual, I know my days of hiding are over. Any chance I had of escaping my past with my secret intact is gone. Solving the witchkin murders is going to be the hardest case of my life, and not just because every second will torture me with reminders of how much I miss my old life and my partner, who hates my guts for abandoning the department.

But it’s time to suck it up, because if I screw this up, Portland will be wiped out, and I’m not going to let that happen. Hold on to your butts, Portland. Justice is coming, and I don’t take prisoners.

I enjoyed this book, but it’s not what I expected from the blurb. There was very little about Kayla’s scavenging, or really the effects of The Witch War on the world. The main threat of the book (the destruction of Portland) also remains vague for the majority of the book, leaving the mystery aspect of the plot to drive tension. It does that successfully (there are actually two mysteries being investigated, but one of them effects the plot very little), but if you’re expecting a classic race-against-the-clock style book, you may be disappointed.

The Witchkin Murders was almost nostalgic in the way that it focussed in on one character doing their best, with  the world seemingly stacked against them. I enjoyed the gathering of allies that typically occurs in book one of a series, and I look forward to seeing Kayla’s relationship with Logan, Raven and her other allies grow. Which neatly leads me to my least favourite part of the book—Kayla’s relationship with Ray. I did not like him. The way his character is set up is promising, and I can definitely see him becoming a fit match for Kayla, but I don’t think it should have happened in this book. He has anger management problems that he’s aware of but does very little to change, and even with the pressure he’s under, the way he treats Kayla (and even Dix, despite the way you’re clearly supposed to dislike her) is not okay. I think Kayla’s attraction to him is never adequately explained or integrated, and reads a lot like insta-lust, which cheapens the overall character development done for Kayla (which I liked a lot! I want more of Kayla’s family drama!).

Logan/Zach was a standout character in this novel, and I wish Kayla and he had been ‘allowed’ to have a relationship before she (inevitably, I suppose) ended up with Ray. Raven was a little under-developed as a character, and I think the police chief could also stand to be fleshed out to avoid being somewhat of a stereotype.

I think the magic in this book was interesting, and while it was very reminiscent of Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels novels, it wasn’t similar to the extent that it genuinely seemed like an imitation. I was actually reminded a fair bit of old-school urban fantasy; The Witchkin Murders reads similarly to the earlier Walker Papers novels by CE Murphy; Lisa Shearin’s Raine Benares books and even the pre-erotica Anita Blake books by Laurell K Hamilton. This isn’t to say that the book seems dated, Devon Monk’s Ordinary Magic series also has a similar tone, and was published more recently.

The plot of this novel was a little jumbled at times, and there almost seem to be two ‘inciting incidents’ as though the book could have been split into more than one entry into the series. While this makes for a fast-paced book, it does mean some important plot threads get abandoned for quite a while, though everything important gets addressed (if not entirely resolved) by the end of the book.

I was glad that there was no unnecessary ‘drawing out’ of important revelations in this novel, and I appreciated the lack of angst. I look forward to future novels, because (as is usual for first entries in a series) there are several aspects of the world and magic system that could stand to be developed further. I’d also like if the scarcity of some goods that allows for scavenging to be profitable; the new risks of a magical world; the integration of magic into technology and everyday life; and the tensions remaining from the Witch War could be featured more in future novels, allowing the world (instead of just the characters/plot) to truly read as urban fantasy.

What this is all boils down to is a solid book, that begins a promising series, great for any fans of urban fantasy, and those who enjoyed any of the series I listed earlier (the Walker Papers series by CE Murphy; Lisa Shearin’s Raine Benares books; the earlier Anita Blake books by Laurell K Hamilton and Devon Monk’s Ordinary Magic series). If this sounds like you, The Witchkin Murders could be what you’re looking for.


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