I was interested to read this book because I haven’t read much classic fantasy lately, and while I love urban fantasy/paranormal romance, it can get a bit stale at times. I was not disappointed. Saint Dorian and the Witch is filled with classic fantasy plot elements and themes given new life, and I enjoyed the twists on classic scenarios that this book included.
The rumors borne across the empire by pilgrims are full of wild talk about Dorian, a boy with a flute reputed to have come from somewhere beyond the world in order to combat great evil. His followers are already calling him Saint Dorian. When word of the boy with the flute spreads as far as the remote mountain monastery where the young monk Bartholomew serves in the honored position of librarian, he astonishes his fellow monks by placing his faith in vague, contradictory rumors and declaring himself a follower of Dorian. Before the winter snows cut off the monastery from the rest of the empire, he makes a clandestine departure from the only home he has ever known in order to devote himself to the child saint.
Even while others around him continue to deny that Dorian is a saint, Bartholomew can sense the boy with the flute guiding his journey, summoning him to play his destined role in a vast pattern that will give a purpose to the puzzling events of his past life and of his journey:
His ill-fated childhood act of charity towards the wandering heretical storyteller Valentine
The warning spoken to him by one of the greatest men in the empire, the legendary hero and subtly brilliant monk Father Zero
His bargain with a wild witch girl named Ruth, who agrees to keep him safe on his journey in exchange for obscure facts of natural science and philosophy that only a librarian could know
The powerful new spells that Ruth is creating based on this knowledge, spells that Bartholomew believes will be of service in combating the great evil against which Dorian is said to be waging a righteous war
Yet when he and Ruth arrive at their journey’s end, and Bartholomew is about to fulfill his destined role in Dorian’s plans, it suddenly seems to him that his proper place is not among Dorian’s followers but on the other side, as an ally to the child saint’s enemies and a rebel against heaven.
Bartholomew reads as a bit older than seventeen, but given his childhood, vocation and the technological state of the world, this is to be expected. I love books that include fairy tale elements, and this book takes it a step further and includes a whole host of fables to explore throughout the book. I enjoyed learning more about the religious and political structure of the world as the book progressed, and thought Bartholomew made sense as a stepping stone to that world.
I loved Bartholomew’s growth over the course of the novel, and really enjoyed the way he interacted with, and learnt from, those he encountered. Characters were a real strong point in this novel, Valentine, Ruth, Father Zero, Tam, Lady Indigo or Wild Ruth alone could shoulder the plot alone. I wish we learnt more about all of them, but given the constraints of the book, I understand why we couldn’t. I do wish the female characters in this book got a little more page time though. I should also mention that I never like when two characters fall in love without any warning, and I wasn’t a huge fan of it in this book, but it was written well at least, and explained to an extent after the fact.
This book was incredibly detailed, and the plot wraps up nicely. While I usually read long series, I appreciate an elegant stand-alone, and Saint Dorian and the Witch truly is that. I liked the way the book didn’t shy away from issues of inequality, prejudice, religion or morality, and while it tied up quite quickly, I do think it was well-foreshadowed and didn’t seem trite or forced.
Overall, I think Saint Dorian and the Witch is a well-written, incredibly detailed fantasy novel that will appeal to anyone who enjoys complex plots and unexpected developments. I’d recommend it to fans of Michelle Sagara’s Chronicles of Elantra, the Theatre Illuminata series by Lisa Mantchev, or Raymond E Feist’s Midkemia Cycle.