March of the Sequels is an event during which book bloggers read and review sequels in the month of March. I’m constantly jumping to shiny new Book 1s rather than sticking with a series, so it’s the perfect challenge for me. You can learn more about it at JamReads.
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After a black witch pitched a hissy fit in Hollis Apothecary, Rue got stuck cleaning up his mess. That was the easy part. Repairing the damage he inflicted on Camber and Arden? That makes Rue wish she could bring him back to life just to kill him again. Slower this time.
While Rue is setting her new life back to rights, Clay and Asa are off working a case, but it soon becomes clear that they’ll need her help to catch the vicious creature preying on locals in a small Tennessee town. She’s got her hands full at home, but Rue has no choice. She must report for duty to honor her agreement with the director. Or else.
What she discovers leads her deeper down the rabbit hole of Black Hat Bureau corruption and promises that, no matter how grim the past few weeks have been, the worst is yet to come.
If you haven’t read Black Hat, White Witch, I highly recommend it. It was one of the top ten books I read last year, and Black Arts, White Craft is a great followup.
There are a lot of “paranormal agent investigates supernatural crime” books in the urban fantasy genre. Black Hat, White Witch stands out because of the unique heroine (a former heart-eating black witch trying to reform) and the fact that rather than being portrayed as a heroic organization, the Black Hat Bureau is shady as hell.
Black Arts, White Craft continues the great characterization established in the first book and has the same good mix of scary supernatural action and humor. (These characters have great banter.) The sequel has significantly more romance than the first book as the heroine’s relationship with her love interest develops, but since the two of them are great together, that’s not a problem.
The ending is satisfying, but the story leaves several unanswered questions and lingering threats that are sure to make future books in the series interesting.
In summary, go forth and read it. Then come back and read the spoiler-filled review.
One thing I like about this sequel is that it doesn’t ignore the ramifications of everything that happened in the first book. Arden and Camber, Rue’s shop assistants/found family, got kidnapped during the climax of the last book. They haven’t recovered emotionally from the trauma of their ordeal, something I appreciate the book acknowledges, and Rue is trying to help them through it while dealing with her own guilt.
The evil grimoire Rue took from the villain in the last book is also still around–and is in fact moving around Rue’s house despite her locking it in a warded safe, which isn’t creepy at all and I’m sure won’t be a problem later.
I’d actually forgotten about the grimoire since reading the first book, so I’m glad its whole deal got recapped in the opening, because it’s pretty crucial to the plot.
A wendigo eating hikers in the mountains is a normal day in the life of a Black Hat agent. It’s what Clay and Asa got called away to deal with at the end of the last book. But a wendigo continuing to eat people after Clay ripped off its head and called in a cleanup team for the corpse is a problem.
The fact that the wendigo was stitched up and reanimated isn’t even the real issue. It’s that the black witch who reanimated it must be a member of the Black Hat Bureau in order to have accessed its corpse. Seeing as the villain of the last book was also a Black Hat agent, this hints at a larger conspiracy within the organization.
Long story short, the whole thing was a ruse designed to lure out Rue and take the grimoire from her. When she doesn’t hand it over, the villains send a ridiculous number of zombies after her before attacking personally in the final showdown.
The action is great, though it takes a while to really ramp up because so much of the book is dedicated to Rue and Asa’s romance.
The first book had a definite romantic subplot. Rue met Asa, who’d replaced her as Clay’s partner after she left the bureau. He’s dae–half demon, half fae, and they’re immediately intrigued by one another. At the end of the book, they basically declare their romantic interest, and Asa gives her a bracelet made of his hair (which is weird).
The hair bracelet is still around in this book (and still weird), and Rue and Asa are navigating their burgeoning relationship. Rue is new to romance–and new to regular human feelings in general, being a former black witch–so a lot of the conflict is her figuring out and accepting her own emotions.
In bad urban fantasy romantic subplots, the connection between two characters doesn’t go beyond “They’re so hot. I want to sleep with them,” but Rue and Asa’s relationship is much deeper than that. Sure, there are plenty of scenes where Asa loses his shirt after transforming into his demon form and Rue ogles his chest, but the important scenes between them are all ones of emotional intimacy rather than physical. The one time they “sleep together” is just them resting in Rue’s bed together, Rue reading a novel while Asa knits. (Yes, he’s a badass demon prince who knits in his downtime, and it’s awesome.) And while that might not seem like a big deal, for a former black witch trained to see people as either tools or enemies, Rue trusting Asa enough to let him into her space is a huge step forward.
It’s really a lovely romance all-around, and Rue and Asa are quickly becoming one of my favorite couples.
Like many urban fantasy novels, Black Arts, White Craft is written in first person POV. The reader is in Rue’s head, privy to all her thoughts and listening in on her funny internal monologues. She’s got a good self-deprecating sense of humor, and her goals are sympathetic. She wants to keep the people she loves safe, especially her familiar, Colby. The book gives us many scenes with her and her loved ones hanging out, teasing one another, and generally being fun and charming, so it’s easy as a reader to care about the same characters she does.
We learn more about Rue’s backstory in this book, how she was isolated and groomed by her grandfather to become a bloodthirsty black witch he could use as a tool, and she only started questioning her upbringing once Clay became her partner and friend. It definitely makes her a more sympathetic character, though it leads to my one criticism of the story.
We’re told over and over that Rue used to be an amoral killer, and that she’s been faking normal human emotions in an effort to become a better person, something she still struggles with. But I never truly got that impression from her thoughts or actions. She cares about saving lives, feels guilty over putting innocent people in danger, and acts with kindness and sensitivity in her relationships. She never dismisses someone’s pain before reminding herself she should care, and she’s never seriously tempted to backslide and do something malicious. As someone who loves villain protagonists, I would have loved to see more of her evil side.
That being said, Rue’s still awesome, and her struggle to work as a Black Hat agent now that she’s a less powerful white witch is an engaging story.
• Asa’s demon side ripping off a black witch’s head and presenting it to Rue like a present = dark comedy gold
• Nolan is such a dick, and I hate him.
• Clay becoming the resigned yet snarky third wheel in Rue and Asa’s romance is pretty funny.
• Favorite scene: Rue healing Asa and then watching over him.
Black Arts,White Craft is an excellent sequel. It’s more romance-focused and slower paced than the first book, but that works because it gives the characters room to grow. I love where this series is going and will definitely be reading the third book.