Let’s start off with a disclaimer before I jump into this review. I was a beta reader for this book, but I also purchased a copy for myself. So don’t let my beta reader status dissuade you from my review. With that out of the way, let’s dive into my James book review.
The hardest book reviews to write are often the ones where you love a book down to its creaky spine.
James is the first book I’ve read which made me consistently laugh out loud and smile.
You might be fooled —considering its dark and creepy opening— that James is a horror, paranormal novel. But once you meet the lad himself, you quickly realize that James (both the character and the book) is funny as heck.
James is the prequel to K.S. Marsden’s inaugural Witch-Hunter series: The Shadow Rises, The Shadow Reigns, The Shadow Falls. The trilogy, the prequel, and any offshoot stories center around the existence of witches and the organization which hunts them. Witches (not Wiccans though they do play a part) are evil, malevolent beings who sacrifice humans in order to increase their own powers. Similar to how pit bulls get a bad rap for biting humans, witches are assumed evil and hunted down.
But as always there’s more to the story. The MMC is a secret witch hunting organization tasked with the neutralization, capture, or execution of witches. No negotiation, no discussion, the witches can either choose to surrender or die. The guilty until proven guilty mission statement of the MMC obviously rubs witches the wrong way. And (as is of no surprise to anyone) some witches are not evil at all. In fact, some witches are so interesting that they deserve their own stories. From their perspective it would be like X-men, except more violent.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, we need to get back to James and his roommate, Hunter Astley.
James is easy to like. He’s an affable guy with a sharp wit and a healthy tolerance for alcohol.
He bumbles frequently around the ladies and can sometimes get a little jealous of his roommate, Hunter who always has everything handed to him on a silver platter.
Hunter is the rich kid. He doesn’t take school seriously, beds any girl he wants, comes from a posh mansion, and is destined to become the main protagonist of the Witch-Hunter series.
He’s also a prick.
This gives James plenty of reason not to like him and when the two meet for the first time, you definitely wonder how these two men from opposite worlds ever got along. Somehow, and thankfully not in a way that feels contrived or forced, James and Hunter do become friends and their interactions left me amused through every page. You don’t expect to laugh when reading a book about hunting witches, but truthfully, the prequel is not about the witch hunt.
James (the book) is more about a guy and his friend coming of age and being thrust into a world where witches are real.
I do worry that new readers might not get it. As someone familiar with the witch-hunter characters, I became invested the moment James opened his mouth. I do not know how the reading experience changes if James is your first introduction to the series, but I do know that if you enjoy characters who have funny quips and get into comical situations, James will definitely be the book for you.
If I have to make any minor nitpicks about the book, and these are extremely minor but an issue nonetheless. There isn’t much interaction with the witches. The witches in this novel are prone to committing their evil deeds off camera, away from the eyes and ears of our protagonists. They do make an appearance from time to time, but their presence isn’t a focus in this book. This isn’t too detrimental because the witches who are present in this novel are very interesting. Or I just have a thing for bad girl witches, who knows.
Also, if you’re expecting a plot with a huge twist and big reveal, you will be left wanting. Experienced readers will see the reveal coming a mile away, but that’s okay. James is a character piece executed to the finest degree.
Anyway let’s talk about the prose really quick. The prose is very easy to get along with and often has a few gems which stir the imagination. Marsden describes magic with vivid, fantastic detail. You can imagine the power swirling through the air and even visualize different colors to different spells without the author ever describing color.
Marsden picks the right verbiage in order to craft magic within your brain.
Well, maybe not as much in this book because there aren’t too many witches, but definitely in the trilogy.
In fact, I must whole heartedly recommend you continue onto the Witch-Hunter trilogy and read what happens next. James barely scratches the surface of the epic plot which awaits him and his roommate Hunter. There are no plot twists in James, but there’s definitely a few in the trilogy.
All in all, James is a wonderful prequel to the Witch-Hunter trilogy and one you should follow till the end. There is much more waiting to be discovered.