Fresh Meat: Mark of the Witch by Maggie Shayne

Mark of the Witch by Maggie Shayne is a novel of paranormal romantic suspense (available September 18, 2012).

Witchcraft—the traditional sort, the sort that once got people burned or drowned or pressed to death—is at root of this book, which makes for a highly unusual suspense plot.

Indira Simons gave up witchcraft. For all her studies and spells, she wasn’t getting the one thing she wanted, and lost her faith. That was before the nightmares started. Or she thought they were just nightmares. Which is, of course, the thing about witchcraft. If magic exists, what’s real and what isn’t? And if you can’t tell, mysteries become more mysterious.

“The next thing I know, we’re falling. Hitting the ground. Dying on the bloody rocks at the bottom, except things always fade to black before that part.”

Rayne lifted her head, met my eyes. I saw rapt interest in hers.

“It’s always the same,” I said. “We all have black hair, dark eyes, the kind of naturally tanned skin that suggests we’re Mediterranean or Middle Eastern or something. I’m pretty sure it’s some kind of a ritual sacrifice, being held nearby. He’s been badly beaten, he’s being forced to watch.”

Rayne blinked. “Any names floating around in your head? Any of the words spoken by the high priest, maybe?”

I nodded hard. “The high priest’s name is Sindar. He serves a Sun God, Marduk. I keep getting the feeling I was caught practicing magic and that it was forbidden.”

She was nodding. “Any clues in your clothing or geography?”

“My clothes look like they were lifted from the wardrobe room for Aladdin. From the cliff, we’re looking out over a vast desert. I can see the shadowy outline of what I think of as my city in the distance.”

“Anything else?” she asked, as if fascinated by the story.

“Why? Is this ringing any bells for you?”

“Just tell me the rest.”

It was. I could see that it was. “I woke up referring to the city as Bumfuck, Egypt, and I heard a voice in my head say Babylon.

Her eyes flared a little. “And that’s all?”

“No. There’s this.” I held up my hands, pushed back the draping sleeves of my paisley smock top and revealed the rope burns on my wrists.

Old friend, High Priestess Lady Rayne, promises to research the matter and get back to Indy. In the meantime, she offers a spell of protection, which forces Indy to examine if she’s really as faithless as she claims. Thing is, Indy talks a good game with the atheism, but it’s coming more from a place of rejection-based cynicism than a genuine disbelief. What Indira Simons wants more than anything else is a man to love and be loved by. Which sounds overwrought and cheesy, but most people want to be loved even if they aren’t so bold as to admit it aloud. Her search is apparently partially what drew her to magic, and largely what drove her away.

I’d donned my pentacle again. I told myself it didn’t mean I was returning to the fold or had started believing again. I didn’t believe. There was no magic in the world. I’d proven that to myself. I’d cast and cast and cast my spells, but my soul mate hadn’t appeared. And I’d been so damned sure he would—so certain he was real. All my life, I’d felt this unnamed, unknowable longing gaping like a great big hole in my gut. A yearning for the man who was supposed to be by my side, whose absence I felt keenly, even though we’d never met. It was real, that feeling. Which meant he had to be real, too.

I ached for him. Sometimes even cried for him. Like a real lover I’d had and lost. That’s how vivid the feeling was.

Sort of like those damned dreams.

Meanwhile, Tomas is a priest in training to stop a demon his mentor and friend, Dom, has spent his life preparing to fight. Dom is sure a witch, a very powerful witch, is going to help the demon. Tomas isn’t so sure. He’s having his own crisis of faith and being attracted to the witch Dom insists must be killed isn’t helping.

There’s a lot of magic—of the spells and powers sort, but also of the love and lust variety. Oh, the lust. These two have the hots for each other like a couple of teenagers, which I might have found over the top had I not remembered that I have to pull myself away from fawning over the husband even after all these years. Plus, they’ve got a forbidden love thing going on. More than that, though, is a love that not only further tests each of their faiths but in some ways reaffirms faith in oneself, higher powers, and, well, love.

There’s also mystery and suspense, even a murder or eighteen, depending on how you count them. There’s real danger and the threat of danger, which makes for a great deal of suspense even when you suspect you know where things are going. I would definitely continue reading this new series.

See coverage of more new releases in our Fresh Meat series.

Neliza Drew is a tofu-eating teacher and erratic reader with a soft spot for crime fiction. She lives in the heat and humidity of southern Florida with three cats and her adorable hubby. She listens to way too much music, writes often, and spends too much time on Twitter (@nelizadrew).

Read all posts by Neliza Drew on Criminal Element.

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