The Witch’s Initiation

Deme Chattox, the eldest of five sisters who are all witches, rushes back to Chicago when her youngest sister, Aurai, vanishes during a sorority initiation. She and the other four Chattoxes have high hopes for the undercover detective that has been assigned to the case. What makes the situation all the more difficult for Deme is the fact that the detective is none other than the wildly attractive Cal Black, the man whose proposal of marriage drove Deme away a year earlier. Then, it becomes clear that Aurai’s disappearance is the work of a malignant supernatural power . . .

Both Cal and Deme have considerable baggage from their former fling. Cal never knew Deme’s secret–or even of the existance of her sisters. Deme is certain that a black-and-white lawman like Cal could never understand the shades of grey required to accept the supernatural–a seemingly insurmountable obstacle to their marriage. Now, the two must work as a team to find Aurai before it is too late.

As more and more mysterious occurrences happen, it becomes clear that Deme and Cal are facing something far more sinister than a typical kidnapping. Now, Cal must accept that not everything can be explained by natural phenomena.

At the same time, the protagonists struggle to maintain a professional rapport, considering their past together. Will the evil that haunts Colyer-Fenton College overcome the five sisters’ power? Will the strange mystery bring Cal and Deme back together? And will Aurai survive the malignant force that carried her away?

The Witch’s Initiation is my favorite of the three Harlequin Nocturnes that I’ve read so far. However, I do have reservations. I will begin with them (but please keep reading for the positives):

First, I was put off by the author’s note–which was surely well-meant–in which Elle James describes how her story “gave her chills.” Although her reasons for her bout of nerves (explained in the note) are reasonable, it makes me skeptical when an author defends the scariness of her own book before it even begins. Why is she trying so hard? Why try to raise the reader’s expectations before she or he has even read the first chapter? The note would have been better situated at the end of the book than the beginning.

Second, the climax was rushed and the Chattoxes’ method of confronting the “evil” force illogical, considering what they’d already learned about its abilities. The “dumbing down” of the main character and her family is disappointing. It seemed like an excuse to let Cal to play a key role in a battle for which he’d normally be ill-equipped.

Third, the development of secondary characters is weak. This neglect is especially unfortunate in the case of the Chattox sisters. All five appear, and that means that–between developing the romance and furthering the mystery–there are too many characters to flesh them all out.

The underdevelopment of the Chattox sisters is especially unfortunate because I assume that The Witch’s Initiation (Elle James’s first book in the Nocturne line) is a tester for what could be a five-book series dealing with each sibling. And honestly, I would like to see that series materialize.

With so many reservations, why would I want to see a series of books? Because I enjoyed that James’s book dealt with witches rather than vampires, shape-shifters, gargoyles, or werewolves. Not that there is anything wrong those supernatural creatures. It’s just that Nocturne seems to be flooded by those stories right now. The Chattox sisters concept is a breath of fresh air.

So, now for the aspects of the book that I did like: I liked the tension between Cal and Deme and their attempts to work out their relationship–one that had been broken off so suddenly and for (at least to Cal) mystifying reasons. I liked, as I said above, the basic concept. I liked the creepy Gamma Omegas, whose relationship with the evil was never fully explained. And I liked the fact that Cal and Deme were resuming a relationship that had promise, but had been sidelined by the characters’ mutual misunderstandings–misunderstandings that could only be resolved in a crisis such as Aurai’s magical abduction.

Cal and Deme have amazing chemistry and the sex scenes are hot. The best is saved for last.

However, I must give this book a “Trigger Warning” due to mentions of multiple acts of sexual violence that were described. I was even more uncomfortable with the fact that several sexual encounters between Cal and Deme are influenced by the “mysterious evil.” Therefore, they are dubiously consensual and very rough. Rough sex is fine, but when you add in malignant magical possession, it becomes disturbing. Sensitive readers should be careful.

So, what’s my verdict on Elle James’s first Nocturne? That her book would have benefitted by more careful editing and judicious cutting–which might have given it the fast-paced tightness of The Enemy’s Kiss. That it is my favorite Nocturne so far. That I’d like to read more about the Chattoxes. And that I would be happy to try one of James’s Harlequin Intrigue romances.

Recommended for readers of paranormal romance who want to see more witchcraft.

PS. It would be nice if the Chattox sisters had more spells that they chant when they are casting together. Shouldn’t different situations call for different spells? As it is, I was reminded of Prue, Piper, and Phoebe changing “The Power of Three Will Set You Free” as a palliative for any problem. But then again, that was at the very beginning of their journey as witches . . . and James hints that the Chattoxes have a long way to go in exploring their powers. (I hope Aurai’s story comes next–she’s the only character I felt I got to know at all in The Witch’s Initiation.)

PPS. Why do the cover images of these books so rarely match the description of the characters? How hard could it be to find a model who fits the part?

My ratings:

Story Quality:
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