What woman wouldn’t want perky breasts, a firm yet pleasingly rounded butt, and glossy locks? Few, that’s for sure, but then again, most aren’t witches.
In A. Lee Martinez’s A Nameless Witch, the title character has been cursed with just such an affliction—a pleasing enough form for a mortal woman, but an inconvenient one for someone who should be perceived as peculiar, off-putting, and mysterious. Fortunately, she is taken under the tutelage of Ghastly Edna, who shows her how to dirty her face, layer up, and affect a limp for maximum effect. Life is going pretty well until Ghastly Edna is killed, leaving the protagonist alone but for a demonic familiar named Newt (who resides in a distinctly unthreatening duck body). Off on a quest for revenge, our unnamed witch soon settles in a growing town where she discovers an appetite for human flesh that can be held at bay with self-control, but that self-control is tested when Wyst of the West, a White Knight, rides through, and her urges become simultaneously carnal and cannibalistic as they venture forth to continue her quest for vengeance. Revenge, magic, love, and cannibalism—what more can a person ask for in a tale?
Martinez is very, very clever, and his knack for turning conventions upside-down and poking fun at them are in full form here. Many passages had me laughing aloud, whether about Newt’s insatiable bloodlust or troll unmentionables or droll observations on what is or isn’t proper witchly behavior. As a fluffy, one-shot fantasy, it works, but it’s not Martinez at his best (to date, of what I’ve read, I think that honor goes to Divine Misfortunes, a tale of misbehaving gods and the mortals left in their wake).
While the ideas behind the story are clever, the execution falters a bit. I never truly felt that our protagonist was in real danger (nor, indeed, that the revenge quest itself was something she felt strongly about; it seemed more of a ploy to put her and the knight on a mini-quest together than anything), and while the tension of whether she would be able to resist devouring the man she came to love was present, it was almost too amusing to be taken seriously as plot tension. I found Wyst of the West kind of boring as a character, so I might have been rooting for some cannibalism, but that’s just me. The ending, while dramatic, didn’t really feel climactic, leaving me vaguely unsatisfied.
Martinez’s works would be a good fit for Terry Pratchett fans (and vice versa). Additionally, Jim C. Hines’ Jig the Goblin series (beginning with Jig’s Quest) offers a similarly sympathetic look at a usual-villain-turned-sympathetic-protagonist.