Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this book at ALA Midwinter 2013. All quotes are based on an uncorrected text.
“A seventeenth birthday celebration was one of the sweetest events of a young person’s life so sweets were showcased in quiet recognition of a person’s escape from a most ominous possibility—that of being a Witch.”
In an alternate reality America, the settlers of the New World fled not religious persecution, but magical warfare that is tearing the Old World apart. The New World forbids magic, except when it is harnessed by practitioners enslaved to the state for the public good. In this New World, Jordan Astraea looks forward to her seventeenth birthday with both delight and trepidation. The coming-of-age celebration is a tacit acknowledgement that her bloodlines are pure and free of the taint of witch craft. But she is also afraid that her beau, Rowen Burchette, will ask for her hand, and that she will have to deny him because her father expects her to marry up, and Rowen is beneath her. But all that is shattered when an unexpected storm descends on Astraea House during the birthday celebrations, leading Jordan to be arrested as weather witch, and condemned to Holgate prison to be Made into a Conductor to power the Stormlights of a world that has not yet discovered steam power or electricity. Jordan clings to the belief that her bloodline is pure and that she cannot be Made, but the Maker seems to be without mercy, and incapable of admitting that a mistake may have been made.
Despite the unique and interesting premise, Weather Witch did not live up to its potential. Long prosaic narrative sequences are abruptly punctured by bumpy transitions into action sequences which are, by contrast, short and under-described. The prose struggles for an old-fashioned or formal style appropriate to the nineteenth century, but merely comes across as stilted and awkward. Despite the profusion of narration, the society and its magical system are poorly explained. As the first book in Delany’s new series, it also lacks a substantial plot arc, reading like the first part of a single narrative. The first book in a series has the difficult task of setting up the larger narrative while also standing alone as a satisfying read, and in this respect, Weather Witch fails utterly. With four narrating characters, the action is all over the place, but little forward progress has space to be made. Those still interested in the series might consider waiting until the next two volumes have been released. In the meantime, I would refer those looking for a steampunk novel set in early America to Brandon Sanderson’s The Rithmatist.