False Covenant by Ari Marmell – Review

Book Jacket:

A creature of the other world, an unnatural entity bent on chaos and carnage, has come to stalk the nighttime streets of the Galicien city of Davillon. There’s never a good time for murder and panic, but for a community already in the midst of its own inner turmoil, this couldn’t possibly have come at a worse one.

Not for Davillon, and not for a young thief who calls herself Widdershins.

It’s been over half a year since the brutal murder of Archbishop Wil­liam de Laurent during his pilgrimage to Davillon. And in all that time, Widdershins has truly tried her best. She has tried to take care of Genevieve’s tavern and tried to make a semihonest living in a city slowly stagnating under the weight of an angry and disapproving Church. She has tried to keep out of trouble, away from the attentions of the Davillon Guard and above the secrets and schemes of the city’s new bishop.

But she’s in way over her head, with no idea which way to turn. The Guard doesn’t trust her. The Church doesn’t trust her. Her own Thieves’ Guild doesn’t trust her.

Too bad for everyone, then, that she and her personal god, Olgun, may be their only real weapon against a new evil like nothing the city has ever seen.


Widdershins and Olgun are back for another rousing adventure, and though Marmell once again serves up a tasty dish of dark fantasy,  I do think this second book isn’t quite on par with the first.

But first, the good – far and away my favorite part of this book was the oh-so-menacing villain. I’ll admit, at first blush I was prepared to be underwhelmed – oh boy, yet another magical hell beast for Widdershins to fight – but wow did this new one creep me out in the best possible way. Marmell once again dips a toe into horror, to great effect – the patina of gore makes this villain all the more sinister – and for a story that revolves around a bogey-man, this is definitely the kind of bogey that makes you look twice at your room’s shadows late at night. Overall, I just loved how his every appearance sent a frisson down my spine, and how formidable a foe he was.

As for the action and adventure quotient, there were certainly no lack of happenings to this story – it started out a bit clunkily, I thought, retreading familiar situations from the first book, but once the villain made his appearance it was full steam ahead. The plot was direct but effective – though I did have some misgivings about the ways in which everyone automatically blamed Widdershins for everything. I liked how those pointing fingers complicated her life, and how they started an avalanche of human error, but there was some rather blatant stupidity involved all around to get the story there and frankly I was a little incredulous at times, particularly about the Bishop. Let’s just say I found myself mentally raising an eyebrow a time or two, but generally I was able to roll with it. Overall, you can always count on Marmell for bloody danger and feisty fight scenes, and here Marmell proves himself once again to be an author who isn’t afraid to rack up a body count – which I love. This type of story has so much more power when there’s a terrible price to be paid.

But where this book did fall short, for me, was on the character front. Widdershins just doesn’t grow in any discernible way throughout the events of this story – instead she’s firmly stuck in neutral, and frankly it irked me. Now yes, I realize it’s impossible to beat Widdershins’ fantastic character arc of the first book, but I wanted far more than what I got here. This time around, she basically wallows. She wallows in all flavors – guilt,  fear, and pain – and that’s pretty much it. Oh, alright, there are a few scenes with a love interest (though honestly, the pairing didn’t really do much for me), but they serve only to give Widdershins an occasional, all too brief respite from her incessant wallowing. Gah. And this was only made worse by the fact that all the while this story was blatantly ignoring a hugely interesting development from the first book – one with enormous ramifications for Widdershin’s character! And by that I mean the first book’s reveal of the danger to Widdershins, and to Olgun, if she remained his only follower – the ways in which they were feeding off each other, and taking each other to dangerous extremes, were just FANTASTIC and could have added such an interesting layer to this story, but instead it was by and large ignored. And that did not make me happy.

But despite all that, I still was undeniably entertained by this story. The action was brisk, the fight scenes dire, the losses great, and the ending suitably enticing to guarantee I’ll be back for the next. I just hope the next book has a bit more character…

Byrt Grade: B+

As Levar Burton used to say – you don’t have to take my word for it…

Word for Teens says:

If you’re a fantasy lover and you haven’t read this series, you’re missing out on one of the best young adult fantasy series to come out in the past few years.

Civilian Reader says:

This second Widdershins adventure maintains the fun and excellent pacing of the first…This novel, while not perfect, was a lot of fun and showcases Marmell’s gift for writing the sinister side of fantasy as well as the fun side.

Kirkus Reviews says:

Marmell’s occasionally florid writing and hackneyed dialogue can’t detract from the gory adventures (including a wonderfully macabre bad guy), but beneath the action lies a deeper, if unsubtle, tale of loss and love…A romp with an edge and a feisty female lead: Fans will rejoice at the indication that this series has even more to come.