Grant and Ash accidentally started a fire while fighting in Professor Ambrosius’ office, destroying the history teacher’s collection of artifacts. Grant and Ash’s punishment is to return back in time to retrieve each of these important objects. After they reacquired the Eye of Ra from King Tutankhamen, Merlin, as Professor Ambrosius is otherwise known, is sending Grant and Ash back to sixteenth-century Germany to collect the Malleus Maleficarum or Hammer of the Witch. This is a book which “purports to be a definitive definition of witchcraft.”
The boys arrive in medieval Germany in appropriate clothing and able to speak the language, but with no idea where the Malleus Maleficarum is or how to retrieve it. What follows is a story of adventure with horrifying and enlightening moments, as Dakota Chase transports her characters and her reader back in time, as she did with The Eye of Ra, the first book in her Repeating History series.
Chase immerses us completely in this medieval world, assaulting our senses with her descriptions of not only the sights and smells of Trier, but also the textures of the clothing Grant and Ash are forced to wear and even how she details Ash’s pain when he is riding Samson. Chase’s attention to even the most minor points in the story make us fully aware of how alien this time period is to the protagonists and we are also able to see the maturation of Ash and Grant as they fully appreciate the stark differences between the sixteenth and twenty-first centuries.
Crap was everywhere. And I mean crap in the purest sense of the word. People took dumps wherever and whenever the mood struck them. They just squatted and left little stinking piles of poo all over. Same went for peeing, vomiting, spitting, and whatever other nasty bit of biological process they felt it necessary to engage in.
And nobody blinked an eye. It was the way things were.
Because of all the filth, people got sick and died from things most of us treated with over-the-counter medication. We get a fever, and we go to the grocery store and buy a bottle of Tylenol. They get a cold, and they pray they won’t need a coffin.
The change in Ash and Grant’s characters began in The Eye of Ra, but in Hammer of the Witch, Chase ensures that we realize that yes, they are young men who have made mistakes, but they are both becoming less selfish, more willing to sacrifice for others, and are learning an extremely important lesson from history, which is relevant to us all.
“Do you honestly believe it best to forget those parts of history that are distasteful or painful?”
My first instinct was to say “Hell, yeah!” but I’d learned nothing is easy when it comes to Merlin. I thought about it for a moment. “No.”
He was definitely smiling now under his mustache and beard. I think I may actually have caught a glimpse of teeth. “Why is that, Mr. Uh?”
“Because we don’t dare forget it. We need to remember. That’s how we keep it from happening again.”
Grant nodded. “And that’s how we honor the people who died because of it. They deserve to be remembered.”
The fact that in Hammer of the Witch, Chase chooses to use Grant and Ash as first-person narrators means the story continues to be accessible to Chase’s middle-grade/young adult audience. I think, perhaps, young people can be more observant than adults and as strangers to Trier, the horrors of seeing bodies burnt at the stake and young children imprisoned for witchcraft only serves to magnify the reader’s own reactions.
Despite the fact that Grant and Ash are maturing, the nature of their direct narration reminds the reader that they are only seventeen years old. Though this may not appeal to everyone outside the target audience age, I really enjoyed the humorous squabbles between them and Ash’s ‘kiss him or punch him’ response. Chase allows Grant and Ash to behave naturally, which means that they are not perfect, but this does not make them any less likable or the story less satisfying.
One of my favorite aspects is how the boys periodically draw comparisons between life in Trier and popular culture and I also think this will entertain other readers. Perhaps the most perceptive example of this is Grant’s observation about the witch trials:
The executioner gets paid more because there’s more work for him to do. His men get paid more because of the same reason. I hate to say it, but you saw the people who were in court today. This is the medieval version of reality television.
Hammer of the Witch is the second book in Chase’s Repeating History series and though she recaps the story briefly at the beginning of the book, I would recommend reading The Eye of Ra first.
Hammer of the Witch is a story I did not want to end and I am excited for the next installment of Ash and Grant’s journey back into time. This novel is not written to trivialize this era of history and I think Chase deals with her subject matter with sensitivity, whilst still giving the reader an absorbing experience.
A full 5 stars from me!