Seth Tanner and Evan Malone are continuing their quest to stop the witch-disciples from killing the descendants of the sheriff’s posse. The next potential victim lives in a small town in the Carolina mountains and this time the men have the advantage of knowing both that the victim is a young man named, Kyle, as well as the current name the disciple is using, Ira Sturdevant. However, figuring out how to stop the killer before he attacks Kyle and tries to ritually murder him is not an easy task.
Fortunately, Seth and Evan are aided on their quest by Milo and Toby, an older pair of married hunters who are like surrogate fathers to Seth. With their help, Seth and Evan begin the process of trying to find where Sturdevant is doing his killings, as well as the location of the magical objects that are aiding him. However, even as they make progress, the men know time is running out. They need to get a jump on Sturdevant before knows they are in town. If he finds out the men are onto him, their chances of protecting Kyle — and of their own survival — may disappear.
Flame and Ash is the third book in Morgan Brice’s Witchbane series. This series has a really interesting premise that grabbed me from the first book. Each year for about a century, one of twelve witch-disciples kills one of the descendants of the sheriff’s posse that killed their leader, Rhyfel Gremory. Brice really has a knack for urban fantasy and I really enjoy the world building in this series and the creative ways magic is incorporated into the real world. I also really like Seth and Evan together and am enjoying the development of their relationship. I still think the men are at times quick to jump to the worst conclusions, but I like the way they support one another. I also like seeing Seth training Evan in magic and the way they are becoming real partners, both romantically and as hunters. In this story, we also get some nice side characters with Toby and Milo, which helps to widen the world building, as well as to show the close connection the older men have with the younger pair. So there is a lot here that I find really appealing.
Where I struggle with these books is that the basic premise makes things start to feel repetitive, and I really noticed it here. We have 12 potential victims to protect and 12 disciples that need to be stopped. In each case, the guys head to a new town to track down the killer and victim, and must figure out how to stop the bad guy before it is too late. The last two books have been particularly similar, with the men arriving in a new town and visiting various sites to try to gather information, getting themselves in a bit of danger along the way, and the story climaxing with a showdown with the disciple. While there are obviously many details that differ, the basic structure of the books is, by nature of the series set up, very similar. It made this story just lack as much excitement for me, particularly given that the final conflict comes way late in the book, and Sturdevant, our big bad guy, appears for barely a blink of time in the story. There is also another antagonist who felt sort of over-the-top and whose explanation for their behavior felt unreasonably aimed at one of the guys in a way that just didn’t make a lot of sense to me. As I said, I think the series set up just presents a challenge because the ultimate goal and basic steps to achieving it are generally the same in each story. As a result, I just felt that this book was a little slow for me.
I do appreciate that Brice addresses one of my concerns I mentioned in the last review, and that is the timeline. The premise of the series is that there is a 12-year cycle of killing, with each disciple killing the oldest descendant of their particular sheriff’s posse family every 12 years, resulting in a murder a year. In the last book, I was confused why only a few months pass between attacks rather than a year, and here Brice gives an explanation as to why that can happen. But I have to say, I still feel thrown off here by the set up. Because as we learn in this book, it doesn’t matter how long has passed between the disciple’s last killing, nor does it matter if they actually kill a descendant from their “assigned” family. Or honestly, if they even kill the right person (since we know that Seth’s brother, Jesse, was mistakenly killed when it should have been him). So I just feel like this throws the whole premise of the series off, since it now seems like they can kill anyone, at any time. If that is the case, why have the bad guys been following this pattern for 100 years if it doesn’t actually matter? How will Seth and Evan have any idea who to go after next if the killers can strike anyone at any time? How are past victims whose witches were killed going to be safe now since they can still be killed by a different disciple? It just seems like all this complication has been added to make the story timeline work in a reasonable way (I presume Brice doesn’t want to space each story out a year apart in time). Honestly, this is probably just a me thing, because I tend to get caught up in this type of stuff. But the world building and the set up is so clever here, it is just bothering me that all the rules seem to have just gone away.
Despite these issues, I still think this a good story and a really entertaining series. I enjoy Evan and Seth and the personal end of things is developing nicely. I think the books need to mix things up a bit to keep the plots from getting stale as we continue on, but I am interested to see what is next in store for Evan and Seth.