Grudging: Birth of Saints Book One by Michelle Hauck

25815723I was lucky enough to be approached by the author, Michelle Hauck, and given the opportunity to read the first book in the Birth of Saints trilogy.  Michelle also provided a guest discussion post about witches which I found really interesting.  Particularly the way in which witches have been feared and disliked over the course of history and in fact vilified – it’s a very fitting topic given the nature of this story and is in fact a perfect introduction.

Grudging is an unusual tale of invasion, war and witchcraft set in a faux mediaeval Spanish country where the City of Colina Hermosa is currently under threat from a huge and ruthless army from the North. It tells the story of a small city whose way of life, religion and people are poised on the brink of elimination and who will need to bring themselves to seek aid from their neighbours, the Swamp Witches, who they fear and mistrust.

At the start of the story we are introduced to one of the major protagonists in the shape of Ramiro.  At seventeen years of age Ramiro is yet to achieve manhood, and earn the right to wear a beard, by proving himself in battle and with a huge army situated just beyond the walls of his home his manhood could be finally within reach.  His father however, in a bid to outmaneuver his bloodthirsty enemies, seeks to gain more time under the guise of parlay whilst sending his sons out on a dangerous mission to try and enlist the aid of the witches of the swamp.  And so begins a strange tale of pride and prejudice.

The witches of the swamp live remote from others, they fear the world of men and therefore keep themselves secret and removed. Likewise nobody ventures into the swamp – unless for very good reason.  The witches are a little like mermaids in that they sing to work their magic and have become known as sirena.  I actually enjoyed the magic although I can’t say I totally understand how it works or why certain people have magic and others don’t.  I liked that the witches had restrictions in terms of manipulating things around them.  So, for example, Clare couldn’t turn herself into an animal to avoid detection, but she could provide an illusion whereby others, who were unaware of her presence in the first instance, might see an animal because they weren’t expecting to see her.  Apologies, I probably haven’t explained that very well!  Unfortunately Ramiro, his brother and their small company stumble unwittingly into the presence of two witches, a mother and daughter, and following a disastrous altercation only Ramiro and the young witch, Clare, remain on the road back to Colina Hermosa.  And so follows a strange journey back to the City where Clare and Ramiro, through a number of escapes followed by rescues finally begin to realise that their own deep seated prejudices may not be entirely justified.

I enjoyed the Grudging however at the same time I did have a few issues, although not issues that spoiled the reading.

On the plus side I think the writing is good.  The world of Colina Hermosa is very well drawn and easy to imagine.  The journey to the swamp and the return also make for enjoyable reading and the whole is topped off by quite a liberal dash of action in the forms of fighting and battles.

I did worry that maybe this book would steer more towards the side of romance at the cost of plot but in that respect my fears were unfounded.  Whilst there is undoubtedly growing tension and chemistry between Ramiro and Clare this is very gently developed and is definitely not the main focus of the book and I’m pleased to say there is no insta-love but more a gradual process of breaking down the barriers and enmity that both had surrounded themselves with.

In terms of the characters.  I quite liked Ramiro and Clare and it was good to see the prejudices being removed from both – particularly when the pair returned to Colina Hermosa, with Clare set to help, and to then witness the distrust and dislike that she encountered from the people there – which also finally helped to open Ramiro’s eyes to the full extent of the prejudices he and his people bore towards the witches.  I liked that the author didn’t make Clare into a damsel in distress but instead gave her more substance and a more dramatic role in terms of the Northern invasion. (Especially as Clare was untried at this point in terms of her magical capabilities).  Ramiro.  Well, he comes across as quite young and he obviously doesn’t have a great deal of experience to fall back on which in a way made him a little easier to get on with although I thought that his initial treatment of Clare was a bit unfair and in fact gave her a lot more reason to distrust him than the reverse.  However, the two do start to form a slow bond and eventually join together against a mutual enemy.  The other main characters are Ramiro’s parents.  I liked the way they came across.  His mother was fussy and over protective and his father, being a town leader, was very proper yet they came across as having a very loving relationship, both trying to save the other, and the wife does eventually take charge in quite an unseen way.  We also make the acquaintance of the Leader of the Northern army – not enough information in that respect just yet and I definitely look forward to learning more about that particular character.

The world building – well, Colina Hermosa was very easy to visualise.  It has an old fashioned feel and religion plays an important role to it’s populace.  The area that I struggled with was the enemies from the North.  They’re a brutal and bloodthirsty race who seem determined to conquer everything in their path – even if this means complete annihilation.  I can’t say I really got a feel for these people at all.  I couldn’t really understand their objectives or motivations or why they would want to destroy cities and people so ruthlessly.  Why conquer a city if in the process you destroy the place and kill all it’s people?  I think the other area that needs more world building – which may be forthcoming in future instalments of course – is the witches themselves.  Why do they remove themselves and live so isolated?  Partly this comes across as a desire to throw off the limitations of a society where women are treated as second class citizens and partly as a means to hide themselves from people who would fear their magic.  Clare’s mother, for example, comes across more as though she is bitter about her own experiences and in that respect she keeps Clare isolated even from the other witches.  I guess I just wanted more about the Northerners and the Witches – but, like I said, I think this could be forthcoming in future instalments.

I think at the moment this suffers a little in terms of where it wants to be or more to the point juggling both elements of the story as there is quite a lot to handle here.  We have the City under threat and this vast and brutal army sitting waiting on their doorstep and then alternately the story of Ramiro and Claire, their developing relationship and the breaking down of years worth of prejudice and finally the coming together of both threads for the grand finale.  

All that being said I thought this was an enjoyable read and I would be keen to read more to see how the world building and characters develop in future instalments.

My thanks to the author and publisher for providing me with a copy for review.  The above is my own opinion.

6 Responses to “Grudging: Birth of Saints Book One by Michelle Hauck”

  1. Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum

    Very cool, I was curious about this one since I’ve been seeing it around. Good to hear it met expectations, I noticed the ebook at a good price so I think I’m going to try it 🙂

    • @lynnsbooks

      I liked this – it had a little bit of a light holiday read type feel to it – and I’m not denying that I had some issues – but I’m hoping they’ll all be explained in the next book and I’m quite keen to see where it goes next.

  2. maddalena@spaceandsorcery

    This sounds intriguing, and something I might like to read!
    From your description there is a great deal of ground to explore and probably this is the reason it must have felt… incomplete in some respects: it’s probably difficult to try and establish a new world without falling prey to long or drawn-out explanations. It’s often a matter of balance, something that’s not easy to reach. Maybe more will come in the next book 🙂
    Great review!

    • @lynnsbooks

      That’s what I’m hoping. Because there were two different threads, and basically I think the author was trying to keep the attention on the two main characters – it gives the other side of the story a much fainter outline. But this is only the first.
      Lynn 😀

  3. Sharry

    Very in-depth review, Lynn! I do love a good tale involving witches. But I’m a little afraid to read this one because I really really don’t like reading witch hunts and witch trials – are there any of those in there? Otherwise it sounds like an intriguing read!

    • @lynnsbooks

      It is an intriguing read. (Sorry, did I go overboard with the review!) I need some more world building with certain elements but I want to see what happens next. The witches here don’t follow the normal tropes – they’re not green and warty! Their magic is through song. They live on the marshes out of choice really. They’re not hounded or chased out by villages with torches and pitchforks. But, people are afraid of them and I can see why really as they can be dangerous – but only when they’re protecting themselves. There aren’t really any witch hunts but a good deal of prejudice and misunderstanding from both sides.
      Lynn 😀

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