Title: Hex at a House Party (Sonoma Witches #2)
Publisher/Author: Gretchen Galway
Price: $15.99 / $3.99
Alma Bellrose is a Hearth Witch. The last in a long line of powerful and respected witches, Alma may be powerful, but she is most definitely not respected. Her father is a notorious thief. When Alma attempted to make up for his criminal ways by joining the Protectorate, she discovered that, not only did she dislike working with the metals so favored by modern witches, but she has an Incurable Inability to kill. If she couldn’t slay demons on command, she was of no use to the Protectorate. And so she left, made a home for herself among the redwoods of northern California, and learned the old ways of the Hearth Witch. Unfortunately, the Protectorate is not done with her, and Director Raynor half-blackmails, half-coaxes Alma into going undercover at a weekend-long witches-only party. And when one of the attendees is murdered, Alma finds herself sorting through layers of lies, malevolent magic, and demonic stain to find the culprit … before she becomes the next victim herself ….
I read the first volume in the Sonoma Witches series, Dead Witch on a Bridge, this past February and absolutely loved it. Hex at a House Party is just as much fun as the previous book. It continues to develop relationships among established characters, introduces new characters, and further expands on Alma’s fictional world and the theology/magical system of the series.
Alma, for example, discovers something disconcerting, even disastrous, about her family history. That discovery seriously impacts her relationship with one character, and promises to echo through future volumes.
Despite that discovery, though (sorry, no spoilers), Alma remains forthright, ethical, empathetic, loyal, and curious. She is a Bright Witch and she will not allow anything, not even her desire to uncover a murderer, drive her towards the Shadow. Her moral backbone is one of her most appealing qualities.
Then there is Darius, her former Protectorate partner. A by-the-book, hardened demon hunter, Darius considers Alma to be a liability and cannot understand why Director Raynor insisted that she work the party undercover.
Speaking of Raynor, he and Alma share an … interesting chemistry. It’s not that they really trust one another. More like they each have something the other needs, and hold secrets about each other that they do not want getting out; so, they have to sort-of trust one another and work together. I’ll be curious to see if this prickly relationship evolves into true friendship (and maybe something more) in the upcoming books.
The magic that Alma practices is wonderfully down-to-earth. As a Hearth Witch, her craft revolves around wood and roots and herbs and fibers, not cold and unyielding metal. She works with her magic, and the magic of the natural world all around her. That includes the fae who make their home in the woods and streams around her house; they are tricksy and capricious, but Alma deals with them respectfully. Especially Willy, the tiny gnome who lives in her garden; because she observes all of the proper rules of etiquette, he keeps her garden healthy and vibrant.
Hex at a House Party also introduces an interesting wrinkle to the theology espoused by the Protectorate. Witches, including Alma, were raised and trained to believe that there are only three types of magical beings: witches, fae, and demons. And demons, one and all, no exception, are evil and must be exterminated.
That may not be the case, however. There may be other magical beings, non-corporeal spirits who possess mortal bodies and who are intent, not on doing harm, but on doing good …. And Alma, as curious and open-minded and contrary as she is, is just the witch to finally discover the truth.
Sonoma Witches is a terrific paranormal mystery series (though the books are best read in order). The characters are engaging, the magic is fun, and the mysteries keep the reader guessing until the end. Definitely recommended to fans of Helen Harper’s The Lazy Girl’s Guide to Magicseries, Juliet Blackwell’s A Witchcraft Mystery books, and The Harwood Spellbook series by Stephanie Burgis.
[Rebecca Buchanan is the editor of the Pagan literary ezine, Eternal Haunted Summer. A complete list of her works can be found there.]