SPFBO Review: Sworn to the Night by Craig Schaefer

Sworn to the Night by Craig Schaefer cover

This is the latest in a continuing series of unofficial reviews for the top ten finalists of the 2018 SPFBO contest. The contest is over and done but I am still working through the finalists and writing reviews. This review be my second-to-last one of this series — only the ultimate winner, Orconomics, left after this one. The current book, however, came in third, and I found it very enjoyable overall.

Admittedly, I was a little bit wary going in to this one. I hate to be person who judges a book by its cover, but I’m afraid in this case I am guilty of judging a book by its cover. That is not to say it’s a bad cover! In fact, it’s an excellent cover, and even placed third in this year’s cover contest. However, the creepy eyeball covered in smoke speaks to me of the psychological horror genre, which I’m afraid I’ve just never enjoyed very much. Is Sworn to the Night an example of psychological horror? Well, maybe. It certainly has thriller movie pacing and had me on the edge of my seat and creeped out in equal measure. I don’t watch a lot of horror movies due to the afore-mentioned not-being-my-thing, but I did find myself often shouting the cliche “Don’t go in there, lady!” at my Kindle. However I also found this book near impossible to put down and thoroughly enjoyed the ride from open to close.

Sworn to the Night is a tale of a witch and the knight sworn to protect her. Or wait, no, it’s about star-crossed lovers fighting to be together across time and space. Erm, let’s back up a bit. Sworn to the Night is about a police officer who sets out to find a serial killer and finds a ghastly supernatural plot instead.

Marie Reinhart is a cop who dreams of being a knight in shining armor — literally and figuratively. When sex workers in New York City start going missing and in some cases turning up brutally murdered, she is determined to find the killer, and save whoever she can. During the course of her investigation, real estate magnate Richard Roth keeps coming up again and again. Marie’s gut tells her Roth is involved with the murders, but struggles to find evidence to prove it. To make matters worse, her coworkers already think she’s a loose cannon, and she’s in real danger of losing her badge.

In the course of her quest she meets Roth’s wife Nessa, and the chemistry between them is immediate and obvious.

It’s almost like they’ve always known each other.

Nessa, however, has many secrets. The first is that Richard is an emotionally abusive husband and their marriage is a sham. The second is that she is a witch.

Together, they are drawn into a supernatural underworld and a conspiracy that is bigger than either of them, maybe even bigger than the whole world.

I really enjoyed this book. Honestly, anything with f/f romance and witches? Sign me up! But if you’re looking for a cozy queer romance with a happily ever after, you might want to look elsewhere.

The plot moved very quickly, but not so quickly that I felt swept away in it. I never felt like I was slogging through anything, but likewise I appreciated that it gave the characters room to breathe. I enjoyed the quiet moments of the characters interacting equally as much as I enjoyed them on the run for their lives. The characters were very intriguing to me. Schaefer does a great job making them likable and intriguing in the beginning and so I was able to still root for them even as they make a series of progressively worse decisions — at least at first. I would say I really liked them and identified them for roughly 75% of the book. Unfortunately in the last part, things started to fray a bit around the edges.

At the risk of veering into spoiler territory, the main characters, Nessa in particular, become increasingly ruthless as the story continues, eventually delving into what I would consider “evil” territory. She manipulates Marie shamelessly, and faces no consequences for that manipulation, at least as far as their relationship is concerned. Nessa’s relationship with Richard is toxic, but her relationship with Marie might be downright lethal. The narrative treats the slide towards the diabolical fairly neutrally, and I feel like it is really never questioned or examined. We are expected to still be rooting for the main characters all the way through, even though by the end, I wasn’t really sure whether I should be rooting for anyone.

The side characters were a bit hit or miss for me. I really enjoyed the scenes with Marie’s room mate and with her partner on the police force. Nessa’s husband is the kind of detestable dickweed we all love to hate. Never trust a New York real estate tycoon, am I right?

But I found I had trouble getting into the POV sections that were not Marie and Nessa. There is a group of witches more powerful than Nessa who seem to be manipulating things behind the scene. There is an elderly fantasy author who, it seems, is supposed to be the narrator, telling all this in a sort of frame story. There’s some kind of magic bounty hunter guy who kills people with cards. There’s a magical mad scientist who will throw anything and everyone under the proverbial bus for the sake of her research. Based on the author’s note at the end, I have a feeling some or all of these characters might be connected to Schaefer’s overall multiverse. But since this is the first Craig Schaefer book I’ve read, I found it very difficult to become interested in any of them, and I didn’t feel that they connected back to the main plot in a sufficiently satisfying way to justify the amount of page time they are given.

Nevertheless I found Sworn to the Night to be an excellent page turner and look forward to seeing what trouble Marie and Nessa get into next.

People who might like this book

  • Fans of horror or thrillers
  • People who like stories with witchcraft and the occult
  • Fans of morally ambiguous characters

People who might want to avoid this

  • Anyone looking for a cozy happily-ever-after romance
  • Those who don’t care for urban fantasy
  • Anyone who wants a more cut and dried good vs evil story

r/fantasy 2019 Bingo Squares

  • Self-published
  • Local author (Chicago)
  • Four or more word title