Author: Jax Daniels
Series: Book 1: The Winki Witherspoon Mansion Adventures
Read Type: eARC
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When Winki Witherspoon lost her husband she inherited his New Orleans mansion and his magical talent. Can she master it and discover his traitor before she too is destroyed?
Strong language: None
Violence: Yes, mainly arena battles
Sexual content: None
I received a final copy of this novel for free in return for an unbiased review. As a disclaimer, I am also in the same writing group as the author and have watched the book progress, but I have not allowed that to cloud my judgement.
Winki Witherspoon is a widow of six months who has given up on life. When we meet her she is a wreck, dispirited, disengaged, and withering away to nothing both physically and emotionally. She is contacted by her husband Will's lawyer, who insists as a part of Will's will, he has to take her somewhere. Soon she pulls up at the dilapidated Gateway Manor with its kooky staff and a horde of secrets, starting with the double life her husband’s been leading in the hidden underworld of New Orleans. Her new life has been handed to her, whether she likes it or not.
The novel is written in first person through the eyes of Winki. She has a great voice, revealing the emotion, whether depression, shock, anger, or that flash of excitement, with ease. This has a fine mix of sarcasm and dry humour, such as "Oh yeah, just mocked by a roach." I felt in the early chapters she jumped between emotions too often, fleeing the house or diving into shouting matches as her self-preservation method. This smoothed out as the book got going though, remaining just enough for comic relief, but allowing the plot to progress.
The secondary characters, many of whom have nicknames such as Jeeves, Mrs. Black and Mrs. White are all well developed and get their moments in the spotlight. Having all known Will since he was a child, they all add emotional enrichment, plot twists and deepen the discovery of the hidden world under Winki's nose. My favourite character had to be Hercule, the talking cockroach that despite any reservations about the species had our entire writers group enamoured with him. He often acts as a buffer or defence for Winki when too much information or too many instructions are being thrown around, explaining things simply, even when she is less than happy to share the room with him!
The story is soon on a rollercoaster as Winki discovers her own "magical" talent, encounters some less than friendly locals, and prepares for a magical tournament held in another plane that she is told precious little about. All the while she is still coming to terms with the death of her husband and the secrets he kept from her for 25 years of marriage. He has left behind some hints to the life he never told her of. More importantly he has left her a warning: in this new home, in this family where she has to place her life and all her trust if she wants to make it through the tournament, is a traitor. A traitor who may have seen to it that Will had the "accident" that killed him. This mystery is woven skilfully into the story, a real whodunit, with almost everyone, human or otherwise, having a plausible motive. It makes Winki's journey that much more of an uncertainty, not knowing who to believe.
But there is one person she trusts: her dead husband. Will has left behind a series of clues and riddles for Winki on DVD. As Winki searches these clues out, we get a chance to see Will as an active character and get to know the man that made her who she is. I found these breaks in the training part of the story a great breather, often overflowing with emotion.
Once at the tournament, Winki has to prove that her house, the house that has consistently been shown to be the strongest of all the houses in previous years when Will championed Gateway Manor, is still strong enough to protect not just them but all of our world. With most of the contestants not being human, or even something we can relate to outside of horror or fantasy novels, she has her work cut out for her, as do her team who are trying to teach her what she needs to survive each round just before she enters the ring. A couple of times these explanations got either overly long, or complicated. I would have liked to have seen a bit more time taken explaining some aspects. The fights themselves, however, were engaging, and anyone who has every played a turn based game such a Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest will feel right at home.
I loved how the different species were portrayed, the fact that they were able to interact with each other, whether half sea creature, something undead, or a human. This was given good space in the novel, giving the reader a chance to build opinions on different species and come to care for several. This was one of my favourite parts of the novel, and I hope to see more of these creatures, both at tournaments and maybe in their homelands in future novels.
Onto the finale and the real climax back home, with several reveals for mysteries throughout the novel. I enjoyed these but felt they were a bit rushed and stacked back to back, not giving the reader or the characters a chance to accept one before the next came along. Emotionally it was engaging, and I enjoyed it. I just think the author should have trusted that the readers to want to revel in the answers to questions they have asked through most of the book and have added a few pages here or there to give a break and exploration time.
Overall I think this was a fun and clever book, with unusual characters, good mystery and plenty of action. Occasionally it got bogged down in the details, but the story quickly dug itself back out.
I give this novel four stars.