A magical story about a lost witch recovering her self-esteem and overcoming a terrible mistake, a seemingly cheerful vampire with a tortured past, and finding love in the most unexpected of places.
Alba is about to lose everything after her divorce… until she meets The Vampires of Emberbury, who dwell under an abandoned graveyard, stuck in Victorian times. They will make her a very interesting job offer, and she will get to meet Clarence, a mysterious vampire gentleman who thinks cloaks and top hats are still in fashion. With his help, Alba will figure out that, sometimes, the scariest monster isn’t the one with fangs.
This is a slow-burn paranormal vampire romance and magical realism novel that deals with worldly issues in a magical, humorous way and guarantees to make you laugh, cry, and gasp as you follow Alba and Clarence on their quest to solve Alba’s real-life troubles in a fairy-tale setting.
Stray Witch is the first book in The Vampires of Emberbury series. It can also be read as a stand-alone story.
What is Stray Witch about?
At surface level, Stray Witch is about a clan of vampires trying to survive the modern world by adopting a stray witch–a woman whose latent magical powers were never fostered, leaving her unaware of her legacy. But underneath all of that, and more importantly, is the story of Alba struggling to leave a toxic situation–even against her will. Alba’s relationship with her soon-to-be ex, her care for her children, and her desire to make her way in the world even as it falls apart around her carry this story and the plot.
Genre: Urban Fantasy
This book is marketed as paranormal romance, and it for sure hits some of those plot beats. But I think that as a stand alone this novel falls more on the urban fantasy side of that line.
Tropes: The Awful Ex vs. The Vampire Gentleman
Alba’s husband is almost cartoonishly awful, a horrible person whose manipulation and power put him at complete odds with the mysterious, potentially dangerous, but ultimately gentlemanly Clarence. As any good vampire romance needs, the human ex is just as bad as he can be and absolutely nothing compared to the vampire suitor.
Plot: Literal and metaphorical escapism
In a lot of ways, this story feels like a “too good to be true” plot twist is coming. Just when Alba most needs a literal escape, she is provided with one straight out of the pages of horror and fantasy. She’s able to lose herself emotionally in a new immersive world, while also being provided the physical safety she requires. I won’t lie, a part of me kept expecting the author to play a trick and say that Alba woke up from her dream to find things were still horrible in her daily life.
I’m finding myself drawn to more and more stories like Alba’s, about single mothers trying to do the best for their children. Her relationship with her daughters was compelling and well written, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I liked that some of the vampire side characters got fleshed out so to speak, as I feel a constant problem in urban fantasy series is having incredibly interesting side characters whose stories we never hear.
While I realize this book is setting up a larger series, it is also intended to function as a stand alone novel. That being said, I don’t think that enough of the conflict was fully realized for a stand alone. The constant antagonism regarding Clarence’s past was often random and glossed over quickly, and Alba seemed opposed to him only to move along the conflict of their relationship. The presence of other witches was often half explained at best, and the bread crumbs that were being laid out for a larger plot for the series just didn’t entice me enough in this book.
A lot of the characters felt like caricatures. Alba’s emotional fluctuations seemed to fit her story, considering the turmoil she was facing, but the other side characters all felt like exaggerations. I would have been willing to let it slide with a vampire or two, but that every single character was an inflated caricature of a real fleshed out personality was a bit over the top for me.
This wasn’t a bad read, for sure. It hits a lot of the beats of paranormal romance and urban fantasy and can absolutely be used to scratch your vampire romance itch. I think that the attempt at setting up both a series and having a stand alone novel was a bit too far of a stretch. I was neither wholly satisfied with the stand alone plot, nor enticed by the idea of reading further to find out more about the world set up here. I think if another book in this series fell into my lap I might read it just out of curiosity, but I won’t be seeking out the remainder of the series with gusto. It was nice seeing a protagonist in a vampire romance who wasn’t a young and hot twenty-something, and to get a bit of variation on the typical tropes. Altogether, though, this was just an okay read.