Blood Winter ~ Diana Pharaoh Francis

  • Title: Blood Winter
  • Author: Diana Pharaoh Francis
  • Series: Horngate Witches #4
  • Genre: PNR, UF
  • Format: eBook
  • Source: Own Copy
  • Reviewer: Soo
  • Rating: 3 out of 5


Max always does her job, no matter how brutal and bloody. That’s how it’s been ever since she was enslaved by a witch, turned into a supernatural warrior, and assigned to protect the coven of Horngate. But her job just got harder….

Waves of wild magic have returned much of the world to a time when fairy tales were real and danger now lurks behind every tree and bush. As winter descends and food, heat, and water are harder to come by, many have turned to Benjamin Sterling for protection. Leader of the Earth’s Last Stand cult, Sterling claims to be the Hand of God, but his power and charisma secretly come from a dark and terrible source. With devout followers eager to do his sadistic bidding, he has his eyes on Horngate and its magical inhabitants. To save those she loves, Max will knowingly walk into a trap. But when the cult strips Max’s soul bare for all to see, will even Alexander—her lover and her strength—remain? And if she were to lose him, what does it matter if she gains the whole world….

*Potential Spoilers*

Review:  3.5 Stars

A cloying red dust clings to skin, it is found scattered everywhere within the covenstead and seems to be the connecting evidence as new horrors arise. The Grims and Spike follow a magical event and leave Horngate behind. A fanatic has formed a riotous following and is spreading mayhem to those who fail to follow his faith. Max and Alexander are emotionally crippled by their love and pain of loss. There’s no down time to take in everything that’s happened. There’s no rest to shut out the world, grieve, laugh, cry and breathe again to keep going forward. It’s a fight against insurmountable odds and the key is the love & faith that the Horngate covenstead have for each other and their sanctuary.

Whew… The story is devastating. I had to push myself to read this book. I wasn’t ready for the story to turn into what it did. I’ve read my share of horror stories and thrillers. I don’t think I’ve responded to them quite the way I did to Blood Winter. In the first three books of the series, I would have described the books as dark, gritty, flippantly sarcastic, quietly rewarding and adventurous. None of which prepares me for this book.

The change was too much. It’s not like there weren’t brutal, horrific things happening in the story before. But it does not COMPARE to what happens in this one. I cringed inside when I read about children being staked to wooden crosses and being tortured. It sucked. It’s heartbreaking. It doesn’t stop there. It just grows more dark, injuries that defy healing, emotional trauma, and vaguely described monsters that reign terror & destruction.

Quite hopeless. Bleak. Disturbing. Awful.

The visceral, ghost rape of Max by Shoftiel–I’m not sure if that was necessary. Was it? It’s not the first time I read of a character being raped in a story but this one punched me in the gut. It was quick and merciless. Then there is hardly a reaction from it by Max. That doesn’t happen.

If the point of this story is to pull a reader into a dark, foaming sadness and lethargic helplessness, then it succeeded. However, the transitions between the pit of despair and what goes for normalcy in the novels is non-existent.

I wasn’t surprised that a powerful Angel is behind the destruction. Yet, I’m VASTLY unsatisfied with the way Max defeats him. The answer conveniently plops into her hands?

Out of no where, Max comes back and knocks Sterling in the head and ends his magical warfare. COME ON!!! So much happens that the fix is totally unbelievable! Maybe it would be different if the storyline went back to Max and tells the reader how she ends up knocking Sterling out.

Max deals with a heavy burden of loss. She takes every death as a personal debt that weighs on her heart and soul. A good chunk of the novel talks about how awful she feels about the losses of Niko and Simon, etc. Then she gets raped and there’s barely a reaction to that before she goes on and does what she needs to do? Argh!

I admit, the last few chapters made me feel better. The overall tone lightened and the narrative felt like what I’ve come to expect from this series. It was good for it to feel the way it should. At least, I’m not walking away feeling totally horrified. This is not an easy book to read. It doesn’t make it bad. Yet it does make it very different and inconsistent with the other books in the series.

I’m glad that Max and Alexander remain together, and are stronger for the emotional fights they fight with themselves and one another. I’m glad they all have the same smartass, intelligent humor. That’s my favorite kind, after all.

I hope Diana Pharaoh Francis finds another way to finish the series. I’m left with too many unanswered questions and I do want to know what happens to all the characters I’ve gotten to know. I don’t want this book to be the last. That would be a shame.

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