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War and Magic, a Fatal Combination - an Editorial Review of "White Raven"

Book Blurb:

As World War II dawns over the United States, the newly-formed Office of Strategic Services calls upon the Conjurus, people born with the ability to control various elements, to assist in the war effort. Among them is Jay Loalin, and his first mission hits close to home when he learns that an SS officer, now the head of a branch dedicated to the study of magical beings, witnessed his father’s magic and has dedicated his life to merging the delicate and dangerous magic of the Conjurus and witchcraft to create the ultimate superman.

Getting into Germany and stopping the operation codenamed “White Raven,” isn’t going to be easy, and Jay and his OSS partner, Lester Halcomb, must first go to North Africa to rescue a defector from the heart of the Afrika Korps in order to find information on the primary facility used for research. Only with this information can they make the dangerous journey north through Italy and southern Germany to strike before White Raven tips the balance of the war in Germany’s favor.

Author Bio:

Catherine has been writing since the third grade, and has always been an avid reader and writer of historical fiction, fantasy, and some sci-fi. "White Raven" is her first venture into publishing, and is the first book in a series that merges her love of history and fantasy together, creating rich narratives of a wide variety of characters. When not writing, she is cooking, playing with her in-laws' cats, or making plans for a room dedicated to the care of succulents.

Editorial Review:

'White Raven'' by Catherine Douglas is an adventure story with a difference! It is from the very start an unrelenting and remorseless read which drives the reader on and with scant opportunity for reflective meditation. The pace of the book, to say the least, is brisk. It should be pointed out to the reader that the urgency of its tone and the importance it places on 'getting on' with the story, leaving little space for any in-depth analysis of the many characters involved or any clear observation of the many alarming situations in which they are increasingly thrust! A moment to pause, look around and reflect on what has happened and speculate what may ensue is rare.

'White Raven', then, is a story ideally suited for lovers of a fast-paced thriller that does not require any intensive and introspective questioning from the reader. In that respect, this book is pure 'escapism' of the highest degree and that, of course, is no bad thing and this is perhaps the secret of its beguiling nature and appeal. To enjoy the full benefit and appeal of this book it is perhaps necessary to read and accept it without questioning. So then, with these concerns and issues raised, onto the book itself. This is a 'war story' and a 'spy thriller' in the fine old tradition of previous masters of the art. At times it is, to this reviewer at least, reminiscent of the great John Buchan himself. But 'White Raven' is more besides. The further genre of 'fantasy' is added to the mix. Indeed, its inclusion is the very explanation of the story.

The essential premise that Catherine Douglas presents to the reader is that within the broad definition and understanding of ''Homo Sapiens'' there exist additional beings – 'Conjurus' - with a special supernatural ability and gifts attached to the 'elements' - principally those of ice and fire. These people are known, respectively, as 'ice' and 'fire' variants, each with their particular gifts. They represent a sizeable proportion of the overall population and are understood as such. Jay Loalin, the hero of the book, is one such - an 'ice variant', able to resist and deploy for his own uses the power of extremely low temperature. His own father was one such, a man who lost his life in the First World War whilst using his powers against a superior German force. Significantly, there was only one German survivor. The exploits of Jay's father become famous and attract a great deal of scientific interest, not all of which is beneficial to the future of mankind in general - to either the generality [the 'magicless'] or to the specialist [the 'conjurus']. For there is a further, altogether different, an utterly maligned group of people - the 'witches' and 'warlocks'. The sole German survivor of the bravery of Jay's father is SS Standartenfuhrer Fritz Wahler of the specially formed 'Zamberei Abtellung' ['Sorcery Division] and presently heading up a top-secret operation named 'White Raven'. In view of the increasing casualties and breakdown of machinery on the deteriorating Russian Front, this man is currently conducting vicious and abominable experiments on 'ice variant conjurus in an attempt to channel and redeploy their powers in the furtherance of the Nazi war effort. In all probability, the man is also a warlock, the natural bitter foe of all conjurus.

It is not long before Jay Loalin [already with a reputation earned through his explorations in Antarctica] attracts the attention of the American OSS. In August 1942, he is recruited to be a top secret agent and sent to a training school in Washington. His task is to infiltrate Nazi-controlled Europe and to utterly undo and destroy all the work of SS Standartenfuhrer Fritz Wahler, and to kill him. This, then, is the plan and the plot of the book. Accompanied by a man called Halcomb - the man who had originally recruited him - Jay is first transported to North Africa via Gibraltar and there the two are in very short order insinuated as replacements into the German 'Afrika Korps'. The two Americans blend in very easily and it is a great tribute to their German tutors at spy school that both are able to converse with ease at all levels up to and including Field Marshal Irwin Rommel himself and with whom Jay develops grudging respect and even a friendship of sorts in their hunt to track down a murderous warlock in their midst. This achieved, the two spies set off for a rendezvous with a submarine in the company of a German defector, Lieutenant Friedrich Altschul [a man with vital information for the allies] to carry them to Italy, the next step in their adventure.

Attempting to juggle at least two separate genres [spy thriller and fantasy novel] is no easy task and Catherine Douglas has a truly valiant stab at the task. But, with so much action in this fast-paced story, this is often at the expense of such issues as character development and scene description. If there are to be further novels in this canon then it might be that the author might consider providing the reader with more information on the character of a person in his or her own right - their thoughts and fears and motives - beyond what they might happen to be experiencing at any given moment in all this headlong action-packed rush. In any event, the author is to be congratulated for never allowing the pace and speed of the action to slow. Subsequent novels would be all the better for this; transforming an altogether excellent 'comic strip' into an excellent novel.

Naturally, it takes the indominable trio next to no time at all to scout a seemingly impregnable SS stronghold in the heart of Nazi Germany and for Jay to suborn and persuade an SS Officer, with his own vengeful and bitter memories of his superior officer to both supply them with weapons and a map of the castle interior and then to smuggle them in!

All that Jay turns his hand to he succeeds in, despite all the attendant dangers he subjects himself and his comrades to: like any self-respecting hero. Catherine Douglas is following a respectable and time-honoured tradition here; a rule she respectfully adheres to. Perhaps she, like me and thousands of others besides, was an avid viewer of old James Bond films viewed on a Sunday afternoon. There is no time in this swift-paced action thriller for any real or sustained Hamlet-like soliloquies on the nature of being at this stage for Jay Laolin, 'ice variant par excellence'. In any event, any such moments are yet to be revealed to us. He is, yes, subject to occasional doubts and concerns, but the eventual success of this desperate mission against a cruel and vicious arch villain seems to be in safe and more than competent hands - despite the odds.

Once insinuated into one of what must have been one of the most highly guarded fortresses in Nazi Germany with a minimum of fuss and with the aid of the sympathetic SS Officer KIefer, the three, primarily Jay, roam and prowl the corridors and cellars, sewers and secret tunnels with absolute liberty, even availing themselves of the kitchen. They discover much as they place their ears against walls and hide under tables whilst brutal operations are being conducted. They observe savage experiments and overhear significant exchanges in scenes reminiscent of an episode of 'Scooby Doo' blended with a Hollywood set of a 'James Bond Lair of a Super Villain'. The feel of the action is, as ever, cinematic rather than literary. We learn of Wahler's evil plan to create a superhuman 'variant' from the parts and bits and pieces of conjurus victims. In essence, he also appears to be attempting to invent anti-freeze for use on the Russian front. Surely, one might well ask, is there an easier way to achieve this? The immediate superior of Wahler, Doctor Griebel is expected imminently. He is a fellow 'Doctor Frankenstein', a cruel and vicious experimenter, and it is clear that there is no love lost between them. Clearly, both men must be destroyed and the whole evil plan of 'White Raven' will collapse!

Jay and Halcomb snatch a brief whispered conversation before the last of the final necessary act in the Castle:

''Where does it end? I whispered......''Where does all the pointless killing end?'' Halcomb thought for a moment ''It ends when the good people in the World stand up to it and that's what we are going to do tonight.'' I nodded, and suddenly I felt as though the fate of everyone in Europe rested on my shoulders.......'' So, no pressure there, then.

Will Jay succeed in his daring plan? Will he and his companions be able to escape afterward and all the way to the OSS Office in Switzerland? Will they be united in further missions to bring peace and justice to the world? This is best left for the reader to discover for himself or herself as this book reaches its thrilling conclusion and as the pages are swiftly turned.

Sadly, the inevitability of the outcome removes any sense of real tension as the book progresses. By now the reader is so convinced of the ultimate success of all of Jay's extremely 'ad hoc' plans and in his ability to overcome every barrier or hurdle set before him that there is little inclination to doubt. This, in fact, is the greatest weakness of the entire book. 'The White Raven - Snows of War' is a praiseworthy effort indeed and Catherine Douglas should be rightly proud in taking up the pen and creating a stirring tale of derring-do in a fine old tradition. The appeal for the reader is unfortunately diminished by its overall comic strip/graphic novel feel. Leaving aside for one moment the rather scanty details offered up by way of descriptions of scenes and the comparative dearth of character description and development, the reader is left in little doubt of the nature of the conclusion. For the subsequent books in this series to fully enjoy success [and in this, the reviewer offers the Author the very best of wishes] at least some of these inherent weaknesses need to be addressed.


“White Raven” by Catherine Douglas receives 3.5 stars from The Historical Fiction Company - posted with permission of the author.


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