I am very impressed with Craig Schafer’s Sworn to the Night. Coming into this, I’d never read any of his previous books; I’d not even come across his name up to receiving this novel for review as part of 2018’s SPFBO. I was oblivious to the fact that Sworn to the Night is the beginning of a third series set in a shared world between Schafer’s other works. Reading it, I didn’t at any point feel I needed to be familiar with previous novels, even if familiarity with one particular side character by the name of Daniel Faustus (the main character in his own series), would have given me a greater degree of context.
Sworn to the Night’s story kicks off in a familiar enough way to anyone who has viewed a police procedural show All the staples of the genre are present – a main character cop with issues forcing her to take what should be a normal case personally; a loyal partner trying to keep her reigned in, a sagacious best friend/roommate, and a captain who demands the badge and gun of his best detectives (incidentally, the same main character spoke mentioned earlier, along with her partner). Our disgruntled detective is a woman with a tragic past by the name of Marie Reinhart, and she is the first part of the absolutely fascinating duo of main characters Sworn to the Night introduced me* to.
The second half of this dynamic duo goes by the name of Nessa, an anthropologist obsessed with the study and practice of witchcraft. She is also somewhat mentally unhinged, a condition for which Nessa is heavily medicated by her personal therapist. Trapped in a loveless marriage to a successful businessman (the son of a U.S. senator with a bright future ahead of him), Nessa feels like her control over the direction of her own life is slipping away. Until, that is, she comes face to face with a certain NYPD detective.
The relationship between Nessa and Marie fascinates me. It’s the emotional center of the book and, though it has been criticized by some, the romance between these two women worked for me, and I say that without reservations. The dynamics of this relationship and how it changes both the main characters as they take their first steps in its exploration was something I didn’t expect to like as much as I did.
An aspect of this story I love is the structure – framed after classic fairy tales, this is instead a modern dark fable, compelling and not for the faint of heart. By additionally embracing some of the longest held conventions of the detective thriller, Craig Schafer delivers a subversive story that delves into the fantastical and the dynamics of love and loyalty, as well as the ever-fascinating conflict between law and chaos.
One issue I had that took away from my otherwise stellar opinion of this novel has to do with the ending, which at the last moment was rendered far less consequential than I originally thought after reading through the culmination (which is something truly wonderful, let me tell you). I suspect Schaefer was following his grander design for the trilogy as a whole but having read only this instalment of the series, I can’t help but feel that it was a cheap way of recycling certain villainous characters further down the line.
The quality of writing is exceptional; Craig Schaefer is a stellar example of excellence in indie authorship, his skill in the calibre of Ben Galley, Benedict Patrick, Josh Erikson and many, many others. Schaefer shows an excellent grasp on narrative voice; all his point-of-view characters come across as unique. Characterisation is indeed strong in this one.
My final score for Sworn to the Night is a 9 out of 10. It’s a solid read, with minor pacing issues at the beginning and a disappointing conclusion that took away from what was otherwise one of my most pleasant reads over the last few months. After having read this book, I can only say, I can’t wait to read the follow-ups!
You’ll enjoy this novel if:
*If you’ve read one of Schaefer’s previous series, you might actually have come across these two characters.