New Release Review: Blood Winter by Diana Pharaoh Francis

Blood Winter by Diana Pharoah Francis
Book #4 in the Horngate Witches series
Publication Date: 26 Dec 2012
Paperback Purchased from

Synopsis from Goodreads: Set in apocalyptic America and featuring a magically enslaved heroine who is “a riveting mixture of guts, compassion, and furious anger as she struggles with a world coming apart at the seams” (Romantic Times), the fourth in a dynamic dark urban fantasy series unlike anything you’ve ever read before.Winter is coming to Montana and Shadowblade warrior Max is expecting trouble. People are hoarding everything. They are banding together, many flocking to the congregation of Sterling Savage, a fire-and-brimstone preacher. A charismatic cult leader who claims to be the Hand of God, he’s determined to create a human utopia and destroy all magic, starting with witches.

Unbeknownst to him, the “divine” voice he’s been hearing isn’t God but a demon that feeds on hate, death, and destruction. Savage is the perfect puppet for the demon’s ambitions. Max and her people at Horngate are all that stand in its way, and they are woefully unprepared.

Conducting terrible, bloody ceremonies to boost his own power and that of the demon riding him, Savage starts a war between his congregants and two other powerful gangs in the city, fighting for food, fuel, clothing and territory. When he manages to capture Max’s niece, brother, and several teenagers from Horngate, Max tries to free them but finds that Savage has twisted their minds. They worship him—even her brother, who is a witch and whom Savage intends to burn at the stake. Going undercover in the cult compound, Max swiftly realizes just how seductive Savage is. His charisma is reinforced with magic. His followers adore him and will do anything for him. Anything.

But courage, loyalty, and friendship are powerful forces—and Max doesn’t like to lose.

Christal’s Review – 4 Skulls – A-

Well, let’s go ahead and rip the band-aid off quickly… Blood Winter is the fourth and final novel in the Horngate Witches series.  At least if the series had to end, it ended with a bang.  This novel was non-stop action, battles, romantic angst, loss, love, and triumph. 

If you aren’t familiar with the Horngate Witches series, it is pretty unique in the world of urban fantasy.  The setting is a post-magical-apocalypse America, the Midwest to be exact.  The main characters are some badass warriors called Shadowblades and Sunspears.  They have been bound by a coven witch, Giselle, to provide her and her covenstead, Horngate, with protection.  In exchange, they get to be superhuman – strong, able to live through almost anything, and un-aging.  The downsides — The Shadowblades cannot be in the sun; it pretty much melts their skin off and extended exposure will kill them.  The Sunspears are poisoned by darkness and continued exposure will also kill them.  The series focuses mostly on the ‘Blades with Max, their leader or Prime, trading narrations duties with her lover, Alexander.  Their two POVs guide the series and through them we learn all there is to know about Horngate and the world of the witches.

Blood Winter finds Max and Alexander together as a couple, but Max is still trying to learn to live with her guilt over those she has lost.  She is scared of opening herself up to Alexander and then losing him too.  Alexander is confused by Max’s back and forth affections and doesn’t know where he fits in her life.  Their relationship is constantly tested throughout the book and, even though the ending was sweet, I would have liked a little more to wrap up their story.  I want to know how they are doing a week, a month, a year, ten years after this book.  Do they finally learn how to love each other and let themselves be loved in return?

While she’s trying to figure out her relationship, Max is also dealing with a new threat to Horngate.  Benjamin Sterling, a blood witch, is passing himself off as the “Hand of God” and collecting a cult of “believers.”  He intends to destroy all the other magical beings, starting with the witches, and take their powers for himself.  Max has fought tougher foes than another witch, but little does she know that Sterling has a silent partner that is much stronger than any witch.  She has to bring this partner down and then hit Sterling when he is at his weakest, all while trying to keep the non-magical civilians and Horngate safe.

I loved this plot line, though it was very different from the previous book.  I thought it was great to see Max back in action, directly defending Horngate and its people.  Getting to see the Blades and Spears work together again was also exciting and it was nice to see some of the newer characters integrated into larger roles.  Max and Giselle’s relationship was as prickly as ever, but it seems like their understanding is working for now.  I liked the historic echoes Sterling brought to the story with his crusade against the witches, even though he himself was one.  I didn’t see the twist coming with his partner, but I’m glad that his magic made a certain “reawakening” possible.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book and couldn’t put it down.  I was engaged the whole time and couldn’t wait to find out the fate of Max and Horngate.  Though I am very sad to see the series end, I highly recommend it to new readers.  It is a superbly created world overflowing with complex characters.

Be sure to check out our interview with Diana Pharaoh Francis specifically discussing the Horngate Witches series here!

Rating: ☠  ☠  ☠  ☠  ☠ 

Series Reading Order:
1. Bitter Night
2. Crimson Wind
3. Shadow City
4. Blood Winter

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