World-building is a tough process, and it’s easy to go wrong. You really have to start off on the right foot–preferably one that doesn’t require explanation, which is the death of action. You definitely don’t want to lose your reader on the first page. Many books wither on the vine trying to get the balance between movement and pause right, but Virginia Black’s Consecrated Ground isn’t one of those. Her very first scene is full of action but has just enough explanation to make you understand why the action is important. It’s a perfect beginning to an excellent story.
On the death of her binder witch father, war witch Joan Matthews goes back to her home in Calvert, OR only to find the town besieged by attacks from a nearby vampire lord named Victor. The binder coven protecting the town all these years has been ineffective against him, and the surrounding magical border has been breached. Joan also has to face her former lover, Leigh, who is now living in the house she shared with Joan’s late father and has a dark secret that may just be the key to triumphing over Victor and saving the day.
One of the reasons Black’s world-building is so effective here is that she sets up the situation, giving us the indication that her war witches and binder witches and coven law and vampire territory are universal. How the world got that way is immaterial. So many authors would have to give background to their background and explain that. In Black’s world, it simply is, and that’s enough. She wastes no time before moving on to establish her well-defined characters.
Joan is set up to be larger-than-life from the first scene, but she is more complicated than that. She also has a sense of vulnerability concerning the town, its traditions, her father, and, of course, Leigh. Leigh is also set up to be the lover-with-a-secret, but what I find interesting about that is that Black subverts the trope by (and I have to be vague here to avoid spoilers) ensuring the reader understands her secret will not go away just because the lovers reunite–and you know they will. The other characters are ancillary, and though I wish they were a bit more fleshed out, this is really Joan’s show, and Black rightly keeps the focus on her. Black also has a way with the fight scenes, providing just enough tension to keep the outcome in doubt until the killing blow.
Consecrated Ground is an interesting and fully realized entry in the paranormal sweepstakes with some novel approaches and a great turn at world-building. Fans of the genre won’t be disappointed in either the magical or the romantic aspects. It’s a solid start from an author I look forward to reading again, and it’s definitely worth your time (great cover, too!).
© 2023 Jerry L. Wheeler