Witches in Red by Barb Hendee
(Description nicked from B&N.com.)
“Far to the north, the men of an isolated silver mining community are turning into vicious “beasts” that slaughter anyone in sight. The mines belong to the noble family of Prince Anton—ruler of Castle Sèone and Céline and Amelie’s patron—and Anton’s tyrannical father has ordered his son to solve the mystery as a test of his leadership. He has no choice but to send the witches into the perilous north to use their abilities to discover the cause of the transformations. Given how much they owe the prince, the sisters have no choice but to go.
Together with the overprotective Lieutenant Jaromir, Céline and Amelie enter the dark world of a far-off mining camp tainted by fear, mistrust, and enslavement—and haunted by men turning into massive mad wolves without warning. Now the two must draw upon strength and cunning they never thought they possessed not only to solve the mystery, but to survive….”
I have to compliment Hendee on her character creation. Celine and Amelie are both feminine and tough. Here, feminine doesn’t mean fragile and waifish, and tough doesn’t mean just mentally strong. Amelie is the more physical of the two sisters, but even dressed in a fighter’s clothes and wielding a weapon, I think she’s still a lovely lady. Celine exudes beauty and caring, but no one could ever accuse her of being a maiden in distress. The two complement each other well, quite aside from their opposing powers.
In many ways, this series reminds me of another of my favorite re-reads, the Dubric Byerly books by Tamara Siler Jones. Although the setting is a fantasy universe and magic plays key roles in the plot, there’s a definite overtone of real sleuthing techniques. Magic isn’t the cure-all in this series, either; as often as not, neither reading the past nor the future helps with the deduction. It might give the sisters a nudge in the right direction, but they do a lot of regular investigating as well.
There are a few undertones of romance running through this story, but it’s not in the forefront by any means. That’s actually refreshing, as a good chunk of the novels available these days include romance as an obligatory element. The focus is firmly on the sisters and their work uncovering the secret of the transforming soldiers.
This book is a fun read with plenty of diverse elements—fantasy, mystery, action, adventure—to whet the appetite of just about any reader. I think this would also be a good series to give to those interested in the fantasy genre but not sure where to dive in. Witches in Red is one of those books that you can revisit again and again and never get bored.