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Reviewed by Jamie Michele for Readers' Favorite
R.L. Keck gives readers book two in The Orion Chronicles - The Gastwick Witch - to pick up where The God Stones left off. Captain Matheson has saved his daughter, gotten sober, and removed a foe from his path while entangling himself with The Keeper. The God stones and their energy source remain the mission until another threat, the Malefactors, power stones that raise a witch named Moira to do their bidding. Moira is at a near apex of power as a conduit for the Malefactors, collecting stones and altering time and dimension. Circumstances force Matheson to almost mirror Moira's position in line with the Keeper for the only chance of keeping his crew, people he deeply cares for, and everyone else across multiple timelines alive.
R.L. Keck is a storyteller through and through. The Gastwick Witch is complex but maneuverable but I will say that, as a woman, I might shock readers when I say that Moira is my favorite character and, as a woman, Moira is not easy to dislike. She is a woman, a witch, who was cast out when she was old and no longer considered beautiful, then exploited by alien forces to do their bidding. Moira has been abused by men from childhood so you sort of get why she is harnessing whatever power is being offered. Keck is doubtlessly intentional in building up the nuanced irony, allowing Moira to erase every man in a room with a magic blast and then tell the subjugated women, “Kneel no longer.” Epic battles and Slipstream jumps keep the pages turning but characters you care about, even ones who do terrible things, are what pull readers in. Antagonists that are bonafide hags don't get treated with compassion by authors and my feminist roots are elevating Keck into the 'very highly recommended' category. And so, there it is. The Gastwick Witch: Very highly recommended.