The Bad Tom Trilogy, by Jill Nojack – Book Review by Fred Patten
by Pup Matthias
Submitted by Fred Patten, Furry’s favorite historian and reviewer.
The Familiar: A Paranormal Romance, by Jill Nojack
Kent, OH, IndieHeart Press, September 2015, trade paperback $9.99 (277 [+ 1] pages), Kindle $2.99.
Witch Risen: A Paranormal Adventure, by Jill Nojack
Kent, OH IndieHeart Press, September 2016, trade paperback $9.99 (285 pages), Kindle December 2015 $3.99.
Nine Lives: A Paranormal Adventure, by Jill Nojack
Kent, OH, IndieHeart Press, September 2016, trade paperback $9.99 (291 pages), Kindle April 2016 $3.99.
These three books constitute Nojack’s The Bad Tom series. They are meant to be read together, in that order. Amazon has a three-book Kindle package for $10.97.
Up to now, I’ve avoided reviewing the paranormal romance genre. There are dozens if not hundreds of books (probably 95+% e-books only) about handsome, hunky werewolves or werelions or werestallions or werebears who need a human woman to tame them. They’re mostly written from the woman’s point of view – wish-fulfillment fodder.
However, The Bad Tom trilogy features a man spelled into an ordinary housecat, and it’s more about him trying to avoid a jealous witch so he can get together with his true love – and worse. There’s enough non-romantic story here for a furry fan that isn’t interested in romance to enjoy. There are enough clever twists & turns in the trilogy that I have to reveal a major spoiler to cover all three novels.
“Back when her skin was smooth and her lips were juicy as ripe berries, Eunice did the nasty with the devil. And she loved it. If she hadn’t, I wouldn’t be lurking in the dark, twitching the tip of my tail, trying to keep an eye on what the old witch is up to. Everyone knows spells cast during the Black Moon aren’t illuminated by the Goddess’s light.” (The Familiar, p. 1)
The trilogy is set in the small town of Giles, Massachusetts, on the route from Boston to Salem. The town specializes in the colorful “witch” motif associated with the notorious Salem witch trials of 1692. Several elderly women dress up as witches, and a leading spell shop is Cat’s Magical Shoppe, run by seventyish Eunice. “Of course” the spells are all fake; just harmless herbal medicine charms – but the witches are real. Most of Giles’ costumed witches are organized in a “choir” (coven) of white witches, or at worst gray, led by Eunice. They don’t know that Eunice is secretly a black witch, the leader of a small black coven within the white coven, subtly practicing forbidden magic to make sure that she remains Giles’ social leader. The #2 witch in the white coven is Gillian Winterforth; another important witch is Natalie Taylor.
There are also two warlocks; sixtyish Robert Andrews, the high priest of the white coven for twenty years and the mayor of Giles, and his late-30s son Kevin. Robert is content to politically run the town. Kevin has become a black warlock. He is conspiring with Eunice to, if not replace Robert immediately, help Robert to buy up the town while making sure that he remains Robert’s heir.
Eunice has a granddaughter, Cassie. She is innocent of what’s going on. Cassie visits from Boston often, and has been helping out/learning in the shoppe how to make the “herbal charms”. Eunice is slowly teaching her to become a witch without revealing that witchcraft is real.
Cat’s Magical Shoppe has a real black cat as a mascot. Nobody knows that the cat is also Tom Sanders, who had been Gillian’s young husband in 1967 when they were all in their sexy 20s. He tried to have an affair with Eunice, and she bound him into her shop’s cat. She turns him human again when nobody else is around by saying, “Good cat,” and back into a cat by saying, “Bad cat”. He’s her boy-toy, eternally a hunky 25-year-old while Eunice and the other witches grow old.
As a cat, Tom is trapped inside a feline body. When the cat dies, he’s reincarnated into a black kitten’s body. He can try to influence the cat, which he can do to a limited extent, but more often he is overpowered by the cat’s instincts and can only ride along while the cat is in charge.
“The next day, it’s business as usual. I’d like to take a nap, but Cat is distracted by everything: a passing shoelace, the shop broom moving across the floor, the sound of paper bags crinkling.
Crinkling. First my ears and then my eyes are drawn to the source of the sound. Eunice’s granddaughter, Cassie, plops a brown paper bag onto the counter, and it rustles again as she rests a dainty hand onto it.” (p. 7)
All of this is background. The story starts when Eunice unexpectedly dies (not of natural causes) in her sleep. Cassie comes from Boston to decide whether to sell the shoppe or to take it over and keep it running. Tom, currently a tiny kitten, is frantic to get her to say “Good Tom” and turn him human again – though how she’ll react to having a little black kitten become a handsome, naked man in front of her, he doesn’t know.
Any more detailed synopsis would give away too many spoilers. The first 100 pages of The Familiar are narrated by Tom, who is desperate to communicate with Cassie; then the narration switches back and forth between them. Conflict is provided by Kevin Andrews, who assumes that Cassie is too naïve to oppose him as he tries to take over the shoppe and Eunice’s coven. Cassie eventually learns how to turn Tom human again, but it only works within the shoppe. The two need to find how to release Tom from the spell entirely, which they do with the help of the now-grandmotherly Gillian and her white coven.
The Familiar seems to come to a happy ending, but there’s a shocking cliffhanger in the final paragraph. This is no real surprise since there are two more books in the trilogy. In Witch Risen, Eunice’s spirit comes back from the dead and possesses Cassie’s body. Tom is frantic to free Cassie’s spirit. The white witches in Giles (plus Robert) don’t want Eunice back, so they join Tom in trying to outwit Eunice and banish her spirit to release Cassie’s.
What nobody realizes at first (and I’m sorry to reveal a major spoiler, but it’s necessary to continue this review) is that it never was Eunice. “Eunice” is really Anat, a thousands’-year-old witch’s (she claims she’s a Goddess) spirit who has been body-hopping for hundreds of generations, and had possessed the real Eunice’s body decades earlier. To her, Cassie is just the latest body in a long string of beautiful young women. What’s worse, she has been looking for the perfect young male body for millennia for her husband/master, the demon Ba’al, to possess. She’s finally found it in Tom. Witch Risen becomes a race between the two sides to succeed. Tom and the white witches have the greater organization, but they are hampered by unknowingly underestimating at first how much evil “Eunice” can command, and then how much magic it will really take to exorcise her.
“When I get my lover’s heart beating again during the quickening, I’ll help him move to his new home in Tom’s handsome shell soon after. Will he find me too tame now? I’m in bed by ten after taking my nightly bath in lavender-scented bubbles instead of the blood of my victims. But oh, when we were young! There wasn’t a god or a demon who could challenge us.” (Witch Risen, p. 122)
Witch Risen is narrated by Tom and “Eunice”. It again seems to come to a happy ending, but there’s still a final novel in the trilogy. Nine Lives shows a demon-dog on the cover, so that’s no secret; so I’ll just say that there’s more than one demon-dog in Giles, determined to make their victims more than just Tom and Cassie. Nine Lives completes The Bad Tom trilogy neatly.
Nojack labels The Familiar “a paranormal romantic comedy”, but the other two as “a paranormal adventure”, which is more accurate. Tom certainly has romance towards Cassie in mind, but the books are more about his fighting the age-old Anat (even if he doesn’t know she’s Anat until Witch Risen) than about his getting together with Cassie. The trilogy is not anthropomorphic in the usual sense, but even when Tom is freed from the original spell that allows “Eunice” to control his human/cat transformations, he remains having to share his human body with Cat. Tom finds that he has to transform into Cat a couple of hours each day to remain healthy, usually to let Cat go hunting in the nearby wood. He often uses the Cat body in his magical combats, despite having to influence Cat’s cooperation.
“I squat down to make myself less visible as Gillian explores. That may be a mistake. Cat’s got my nose tilted up in the air, sniffing at the tantalizing fragrance of wilderness that blows my way on the breeze. That’s definitely a mouse. A tiny, furry, juicy, tasty mouse. My haunches tense, I gear up for the chase. And then I grab my body back from Cat’s influence and stand up. ‘Gillian.’ I whisper. ‘Have you got enough yet?’” (Nine Lives, p. 155)
The three books, covers designed by IndieHeart Press, are definitely something that furry fans should check out.