There are many ways to make it easier on oneself when constructing a protagonist. For example, a kickass, wise-cracking female heroine with magic and not one but *two interested men is a good start. Couple that to a magical soul-sucking stone coveted by a mighty and nefarious goblin sorcerer on the lam, and you have both character and plot.
Not that I'm trying to suggest that these books are formulaic. Lisa Shearin, like all good authors, borrows from the fantasy tropes, but the Raine Benares series is creative and complex. Bewitched & Betrayed is no exception. Nevertheless, as much as I admire this series, I have to admit that this book didn't fulfil my high expectations.
My main problem with Bewitched & Betrayed is that it does very little in the way of advancing the main story arc. Yes, there was lots of character development, and the plot did move forward somewhat. It's for these reasons, especially for the character development, that I still enjoyed the book and think it's a good one, if not as good as The Trouble with Demons, which is now my "Raine Benares gold standard."
A lot has happened to Raine in the past three books, which span weeks. We learned about the Saghred, we learned that it could be opened with the right dagger, we saw Raine reunited with her father (who has a fancy new meat suit), and doubt on Raine's ability to resist the temptation of the Saghred remains a running theme. Bewitched & Betrayed gives us deception, body-switching, and explosions (from the bad guys), and scheming, erect nipples, and explosions (from the good guys).
What we don't get is a lot of time with the Saghred. With no one specific inside clamouring to get out, it's been reduced from setting to plot device. Sarad Nukpana once again takes centre stage as the Big Bad. While he's an OK villain as far as they go, his threat-level is still predicated on what he could do instead of what he has done. We've yet to see Nukpana do something that makes us go, "Oh shit" and realize that this guy is bad news. Yes, he kills people and sucks out their souls. Forgive me for having high standards when it comes to sinister fantasy villains.
Still, Nukpana is a credible villain if not a satisfying one. Soul-sucking really is impressive. Bureaucratic whining, on the other hand, not so much. Carnades Silvanus' role in Bewitched & Betrayed is much reduced from his role in the previous book, his threat level having been downgraded from, "jockeying for position of archmagus" to "being a nuisance while Raine & co. try to hunt down body-hopping sorcerers." The Trouble with Demons proved that Silvanus can be a great antagonist, but he didn't get the chapters needed to show us that potential again. I'm sure, however, this will be rectified in future books. Annoying mages on the Seat of Twelve don't go away, especially not after the Paladin of the Conclave Guardians steals their coach from them. . . .
With the two major antagonists more distant than present for most of the book, Bewitched & Betrayed's story becomes very linear. Reduced to a series of events punctuated by explosions (of various kinds) and plenty of quips from all parties involved, the best parts of the book come from the dialogue and the characters speaking it. Raine learns more about Mychael's past (as well as his present), and they learn to work together on a new level, as partners, instead of protector and protected. Similarly, Tam trains Raine to fight goblin-style—i.e., dirty. There are great bits of foreshadowing here that become important during the climax.
As far as the writing goes, Bewitched & Betrayed retains the consistent style of the Raine Benares series that made me a fan. Raine's voice is snarky without being too smug, confident yet vulnerable—in other words, she's a heroine, but she's well aware of her flaws. She's surrounded by people who care about her. And the people who don't care about her mostly don't want her dead or in goblin custody. In having Raine stumble into her role as bond servant to the soul-sucking Saghred, Shearin manages to avert the Chosen One trope even as she plays true to some of its consequences.
It's on this strength, and on the strength of its characters, that the Raine Benares series continues to entertain. I just wish this particular instalment had a more profound sense of progress. Although not everything is status quo at the end—far from it—and the stage is set for yet more awesomeness, the game itself remains the same: find Sarad Nukpana, kill him, and then find a way to destroy the Saghred or unlink Raine from it. After four books (really after only three), Shearin has sold me on the concept. It's time to go further, beyond goblin-hunting and soul-sucking, and take the next step.