By Charlie N. Holmberg
Welcome to 1895 England, where magic is real – and highly regulated.
Orphan Elsie Camden is a talented, but unregistered, spell breaker – working a mundane job for a stonemason and doing covert work for The Cowls, a secret organization who took her out of the workhouse and gave her a purpose. That purpose is being on call to remove curses and hexes placed by the aristocracy to make life more difficult than it already is for the poor and downtrodden. Elsie believes she’s doing her part as a modern-day Robin Hood, until she’s caught removing a spell from the home of a Duke.
Bacchus Kelsey is only in London to achieve Master Wizard status and purchase the spell he needs to prolong his life. He has no intention of staying for any length of time, until he catches Elsie breaking an enchantment she has no business removing. He agrees to keep her illegal spell breaking secret in return for removing curses and old spells around the estate.
Meanwhile, wizards are dying in bizarre ways and the spell books their bodies leave behind are missing. Who’s behind the deaths and thefts? It appears that some of the spells Elsie broke weren’t quite as harmless as she’d supposed.
This is the first in a charming duology by Holmberg, who also penned the Paper Magician series (which has been optioned by Walt Disney). The magical realism is fabulous and woven seamlessly into a satisfying historic novel. Fantasy or historical fiction? You decide (although Amazon has it as it’s Editor’s Pick under Best Science Fiction and Fantasy). Both Elsie and Bacchus are delightful – fully fleshed out with satisfying emotional wounds and full arcs. The pacing moves along at a good clip, but the deep POV keeps the reader solidly with either Elise and Bacchus (who switch POVs throughout the novel). There are several subplots skillfully woven in, such as Elsie’s search for her family and Bacchus’s concerns over a long-held medical diagnosis.
I rated this 3.5 stars and the only reason I didn’t give a higher rating was because of the fairly abrupt ending of the first book. It felt more like this was a very, very long novel that was chopped in half. However, that didn’t stop me from immediately purchasing the second novel in the duology, Spellmaker, and promptly reading it too.
My rating system:
5 stars – Wow, I could not stop thinking about this book and/or I wish I’d writtn it.
4 stars – This was an awesome novel, I’d recommend it to friends.
3 stars – This was a good novel, I will look for more by this author.
2 stars – An okay novel, but I probably won’t look for anything else by the author.