BooksOfTheMoon

Spellmaker (Spellbreaker Duology, #2)

By Charlie N. Holmberg

Rating: 4 stars

Picking up directly from where the first book leaves off, the second volume of this “duology” deals with Elsie’s spellbreaking ability becoming public. Bacchus Kelsey, the young master spellmaker who’s well on his way to falling in love with Elsie, persuades the justice system to let her go and that they are, in fact, engaged to be married. Of course, Elsie now thinks that Bacchus has thrown away his future life and happiness for her freedom. Hilarity ensues.

The misunderstandings and Elsie’s obsession with everyone leaving her can be frustrating at times, but it’s all the sweeter when (I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say) they’re resolved and expressions of love are exchanged. The rest of the plot proceeds, with the villain, now known to be Master Lily Merton, continuing her spree of killing (or trying to kill) spellcasters for the magic they leave behind when they die. The mystery of the stranger who Elsie meets in the first book is unravelled and we find out how it ties in to what Merton wants.

And honestly, if she was less psychotic, I’d be very sympathetic towards Merton. She really does have a zeal towards social justice, it’s just that she doesn’t mind murdering and enslaving to do so. I would have liked to get to know our other characters a bit better than we did. We found out at the end of the last book that Elsie’s employer, Mr Ogden, isn’t a low-level physical spellcaster as she’d thought, but a master-level rational (affecting minds) caster. I would have loved to find out why he had hidden this over the years – it’s known that has abilities, but he pretends his powers are very different to what they are, but why would he do that?

And then the new characters, Reggie and Irene, get welcomed into the group with a nod, but get very little character development. I would especially have liked to see more interaction between Reggie and Elsie. And Irene accepts all the events that she gets caught up in with equanimity. I’d love to know more about her character and why she’s so eager to be involved. Oh, and it’s sort of hinted that Elsie’s spellbreaking powers are different or possibly stronger than most spellbreakers, but this isn’t really explored in any great depth.

While I appreciate fantasies that don’t feel the need to bloat into multi-volume doorstoppers, I do think that this story would have benefited from a bit more depth (although that could still be the after-effects of binging Neal Stephenson‘s Baroque Cycle). Still, the complaints are fairly minor: the story moves at a brisk pace, with revelation piling upon revelation. The major characters are well-developed and likeable, and it’s a fun story to read. While I can see that this is a good point to leave the story, I’d love to spend more time with Elsie and Bacchus.

Book details

ISBN: 9781542022576
Publisher: 47North
Year of publication: 2021

Spellbreaker (Spellbreaker Duology, #1)

By Charlie N. Holmberg

Rating: 4 stars

Elsie Camden is illegal. She’s an unregistered magic-user, with the ability to break spells that others cast, without being able to cast her own. She works for a stonemason by day, but for an organisation that she calls the Cowls by night, helping dispel magical wards so that others can do the Robin Hood thing and stand up for the poor against the powerful rich. When powerful magician Bacchus Kelsey catches her on one of her excursions, he agrees not to turn her in if she helps him. What starts out as blackmail quickly turns into something more respectful, on both sides.

I shouldn’t have read this historical fantasy immediately after finishing Neal Stephenson‘s Baroque Cycle. I fear that’s broken me, as I kept wondering where the full chapter describing the economic basis of the magic system was, or the multi-page potted history of the Caribbean. This book is much leaner – coming in at under 300 pages. Once I dragged my head out of Stephenson mode, I appreciated the cracking pace that Holmberg kept up throughout. She drops enough worldbuilding and personal history to keep you interested, but not enough to get in the way of the plot.

Elsie is a fun character, although I did find myself rolling my eyes a bit at the slow-burning romance that builds up, but that may be me getting cynical in my old age. I also really enjoyed the found-family with her employer, Mr Ogden, and the other servant, Emmeline – something which has taken the place of her biological family, which disappeared mysteriously when Elsie was a child.

Bacchus is also interesting as a character – he’s an outsider, with an English father but a continental mother, and grew up in Barbados, where he has holdings. He’s in England to apply to the magical college for his mastership, and to ask for access to a spell that he hopes will help him in his own life, but he finds his way barred. Nobody comes out and says it, but his heritage is a big part of that. His interactions with Elsie smoulder and the pair make a good team once they overcome their differences.

The one thing that didn’t quite feel true to me was the setting and the social interactions that went on. Again, this may be a hangover from just having finished the immensely detailed Baroque Cycle, but the Victorian London didn’t quite spring to life for me, and the society and the way people interacted and spoke to each other also felt a little off. But that’s a small matter, and the characters and plot more than made up for it. I’ve already got the next book and look forward to finishing the story.

Book details

ISBN: 9781542020091
Publisher: 47North
Year of publication: 2020

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