Author: Charlie N. Holmberg
A world of enchanted injustice needs a disenchanting woman in the newest fantasy series by the Wall Street Journal bestselling author of The Paper Magician.
The orphaned Elsie Camden learned as a girl that there were two kinds of wizards in the world: those who pay for the power to cast spells and those, like her, born with the ability to break them. But as an unlicensed magic user, her gift is a crime. Commissioned by an underground group known as the Cowls, Elsie uses her spellbreaking to push back against the aristocrats and help the common man. She always did love the tale of Robin Hood.
Elite magic user Bacchus Kelsey is one elusive spell away from his mastership when he catches Elsie breaking an enchantment. To protect her secret, Elsie strikes a bargain. She’ll help Bacchus fix unruly spells around his estate if he doesn’t turn her in. Working together, Elsie’s trust in—and fondness for—the handsome stranger grows. So does her trepidation about the rise in the murders of wizards and the theft of the spellbooks their bodies leave behind.
For a rogue spellbreaker like Elsie, there’s so much to learn about her powers, her family, the intriguing Bacchus, and the untold dangers shadowing every step of a journey she’s destined to complete. But will she uncover the mystery before it’s too late to save everything she loves?
This series was recommended to me multiple times last year. Unfortunately, I never got around to requesting and ARC for this novel and it somehow fell off my radar even though it was one I was really looking forward to reading. It all worked out though as I saw the sequel for request and immediately got myself a copy so now I get the joy of reading these novels back to back. There is a part of me that is glad that I waited as I cannot wait to see what happens in the second novel, but there is a part of me that is kicking me for waiting so long as this was a very enjoyable read and I absolutely loved it. It is not super complex and I think that’s what made it a better read for me as it fit perfectly into the type of novel I felt like reading.
In this Victorian era England, there are those who interact with magic and those that do not. The magic folks are divided into two groups: the spellmakers, the ones who can perform spells, and the spellbreakers, the ones who can break and remove spells. It was interesting to learn about this type of magic as almost anyone could become a spellmaker, given that it is an acquired ability and you are able to purchase/earn new spells while spellbreakers are born into it. This gave an interesting insight that is briefly explored which is the class divide among the citizens as you could potentially have the ability to become a great spellmaker master, but if you’re poor, you most likely will never get there.
Our story follows Elsie, a 21-year-old, unregistered spellbreaker, who works for a stonemason, who also happens to be a lower level spellmaker. She was abandoned when she was younger and eventually made her way to work for Ogden, a very skilled and in-demand stonemason. As repayment to the Cowls for assisting her to find a new home, she performs secret tasks for them whenever she receives a mysterious letter with her next instructions. Her missions are never clear for the reasons why she must break certain spells, but she is told that she is doing a good job to help the greater good. Elsie views herself as a Robin Hood as she believes, and is told, that her work is helping the poor and reducing the gap between them and the rich.
While on a secret spellbreaking mission at the Duke of Kent’s home, she runs into Bacchus, a spellmaker. Bacchus is originally from Barbados, but has studied his magical abilities in London. He catches Elsie breaking a spell and enlists her services to break additional spells that he needs done around the Seven Oaks (the Duke’s) estate. Throughout their time together, there is an initial attraction, however, being that this the Victorian era, it is never fully acted upon like it would in a contemporary setting as Elsie has her reputation to protect. The two of them have excellent chemistry together and I love how they slowly reveal more about themselves to each other and they form a bond.
The main part of the story is the mystery surrounding the robberies and murders of spellmakers. Someone is harming spellmakers and stealing their spells, but there does not seem many clues leading to the suspect (or suspects). There is also some mysteries surrounding some hidden spells. Elsie and Bacchus team up with each other to try and unlock the mysteries and find out who is behind the thefts of the spells. In addition to the overall mystery, Elsie has mysteries of her own where she trying to discover more about the Cowls and also if she can find out what happened to her family and if there are any chances of them reuniting.
Overall, I greatly enjoyed this novel and I cannot wait to read the next one! It is a lighter fantasy read that still presents and interesting story without a ton of complex details. The story starts off slower as the characters and setting are presented before picking up to include all the action where it keeps up a faster pace all the way until the end. There is a slight cliffhanger as the novel sets itself up to transition into the next novel. I loved Elsie as she was lovely. There were parts with her that were strong and there were some that were more naïve, which all work perfectly with her upbringing and currently life. Bacchus is the perfect contrast to her as the two of them come from different backgrounds. The two worlds are brought together and woven to create a dynamic duo that you root for as the two of them are a great example of opposites attract. This novel set up a great duology and I hope that it keeps up the momentum and finishes strong!