For just one moonlit, memorable night, Thornfell College of Magic has flung open its doors, inviting guests from around the nation to an outdoor ball intended to introduce the first-ever class of women magicians to society…but one magician and one invited guest have far more pressing goals of their own for the night.
Quietly brilliant Juliana Banks is determined to win back the affections of her secret fiancée, rising politician Caroline Fennell, who has become inexplicably distant. If Juliana needs to use magic to get her stubborn fiancée to pay her attention…well, then, as the top student in her class, she is more than ready to take on that challenge!
Unbeknownst to Juliana, though, Caroline plans to nobly sacrifice their betrothal for Juliana’s own sake – and no one has ever accused iron-willed Caroline Fennell of being easy to deter from any goal.
Their path to mutual happiness may seem tangled beyond repair…but when they enter the fey-ruled woods that border Thornfell College, these two determined women will find all of their plans upended in a night of unexpected and magical possibilities.
Thanks much to the author for providing me with a copy for review purposes. This did not affect the content of my review in any way.
This was such a delightful fantasy romance. If you’ve been reading The Harwood Spellbook series from Stephanie Burgis, I’d definitely recommend picking up this story featuring two of the most intriguing side-characters from the main series, politician Caroline and magician Juliana. Even if you haven’t read the previous two books, I think it’s pretty safe to jump in here, but I’d definitely recommend reading them anyway as it will give much more context and information about the alternate universe this is set in.
I’ve talked before in previous reviews about how much I love the world-building in this series, and that continues here. We’re in a universe where women rule the political landscape and men are magicians. Although there are very atypical gender roles compared to our own society, there are definitely still gender roles and I like the way this plays out in the series. Stephanie Burgis is always flipping something to make it feel fresh, whether that’s a specific trope or an entire social structure. I like things that feel a bit unexpected. Another thing I love about this world is how someone’s race or sexuality doesn’t seem to be a big deal, no one is making a fuss if two ladies want to be married. The issue for our characters here is not that they’re both women, it’s that politicians are expected to marry magicians and until recently women weren’t exactly allowed to become magicians. Juliana, in fact, is one of the characters that helped inspire that change in this world and it’s all so very new that people are still adjusting, if they’re adjusting at all. Like many pseudo-Regency/Victorian novels, society and ones place in it still very much matters. There might be a lot of great things about this world but there’s still plenty of judgement to go around, and that makes for great conflict for our characters.
The main plot of this book centers around a miscommunication or misunderstanding between our two main characters. They’re talking past each other, each failing to understand the other’s true intentions. Some of this is due to lack of self-confidence, or in Juliana’s case, previously being let down by those that are supposed to care about her. As the reader we can see the truth and how both characters inadvertently hurt one another and empathize with each of them. I want to say this is a fairly common device used in romance, but because of the length of the story it’s resolved quickly and I really appreciate that. Oftentimes these types of misunderstandings are drawn out way too long. Of course, there are other things at play here too. The woods and the fey are apt to cause mischief despite the agreement they have with Cassandra Harwood–fey very much follow the letter of the law and disregard its spirit. So it’s no surprise when both women are lured off the beaten path and have to think fast to come up with a solution to find their way out of a bind. I liked how we got to see a bit more of each of their personalities here, how they both showed vulnerability and strength throughout the story. I also want to mention how great Stephanie Burgis is at writing shorter length stories–I’ve read some of her short stories as well–and she always manages to tell a complete story that leaves you feeling satisfied no matter the length. Perhaps I would have liked to spend a little more time with these characters, but the story definitely felt whole at the end of the day.
Overall, I thought this was a great edition to the Harwood Spellbook series and I’m very much looking forward to reading more. 4.5/5 stars.