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?
Thanks much to the publisher for providing a copy of this for review purposes. This did not affect the content of my review in any way.
Once again Charlie N. Holmberg has charmed this reader with her particular brand of fantasy and romance.
Holmberg does such a great job at crafting her characters. The main character in this story, Elsie, is at once sympathetic and a bit frustrating. She’s someone who has been backed into a corner most of her life due to 1) the particular brand of magic she was born with and 2) being essentially blackmailed into some kind of secret service ever since her family abandoned her as a child. She’s come to see, over time, the acts she does for this secret society as acts of benevolence. She compares herself to Robin Hood. So even though it’s something she’s being forced to do and she fears not being able to follow through on any tasks set before her she sees nothing wrong with the tasks themselves. Her unwillingness to question this may leave a reader irritated if it weren’t for empathizing with her plight and her search for her missing family. It’s been years but she hasn’t given up that hope. And that’s what keeps her going every day. She’s overall a very positive character despite the tragedy of her childhood. But then when she meets Bacchus, through one of the tasks the Cowls assigned her, things begin to turn a bit sideways for her. He catches her doing something she shouldn’t and now he’s also using that to blackmail her into a set of tasks. Because, you see, it’s very useful to be a spellbreaker. Bacchus made a good counter to Elsie. He’s someone who is a little more cynical about the world but he’s also ambitious and has his own goals that he’s looking to accomplish. And although at first he’s fine with using Elsie as a means to an end, he quickly realizes that she’s not what he first thought and feels regret for his initial actions. Ultimately they’re both good people although they approach the world from two very different perspectives.
Although I do feel that the characters are always Holmberg’s strength, she also always has interesting magic systems in her books and Spellbreaker is no exception. There are always very specific rules to how magic works or who can wield it so readers who love a more rigid magic system may be keen to check this one out. In Spellbreaker, Elsie is a spellbreaker, that is a person who has the ability to undo other magician’s spells. The spells are described as if they are threads knotted together and only spellbreakers have the ability to detect these spells once they’re in place. As you can imagine, spellbreakers are both extremely useful and extremely problematic to the regulatory body of magic users if their powers aren’t registered. Rogue or unregistered spellbreakers are rare and in constant danger of being discovered with the threat of dire consequences looming overhead. So of course this puts Elsie in a precarious position just for being born with this power. The other magic users who aren’t spell breakers also seem to be born with an ability to do magic. They have various levels of strength and some of the magic spells are quite mundane which I appreciated! Love a practical application to magic!. There’s also an interesting thing where spells aren’t learned in a typical way but rather they are acquired, like an object, and then that spell becomes part of a magician. Except some spells only have a one time use! And that’s because they’re acquired from books that….used to be other magicians. Because when magicians die they kind of turn into a book of all the spells they had learned. It’s really quite fascinating and I’m usually not super into magic systems but Holmberg always makes them fun and interesting so that I want to learn more about them.
As for criticisms, I do wish a couple of things had been touched on more. I feel like Bacchus had some rather interesting opinions about life in Barbados and I would have loved to have seen him talking more about that and what his hopes for the future are in regards to the people there. I feel like his character is a person of many worlds and it would have been great to see that further explored, but then I’m not sure if Holmberg is the author to be taking that on either so I have mixed feelings about what I wanted out of his background–which is more on me than the author, however, his background did seem very deliberate on the author’s part so I feel like it’s a relevant point to raise. I also found that while I did enjoy this book very much, as it’s definitely my type of book, within a few days of reading it I found it difficult to remember much about it and had to dig into my memory to write this review. So while I did enjoy it at the time of reading, it just wasn’t a standout book for me. That’s really a minor thing as well and probably also particular to this reader. 🙂
As for the plot, I thought it moved along nicely and there were several mysteries to solve regarding both characters and other, larger, events happening around the country such as the deaths of several mages. Here, the magic system works nicely in furthering the plot along so I thought that was a nice touch. Because of course if when you died you turned into a book of spells…why isn’t everyone murdering magicians? I liked that the villain here was also a little more complex than Holmberg’s previous works as well. I won’t say much about them though because I don’t want to give things away. You’ll have to read and find out.
Overall, I had a lot of fun while reading this book! I wish maybe that it had stuck with me a little more afterwards, but I have no major complaints about it and found it to be a bit of a step up in some ways from some of the author’s previous work. 4/5 stars.