Review: Spellmaker by Charlie N. Holmberg

England, 1895. An unsolved series of magician murders and opus thefts isn’t a puzzle to Elsie Camden. But to reveal a master spellcaster as the culprit means incriminating herself as an unregistered spellbreaker. When Elsie refuses to join forces with the charming assassin, her secret is exposed, she’s thrown in jail, and the murderer disappears. But Elsie’s hope hasn’t vanished.

Through a twist of luck, the elite magic user Bacchus Kelsey helps Elsie join the lawful, but with a caveat: they must marry to prove their cover story. Forced beneath a magical tutor while her bond with Bacchus grows, Elsie seeks to thwart the plans of England’s most devious criminal—if she can find them.

With hundreds of stolen spells at their disposal, the villain has a plan—and it involves seducing Elsie to the dark side. But even now that her secret is out, Elsie must be careful how she uses the new abilities she’s discovering, or she may play right into the criminal’s hands.

Rating: 4/5

Review

So first, a confession: when I requested a review copy of Spellmaker I thought it was the first in the series, rather than the sequel. I quickly read Spellbreaker in order to pick this one up, and I’m in fact glad I read them in succession: Spellmaker picks up almost immediately following the action of Spellbreaker, and the two books work really well together as a complete story.

The Spellbreaker duology is a historical fantasy/mystery/romance hybrid centred around Elsie Camden, an unregistered spellbreaker (someone who has the ability to undo magical enchantments) and part-time viligante on behalf of England’s less well-off demographics. Her work throws in her into the path of Bacchus Kelsey, a magician recently returned from Barbados, and also sets off a chain of events that cause Elsie to question everything she thought she knew about her past and the mysterious group she’s been working for. Spellmaker sees Elise and Bacchus grow closer together, as they seek to finally solve the mystery of the missing opuses (spell books) stolen during Spellbreaker and expose the criminal that’s put both their lives at risk.

My overall impression of the duology was simply: it’s a lot of fun. Holmberg does a really good job at integrating the various genres she works with into a fast-paced, cohesive story with plenty of twists and turns. There’s a few laughs along the way, but also some more sombre moments of reflection on issues including racism and the treatment of the poor in Victorian England. Bacchus’ struggle to integrate with British aspectors (magicians) due to his Carribbean heritage was particularly well portrayed. The magic system in this story isn’t particularly complex or unique, but it works well as a framework for the broader story, which is really one about Elsie learning that she’s worthy of love and respect, despite being abandoned by her parents as a child. While I don’t want to provide spoilers, I will say that Spellmaker also contains one of my favourite romantic tropes: a marriage of convenience.

If you want an easy, lighthearted read that still packs the occasional emotional punch, the Spellbreaker duology is a great fit.

Note: I received an ARC from 47North. Spellmaker was published on 9 March 2021.

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