Book Review : Spellbreaker

Book Review : SpellbreakerSpellbreaker (Spellbreaker Duology, #1) by Charlie N. Holmberg
Published by 47North on November 1st 2020
Genres: Fantasy, Fantasy & Magic, Urban Fantasy
Pages: 300
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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?

When I need a fun, magical book to read, I look no further than author Charlie N. Holmberg’s works. Her novels, such as The Plastic Magician, are always a pure delight, and Spellbreaker is no exception to this rule. Spellbreaker takes place in Victorian England, combining historical fiction, magic, romance, and mystery all into one entertaining read. As usual, I was enchanted by author Holmberg’s writing, even though Spellbreaker focuses on a positively disenchanting heroine, eponymous Spellbreaker Elsie Camden. 


“You’re very important, Elsie. I need your help to make the world a better place. I need to use that special talent of yours.”


Elsie is an unregistered Spellbreaker working for a mysterious organization, to right the social injustices of the magic world. In this universe, only the elite, mostly male, can become Aspectors, or magic users. And if it weren’t enough that these elite were wealthy and upper class, they now have magic to further widen the gap that divides them from the common, working class people. Elsie, with her spellbreaking abilities, frequently goes on top secret missions to aid the working class, breaking the spells of the elite that keep the common man downtrodden and oppressed. 


“But when the law wasn’t fit, was it really a bad thing to break it?”


On one of these missions, she is caught in the act of unraveling a spell by Bacchus Kelsey, an Aspector with connections to the Duke of Kent. Instead of turning Elsie in for being an unregistered Spellmaker, and possibly getting her thrown into jail or executed, he actually hires her spellbreaking services. At first I found Bacchus to be a bit of a stick in the mud, but his budding relationship with Elsie quickly endeared him to me. No one writes romance the way author Holmberg does—her relationships are always perfectly paced, with the right amount of slow burn, longing and pay off, as well as exquisitely precious—and Spellbreaker exemplifies this perfection. Fans of the author’s Paper Magician series will undoubtedly delight not only in this romance, but also in this strong heroine.


“The past bubbled up like hot tar. Oh, how it hurt to be left. She had been abandoned by her mother and father, her siblings, and never—not one single day—had she forgotten it. All of them had left her, a child unable to care for herself, with strangers who’d been foolish to show a sliver of kindness. None of them had ever attempted to find her.”


I immediately took to Elsie Camden. She is a practical, strong-willed, no-nonsense woman with a strong sense of justice. I loved that she was willing to use her ability to better society, even if it meant breaking not only spells, but also propriety and the law. Although Elsie would prefer not to travel alone as a young woman, as societal norms dictate, she’s not afraid to risk her reputation in order to do what she fiercely believes is right. Her bravery and resourcefulness were continually astounding. This is especially so as Elsie is an orphan with very few memories of her past. Despite this, she has not only found herself a station as an assistant to a stonemason, but also as an important member of a clandestine organization. She wears so many hats with aplomb. I loved Elsie, and despite having so much poise for a young working class woman who came from nothing, I found her very realistic and relatable. Her fear of abandonment, made worse by being left by her family and then again by being jilted by a former love interest, gives her just the right amount of vulnerability and makes her opening up to Bacchus that much more touching.


“Aspectors were usually men, anyway. There were two kinds of wizards in the world–those who cast spells, and those who broke them. The spellmakers, known as as aspects, apid a king’s ransom for the spells they took into their bodies, yet another means of benefiting the rich and rebuffing the poor.”


Not only did I love Elsie and her developing romance with Bacchus, but I loved the world-building, the magic system, and the mystery of Spellbreaker. I think in a lot of fantasy novels, magic is simply magic, and those who have access to it, use it, well, like magic. There aren’t always consequences or class commentaries on this usage. I really like when magic isn’t such an easy thing that is simply used if one has it, with little to no repercussions. So I really enjoyed that author Holmberg took a time period, like Victorian England, which already had a pretty big class divide and used the magic system to further highlight it. In Elsie and Bacchus’s world, only the elite, typically male, have access to this magic due to how expensive tutelage and the learning of spells is, they must register as magic users, test for their mastery, and be approved for new spells by a council. To me, it sounded like completely realistic gatekeeping. And I adored that Elsie operated outside of the law to right some of these social injustices.


“When an aspector of any type or talent died, he did not become a corpse to be buried like everyone else. Magic changed aspectors. When they perished, their bodies morphed into opuses. Spellbooks of all the enchantments they had learned in life. Granted, spellbook wasn’t an adequate term. The form they took varied depending on who the aspector had been as a person.”


Even more interesting to me was that when magic users died, their bodies became spellbooks, or opuses. These spellbooks were able to be used by anyone, regardless of magical abilities, making them priceless. So when magic users start being murdered, and their opusues stolen, all of England takes note. I really loved  when Elsie herself became embroiled in this extremely intriguing mystery I also loved her attempts to figure out more about her own mysterious organization. I really had no idea where these mysteries were going, despite it being very well laid by the author, and watching Elsie connect these dots was very rewarding. 


Even if Spellbreaker hadn’t ended on a bit of a cliffhanger, I’d still be really excited to see where the next novel in the duology, Spellmaker goes. This novel is a must read for fans of Charlie N. Holmberg and will be equally enjoyable to newcomers to her works, especially those who enjoy magic, romance, mystery, and strong heroines. I was lucky enough to snap up the sequel, Spellmaker, on NetGalley, and I’m going to start reading it right away. 

Book Review : Spellbreaker - Blogging with Dragons

Posted December 28, 2020 in Book Reviews, Fantasy, Historical Fiction


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