Book Review : Spellmaker

I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review : SpellmakerSpellmaker (Spellbreaker Duology, #2) by Charlie N. Holmberg
Published by 47North on March 9th 2021
Genres: Fantasy, Fantasy & Magic, Romance
Pages: 301
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Source: NetGalley

Dead wizards, stolen enchantments, and broken promises force a young spellbreaker out of the shadows in the next thrilling installment of the Spellbreaker series by the Wall Street Journal bestselling author of The Paper Magician.
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.

Spellmaker is the second entry in the Spellbreaker duology. Unfortunately, I found it to be not quite as magical as the first entry. Though I said in my review for Spellbreaker that author Charlie N. Holmberg’s romance is always perfect, with just the right balance, I sadly found that Spellmaker was the exception to this rule. Other developments in Spellmaker, mostly those that did not immediately pertain to Elsie, felt rushed and I found myself a bit disappointed. 


“It was just that, when Bacchus found a way to untangle himself from her mess and sailed home, leaving her behind in England, the gossips would know all about it. Their snickers, whispers, and rumors would only be an infection to Elsie’s broken heart, and she dreaded that.”


The thing that I disliked the most about the novel, was undoubtedly the contrived turn the romance took. When Elsie is arrested for illegal and unregistered spellbreaking, thrown into prison, and is at risk of being executed, Bacchus acts quickly to save the woman he secretly loves. To my dismay, that means the two must get married, as his elevated status as a Master Aspector, along with his avowed testament that Elsie only recently discovered her spellbreaking abilities, is the only thing that can save her from the noose. It’s great from the standpoint that it saves Elsie’s life, but it certainly doesn’t do the poor girl any favors in fearing she’s unlovable.


“You’ll have to make the best of it,” she said into the pillow. “Make him regret it as little as possible. Be the best forced spouse you can be.”


I really don’t think this forced marriage in Spellmaker did the romance itself many positives either. It robbed the budding relationship of its tentative, but heartfelt sincerity, and made it feel forced. I was disappointed that rather than a romantic courtship and a proposal with actual feeling, we got a marriage out of desperation to save Elsie’s life. Not to mention the fact that it certainly rushed their relationship, which was somewhat hindered by class divide and repressed feelings, instead of it progressing naturally and sincerely in due time. Elsie and Bacchus agree to stampede down the aisle within the span of a month, despite the fact that there is a mind-controlling killer still at large who wants Elsie on their team. The whole thing felt very disjointed. I’m sure the author made the decision as a way to move their relationship forward in such a short series, but I personally didn’t care for it, as it put the couple’s feelings on the back seat. I have read this trope of arranged marriage in fanfiction many times, and I was surprised to see it in a novel where it wasn’t written as well, let alone in one of Holmberg’s.


“Miss Prescott was going to cover every single basic premise of spellbreaking, and Elsie would have to take it all in without complaint. Because if she complained, then her story was flawed, and she would go to prison.”


What’s more, is that there is barely any time spent on other developments in Spellmaker either. Elsie is in and out of prison in the blink of an eye, engaged to be married the next, then signed up to train as a Spellbreaker (even though she’s far more advanced than her new instructor knows), and then suddenly reunited with a long-lost member of her family out of the blue—and after an entire life searching in vain for any of them—and who just so happens to be able to help her in her quest to stop the murderer of the Aspectors and the thief of the opuses. It was all a lot to wrap my head around. It also seemed a little too perfect that Elsie’s newly discovered brother just so happened to have use of a Printing Press when they needed it, and that Elsie’s new Spellbreaking instructor, Irene Prescott, so readily joined their cause. 


I felt that Spellmaker, would obviously focus more on Bacchus due to the name—Spellmaker, not Spellbreaker—but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Bacchus’s feelings and perspective seemed to get put on the backburner in the rush to conclude the duology. Though he comes to the traumatic, but obvious to the reader, discovery of who exactly placed the siphoning spell on him, he isn’t given much page space in order to deal with the truth View Spoiler » I felt that this was a very big disservice to his character and his relationship with Elsie as well, as she didn’t really provide a whole lot of comfort to Bacchus in this time. Granted, there is a homicidal maniac on the loose, so I guess that kind of thing takes priority to personal feelings. However, I found it sad that the two weren’t given more time to support one another, and that Bacchus especially was given the short end of the stick. 


“That was how rational magic worked–it affected the mind. Mind reading, telepathy, the dampening or surging of emotions…”


Despite the rushed nature of Spellmaker, I think my favorite part of the novel by far was when all of the members of the team were working together to get to the bottom of the mystery. I was especially delighted by Cuthbert Ogden’s point-of-view and the chance to see his rational aspecting in action. I also enjoyed the final magical showdown of Spellmaker and thought that the true mastermind of everything got their fitting retribution. And I was very pleased by Elsie’s happy ending with Bacchus, even if the journey to their destination didn’t play out exactly how I would’ve wished it. 


Though I didn’t quite like Spellmaker as much as its predecessor, Spellbreaker, due to the contrived nature of the romance and the rush to the conclusion, I did really enjoy the duology as a whole. It was a lot of fun, Elsie was a very likable heroine, and I found the mystery, especially in Spellbreaker, very intriguing. I would certainly read any other entries in this series, if the author chooses to write one, which honestly, seems like a possibility from the ending of Spellmaker. As always, I remain a fan of Charlie N. Holmberg and look forward to reading more of her interesting and magical works. 


Posted January 11, 2021 in Book Reviews, Fantasy, Historical Fiction


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