Book Review: SpellBreaker by Charlie M Holmberg

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.

I got this as a freebie on Amazon, and I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised. This has a world narrative already set up, there is no “I’m going to explain something that is different because I think you’re stupid”. There is some explaining going on, but nothing that patronises the reader – it’s relevant, timely and dealt with appropriately.

London 1895. There are spell makers and there are spell breakers. Every skilled and licenced Spell Maker are called “Master”, even the women. This is a highly regulated field, which usually means that only the rich get to take part. The less rich (but with talent) tend to be unlicenced and therefore effectively practice outside the law.

This is down as a “duology” and therefore not a trilogy. 2 parts, not 3. Ok. Makes a nice change.

This book establishes the world, and the main characters. The narrator is Elsie, who was (apparently) abandoned by her parents and siblings when she was much younger, and the finding her family has been much of her focus. Another part of her focus has been what she calls “the Cowls” i.e. those hidden in the shadows but still directing her spell breaking skills. She is sent on various jobs – unfortunately only realising (often too late) what those tasks meant.

Meanwhile, during one of her early spells, Elsie is found by Bacchus Kelsey, and the two strike a bargain – she breaks some spells for him, and he wont betray her secret.  His mother is Portuguese, his father English, and he is based in Barbados where he spends a lot of his time in the sun, so he’s a lot darker than the locals. Not much is made of this, which is hopefully a good thing. Just enough to remind readers that “not all leading men have to be white, you know?”. I just hope this is not seen as a tokenism thing – there is noone else like Bacchus in the story, more’s the pity.

Whilst most of the story is told from Elsie’s point of view, we get some stories from Bacchus, at least where he attempts to look after his friend’s estate (the whole reason for meeting Elsie), plus his attempt to become a Master Spellmaker – through legal means, of course! If there is a downside to this book, it is that Bacchus and his attempt to become a Master SpellMaker is a tad underused.

Anyway, the threads start to come together in the last third or so of the book and because I don’t do spoilers I wont give away what happens here!. It pulls all the threads together whilst setting up the chance at a second book, which wont me out till 2021 (naturally, lol!). First freebie in ages where I’ve looked up the following book – that says a LOT!



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