The Harwood Spellbook, Book 1
Heat Factor: She thoroughly compromises him, but there’s nothing explicit
Character Chemistry: They complement each other – if only they weren’t so pig-headed about communicating!
Plot: Disgraced magic-user has to save the world from terrible snowstorm and evil fairy
Overall: Excellent worldbuilding, fun fantasy, middling romance
What a cool world! The alternate reality Burgis imagines here sees England ruled by a Boudiccate – a panel of female politicians, aided by their male, magic-using, consorts. I can’t say no to a good matriarchy, and Burgis makes her world more interested by making it imperfect. Even though the political realm is dominated by women, men control the sphere of magic completely, so they still have power. And with this sharp division of labor, there is, not unexpectedly, some serious gender-essentialism going on here (“all women are political and can’t do magic with their political lady brains”). This dynamic makes the book still “feel” like historical fiction (despite the alternate political structure and all the magicians running around), while also fulfilling all my fantasies to have women be in charge already. (Burgis reportedly started writing this book as a way of coping with Hilary Clinton’s loss in 2016, which was certainly more productive than my plan of eating ALL THE ICE CREAM.)
Enter Cassandra Harwood, who has never had any interest in politics, and has spent her entire adult life forcing her way into the male-dominated world of magic. A few months after a disastrous attempt to cast a spell that left her unable to perform magic, Cassandra finds herself at a solstice house party where everything is going wrong. Her ex-fiancé is there. It won’t stop snowing. And she may have entered into an unwinnable agreement with an evil elf lord set on destroying the uneasy peace between elves and humankind. Whoops.
If you’re reading this primarily for the fantasy, I would say that Snowspelled is a solid bet. Cassandra is a little angsty, but she shows some solid character growth and self-reflection. The secondary characters are entertaining without being twee. The mystery that Cassandra sets out to solve is…uh…not all that mysterious, but the tension builds nicely. And the rules of magic that govern this version of earth are all fun and seem to be internally consistent.
If you’re primarily interested in Snowspelled as a romance novel, I would say that it’s okay but not amazing. The start is promising: Cassandra is seeing Wrexham for the first time since she broke off their engagement at an extended house party. We get some solid forced proximity awkwardness as they negotiate sharing a space and dealing with the terrible weather. Cassandra angsts a lot about her unwillingness to be with someone who must pity her and obviously can’t be with her because they no longer have magic in common, which is sort of grating, but ok; she has some growing up to do.
However, the romance is ultimately disappointing because it is based on one very stupid miscommunication – which you would think they would not have if they have really been best friends and almost lovers for literally years. Once they have the one conversation, they clear the air, everything is fine, back to our true love! Despite all of Cassandra’s initial angst, there isn’t actually any work that needs to go into fixing their relationship. It felt abrupt, and I wanted more of a slow build up from discomfort to true love; their reconciliation left me feeling vaguely dissatisfied, despite their clear HEA.
Looking for something similar?