In an alternative Victorian world filled with magic and spellmakers and spellbreakers, “Spellmaker” by Charlie N. Holmberg gives us the conclusion to the story that began when Elsie Camden, a rogue spellbreaker, came into her own in “Spellbreaker.” It is in the first book that while following the orders of a mysterious group pursuing justice and equality, Elsie is trying to remove a spell on the estate of a wealthy duke, and she runs into Bacchus Kelsey, visiting from his plantation in Barbados. Her life changes, and for the first time she questions this anonymous group and their orders. We learn that Elsie had been abandoned by her family as a child and ended up in a workhouse. From there she ended up working for Ogden Cuthbert, a kind artist who has hidden his own magical talent, and who treated her almost like a daughter.
In this sequel, we know that Elsie and her friends must seek out Master Lily Merton, the magician who is guilty of murdering other magicians in her quest for their opuses, books of spells that come into being when a magician dies. It lists all the spells the magician used in his or her life, and many magicians have been murdered for those spells. This conniving magician is very powerful and ruthless, and demonstrated, in the first book, that she can enslave another magician to do her bidding with one powerful spell. Only Elsie and Bacchus and their friends know about this, so it’s up to them to bring the perpetrator to justice. Bacchus doesn’t even tell his close friend the Duke of Kent about this, but supporters come from unexpected places.
Early in the story, Elsie is arrested for being an unregistered spellbreaker. The punishment could be severe, but Bacchus lies and says she just learned of her abilities in the past year. The truth is that Elsie has been a spellbreaker since she was a child, and her spellbreaking abilities are beyond gifted. She will need them over the course of this action-packed novel. Holmberg’s England might have magic in it, but some things don’t change.
The wealthy in this alternate Britain live lives of incredible ease while the working classes often struggle to put food on the table. The ability to become a “master” magician is also mostly limited to those of the upper class, as talented children of the wealthy can afford tutors to help them in their magical studies. A child of poverty, on the other hand, will have to find a sponsor or win a scholarship to a magical academy to learn about magic and become a “master” aspector, someone who can perform spells and earn money from doing so. Only the most talented can pass the test and earn the title “master.” There is also the matter that to purchase a spell worthy of the test can cost more money than many can afford, thus mostly limiting the title to those who are born into a certain class.
Bacchus has dark skin, and his parents were not married. He did inherit his father’s estate, but he is subject to the snobbery and prejudice that the English (and now Americans) are noted for. We see the bigotry evidenced in words and actions throughout the story. A surprising fact is that there are no purely evil characters in this book, and the characters that perform some of the truly evil actions in the story are doing so for reasons that could—almost—be forgiven. Holmberg’s writing and the care with which she creates a complex plot, an alternate world filled with magic, and a romance that isn’t the center of the plot make this a duology that will appeal to mystery lovers as well as fantasy fans and romance readers.
Please note: This review was first posted on Bookreporter.com.