Book Reviews

Book Review: Harley Merlin and the Secret Coven

Harley Merlin and The Secret CovenTitle: Harley Merlin and the Secret Coven
Author: Bella Forrest
Genre: Fantasy

What it’s About: Harley, a nineteen year old, works at a casino looking for cheaters, from which she gets a large commission. Orphaned at the age of three by her parents with nothing but a note from her dad to stay safe and stay smart, Harley has no knowledge of who she is, and where she belongs.  All she knows is that she is the only one with a special set of skills she tries to keep secret because of prior trouble.  Except what happens that night changes her life. 
At the end of her shift, a call for help puts her face to face with a beast only she can see, and her saving grace is a handsome, smartly dressed young man with an Irish twang, who introduces himself as Wade Crowly. Harley thinks that he has all of the answers to her questions, but he answers only two: She’s a witch, and the beast is actually a Gargoyle.  After capturing the Gargoyle, he hands her his business cards, giving her twenty-four hours to call him, before he hauls her to the San Diego Coven. 

After the disturbing night, Harley’s choice to ignore Wade’s advice about calling him, sets off a chain reaction of strange events involving the business card in the windows of every town, as well as Harley’s co-workers at the casino repeating Wade’s number to her. Should she leave San Diego or call Wade? 

Ultimately, they meet at the Fleet Science Center, which hides the entrance to the inter-dimensional pocket for the coven. Wade gives her a tour and then takes her to see the Director, Alton Waterhouse, who fills Harley’s gaps of knowledge about Magicals, Covens, the importance of Rules, Chaos (the raw materials of Magic), the Children of Chaos (Erebus, Lyx, Nox, Gaia and her children), the varying abilities of Magicals, and Espirits–which are items that bond with your soul and allow you to channel Chaos. Harley is reluctant to share any information on her powers, so Wade lists the two he knows of–Telekineses and Fire–and Harley adds that she actually controls four elements–water, air, fire and earth–earning surprised looks from Alton and Wade due to the rarity of the combination. They convince her to get tested for her powers by the Coven’s Doctor, Adley de la Barthe, who confirms Telekinesis and the four elements, but also reveals that Harley is an Empath, with the ability to feel other’s emotions, making Wade feel surprised and uncomfortable. That said, Harley does not have a lot of power in her, and is listed as a Mediocre, which both Adley and Alton find strange considering the range of powers she has. 

Alton continues Harley’s tour, introducing her to the various teachers known as Preceptors in the coven, and taking her to the Bestiary, which houses a variety of monsters that have resulted from Purges and which is used as a central battery to power all of the covens across the world. A Purge happens due to a toxic build-up in the Magical’s body from the use of their powers, which are then expelled through a purge stage into the form of beasts.  Most of the Purge beasts have power of their own, and some, like the Beast Master in charge of the Beastiary, have the ability to talk.  Tobe, the Beast Master who looks part hawk, human and lion, tells Harley that she has a lot of raw potential power, and finds it strange when Alton tells him that she is a Mediocre.  Due to Harley’s indecisiveness about joining the Coven, Alton offers her a one-month trial period, giving her access to the Coven and training, after which she can decide to stay or leave. 

The entire coven assembles in the Assembly Hall, where Harley is immediately overwhelmed by the sheer emotions of the 200 people gathered, and in turn is further incapacitated when Alton introduces her to everyone. He tells everyone about the escaped Gargoyle, when suddenly the magic mirrors behind him ripple, and in walk three individuals–Leonidas Levi, Nicholas Mephiles, and Imogene Whitehall–of the California Mage Council, delivering a stern warning to the Coven, stripping them of fifty points. Levi makes it clear that if there are any  more mistakes, the Coven will face severe penalties and will be stripped of its ability to host the Bestiary. 

To give a little background, all of the covens across California are ranked on a points system–every good deed gives the Coven points, and the highest ranking Covens get additional funding. To compare, the San Diego Coven had 203 points being the last in place, while the San Francisco Coven was in fifth place with almost 10,000 points. So it was an utter shock when San Diego was chosen to host the Bestiary, and it was seen as an offense when the Coven didn’t turn down the honor, choosing to take on the challenge of managing and caring for it. 

Upon the three individual’s departure, Alton forms two teams–an investigative team led by Garrett Kyteler, and the clean up team headed by Wade–to handle the situation surrounding the escaped Purge Beast. Garrett chooses a guy by the name of Finch Anker to be part of his team, and then calls Wade’s team the “Rag Team,” which elicits a chuckle from Harley.  As a result, she becomes one of Wade’s team members, and Wade chooses the following people while giving Harley their background: Santana Catemaco, Tatyana Vasilis, Dylan Blight, Raffe Levi, and Astrid Hepler. 

As a result of being part of the Coven, Harley has to fill out an employment application for a job at the Science Center.  The people of the team and she talk, where they discover her abilities.  Both Astrid and Santana do not believe that Harley is a Mediocre, while Raffe adds that Harley is rare as there are only 300 known Empaths in the magical world.  They get interrupted by Garrett and his team, in which Finch threatens Harley, and she flings him across the hall with her Telekinesis. 

That night, Harley returns to her apartment and tries to search for Espirit, to no avail, when she becomes aware of shadows in her apartment–three Gargoyles had found her and attacked her.  She fends them long enough to grab a note from her father, but not her phone, and escapes through the window of her apartment, utilizing her air ability to soften her landing.  The Gargoyles follow her, and Harley barely manages to hold them off when Wade shows up to her rescue, setting up a time-space bubble, killing two of the Gargoyles and capturing the third one, which later turns out to be the same one from the Casino. He makes sure to erase the memories of the humans. 

The two of them head to a Chinese place nearby and talk, agreeing that Harley will be moving into the Coven’s quarters since her apartment was thrashed. Santana ensured that a room is prepared for her, and Harley is upset over her car, Daisy, a ’76 Ford Mustang that was destroyed by the Gargoyles.  Wade waves it off, but the car is important to Harley because it’s the first thing she purchased after getting out of her foster family. Suddenly, Garrett shows up and Wade informs him of the attack right before Alton calls Garrett to inform him as well. The boys bicker over Harley because Garrett wants to take her for drinks to debrief, which results in Harley telling them both off. 

Harley is unable to sleep in her new bedroom in the Coven, the thoughts of the Gargoyle’s escape keeping her awake, so she makes her way to the Bestiary to investigate.  She overhears a conversation between Alton and Tobe about the second escape of the Gargoyle, which Tobe calls “Murray,” and they decide to keep it a secret from the California Mage Council because of the repercussion. After Alton leaves, Tobe finds her, and they talk a bit, during which she reveals that she doesn’t remember anything of her life before she was three but that she had dreams.  Tobe gifts her a rare Navajo dreamcatcher, but Harley is unable to remember the words to make it work by the time she returns to her room. 

Astrid shows up the next morning with a whole wardrobe that includes styles and brands Harley would wear, as well as lingerie, all chosen in the perfect size by Wade and paid for by the Coven’s credit card. At breakfast, Harley pokes fun at Wade for the perfectly sized lingere, until Alton shows up to give them their assignment–return to the Casino to verify everything was cleaned up, and also clean up around Harley’s apartment. 

Clean up at the casino also involves Harley’s resignation from her Casino job, and they find that the tapes were not wiped as they were supposed to. Every member of the Rag Team has the same situation regarding the cleanup of the Gargoyle attack, which means that it wasn’t done correctly in the first place by Garrett’s team.  Just as they are about to head to Harley’s apartment, Harley notices a group of ten gargoyles sitting on a church roof, and the team works together to capture them. Wade is concerned that the Gargoyles were watching Harley so closely even though they weren’ attacking.  

During the clean-up of Harley’s apartment, Wade and she get into a heated discussion because he doesn’t believe she is being truthful with him about the Gargoyles, which results in Harley’s anger triggering a tremor in the earth. After the clean-up is completed, the team heads to Waterfront Park, another inter-dimensional pocket for Magicals which has nightclubs, restaurants, cafes and stores.  They sit down for drinks and a bite, while discussing the investigation. Suddenly, Garrett and his team show up and they all get into a squabble amongst themselves, with Wade bringing up thte deficiencies in Garrett’s team. Harley turns down Garrett’s offer to join their investigative team, but sets up a date with him.  She reminds the rest of her team that it’s to get intel, and tells the team her suspicions—the Bestiary escapes may be an inside job.

At Cabot’s Reliquary, Harley meets Imogene and they talk, with Imogene telling her to not take the Mediocre label to heart (which she despises about Magical Society), and to not stress about an Espirit.  Imogene advises Harley to seek out Preceptor Nomura at the Coven, who is an expert channeling Chaos without his Espirit. Wade butts into the conversation, and Imogene tells him to just be patient with Harley, leaving Wade behind with a slightly broken heart.

With three hours left to spare before her date with Garrett, Harley decides to investigate the Gargoyle issue after Wade confirms that seven of the ten Gargoyles from the rooftop were actually from the Bestiary.  Wade and Harley find each other in the Bestiary, and hid themselves in one of the boxes that would normally hold a Purge Beast, when they see Garrett and his team pass during their sweep. Once they’re gone, Harley and Wade do their own sweep, and Wade finds a very complicated spell disruptor. Tobe then discovers them and tells them that a new rule has been instated—no magical are allowed into the Bestiary besides Alton and the investigation team—and when Tobe mentions Garrett’s team investigating, Wade shows him the spell disruptor, and Tobe decides to take it to Alton. Once Harley and Wade leave the Bestiary, they go on their separate ways, as Wade has business to take care of. 

Garrett picks Harley up at 9pm, and at the restaurant, they discuss the Bestiary incident, and the investigation, during which Garrett talks about Wade with anger, which hints at the deeper relationship in the past between the two of them. Garrett agrees about the potential inside job, but doesn’t know where to look for suspects, before veering off topic onto the individuals on the Rag Team. Suddenly Wade shows up at the establishment with a blonde girl on his arm, Clara Fairmont, who according to Garrett has dated a lot of the men at the Coven. As they pass Harley’s table, the guys get into a heated discussion, almost leading to a fight. She decides to ditch them, and Clara follows her out.

That night, Harley uses the dreamcatcher, and replaying the dream, realizes that it is a memory from when she was three years old, in which her father, Hiram, talks to her while a woman, who looks like his sister, urges him to give Harley up in order for her to get a chance to grow up.  The dream startles Harley, and she calls Wade first to let him know about it.  They go to the library, and after some further research, she finds out that her father is Hiram Merlin, who the twenty-eight year old Director of the New York Coven. It turns out that he murdered his wife, Hester Merlin nee Shipton, and their unborn child, with the help of Hester’s sister-Katherine Shipton, who was his lover, after which he disappeared for three years before turning himself into the authorities pleading innocence. Alton interrupts them and when they tell him, he says that he suspected as much because of the physical similarities between Harley and Hiram, as well as her full elemental abilities. He also reveals that he was on the panel of judges that sentenced Hiram to death due to the overwhelming evidence against him, and then gives Harley a box that used to belong to her mother because he was never able to open it, even though it is evidence.  

The next morning when Harley enters the banquet hall, there’s an undercurrent of fear in the coven.  Garrett had overheard her and Wade talking in the library, and told everyone in the coven who she was, including the three descendants of Hiram’s victims.  Garrett continues to taunt her, ignoring Finch, who tries to stop him, which results in Harley punching him in the face.  Afterwards, a fist-fight between the two teams breaks out only to be stopped by O’Halloran, and the four–Garrett, Wade, Finch and Harley–get called into Alton’s office, where he lectures them.  

Alton strips Garrett’s team of the investigative work, putting Wade’s team in charge of investigating the Gargoyle incident, with 48 hours to come up with results.  If not, Alton will have to call the Los Angeles Coven for help, and get the Mage Council involved, incurring severe penalties. 

Harley struggles in her classes because she is unable to keep her Empathy in check around children, but manages to speak with Preceptor Bellmore about the spell disruptor that Wade found. It is a rudimentary disruptor that is strong to bypass the charms on the Purge boxes, but the person who made this disruptor would have to have contacts in the Black Market because of the extremely rare Anirin Beads, made of Irish Troll Blood, making them super dangerous. All of the Preceptors come to the conclusion that Harley will need private tutoring due to her Empathy, and Preceptor Nomura calls in Finch in order to request that he train Harley on Telekinesis. 

As the two of them head out, Finch apologizes on Garrett’s behalf, explaining why Garrett is how he is, but Harley tells him that Garrett should apologize himself. She sees Finch take some pills, and then they spend the next forty-five minutes working on her Telekinesis skills, at the end of which she manages to catch a barrel and put it down with breaking it. Nevertheless, Finch tells her that it was not good enough, and writes her off as a Mediocre. 

After dinner, the whole Rag Team meets up at a library full of forbidden spells to search for a tracer spell. For the first time, Harley sees Grimoires, which are a Magical’s own book of spells and can be extremely powerful.  They can be used for good or bad, and the ones placed behind the glass are forbidden to be accessed because of the danger they present.  Wade also tells Harley that her parent’s Grimoire would most likely be in New York.  In the end, the team finds twelve tracking spells, of which they are only able to use one because they have all of the ingredients. Tatyana, whose magic involves ghosts, allows a ghost to possess her in order to find one of the ingredients.

The next day, Harley gets the last ingredient from Quetzacoatl, the Purge Beast that was revered as the a God in Mayan times. Tobe then realizes that dozens of Gargoyles inside one of the massive boxes in the Bestiary are looking at her, and Tobe tells her that Katherine Shipton had a special bond with those Gargoyles when she was younger, and that they recognize the bloodline until Harley gets too close. The confusion might prove useful at a nother time.  As she’s about to leave, Alton, O’Halloran and Preceptor Nomura show up at the Bestiary and arrest Tobe for tampering with the Bestiary’s boxes, with a video of Tobe as proof. Harley returns to the team, tells them what has happened, and the team creates the tracer spell, which leads them directly to Finch. 

Finch reveals that he is the son of Katherine Shipton and Hiram Merlin, and claims to everyone that Katherine will change the world by becoming a Child of Chaos.  Suddenly, the room is flooded by Gargoyles and the magicals try to fight them off. Harley tries to fight Finch, who tears a hole in the inter-dimensional pocket with his knife, and then shapeshifts into Clara Fairmont to run away.  Despite being injured, she give pursuit, knocking him down with Teleknesis, and in the ensuing chaos, some of the Gargoyles spill out of the inter-dimensional pocket. 

The Rag team comes up with a plan to contain the Gargoyles, Santana weaves a spell that will allow Harley’s voice to carry further and be louder to call the Gargoyles back.  It works, the team traps them, and then Harley faints. Two days later, Harley wakes up in the infimary to Wade by her bedside, who in turn informs her that Adley de la Barthe was in love with Finch, hiding his shapeshifting ability as a result, making her guilty and liable for the deaths in the Coven. Wade then takes her to the Assembly Hall in order for Harley to give her side of the story to the California Mage Council. 

After listening to Harley, Imogene, on behalf of the council, takes twenty points away from the Coven, but then gives them 1,000 points for cleaning up and containing the mess. They take away Finch to Purgatory, the Magical Maximum Security Prison, while Adley goes to the Coven prison.  Alton speaks with Harley afterwards, and tells her that he will support her fully with her decision after her one month trial is over. 

A week later, after fully recuperating, Harley thinks over her parent’s legacy, and momentarily considers trashing her father’s note to her. Under her bed, she finds her mother’s box, given to her by Alton, and manages to open it.  Inside, she finds a pack of cards, a photo of her parents, and a ring-bracelet, which she tries on, finding her Espirit. 

My Verdict: So this book caught my interest because it kept showing up as my Kindle’s “save” screen, with the claim that if you’re a Harry Potter fan, you’ll love this book. Skeptical, I decided to give it a chance and find out if that’s true, because the Harry Potter series were my favorite, growing up.

And honesty? I was surprised. While it definitely doesn’t have the same intricacies as Harry Potter in terms of bringing the legends and folklore that JK Rowling did into her books, Harley Merlin has different type of vibe–one that is darker and tenser. It also explores Magic from a different perspective–an American one, rather than a UK one. It focuses on types of magic/ folklore that are common to the US, North and South America, but I don’t believe it goes in depth to explain the nuances of these cultures.

Based on this, I don’t think it’s fair to compare Harley Merlin to Harry Potter because Harry Potter is and always will be on a level of its own, with different themes and subthemes, contexts that some adults will grasp while it goes over the heads of children. Despite this, Harley Merlin is certainly an interesting and entertaining book of its own, and it is much simpler of a story.

Overall, I enjoyed the characters, and especially learning about Harley’s past, as well as seeing the tension between her and Wade. I look forward to seeing how the author pieces the different cultures of each of these characters, and hope to see that she develops the background of these types of magics in a way that brings out the richness of the cultures she bases these characters on.

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