Title: Harley Merlin and the Mystery Twins
Author: Bella Forrest
Genre: Fantasy Fiction
What’s it About: Almost a month into her trial period with the San Diego Coven, Harley is hard at work training to use her magical powers, both with and without her Espirit, the item that channels the powers of Chaos within her. Together, with her group of friends–Tatyana, Dylan, Raffe, Santana, Wade and Astrid, colloquially known as the Rag Team in the San Diego Coven–they are tasked with meeting with families fostering Magical Children.
Except Harley’s strong personality, and desire for a good life for the foster children, based upon her own foster history, puts them in danger. Emily and Emmett Ryder, twins with a violent history in other covens in the United States, are working on behalf of Harley’s evil aunt, Katherine Shipton, to abduct these children with special Magical powers, one of whom is Jacob, a Sensate (the ability to sense other magicals) and a Portal Opener, who lives with the Smith’s, Harley’s last foster family.
The Rag Team splits up into two groups initially consisting of Harley, Wade, Raffe and Santana in one, and Tatyana, Dylan and Astrid in another. As a result of a miscalculation, Tatyana’s team get attacked by one of the teenagers to whom the Ryder Twins had spoken, and Dylan is incapacitated. Alton, the San Diego Coven Director, assigns Garrett as a stand-in for Dylan, and with Garrett’s knowledge of shape-shifting magic, the team realizes that the Ryder Twins are shape-shifters who utilize different identities and different tactics to approach the families.
Throughout it all, Harley discovers more about her parents through her memories, and about herself. It turns out that she’s not a Mediocre Magical after all. Doctor Krieger, the newly arrived Coven Doctor, does a second Reading of Harley’s magical ability revealing that she has a large swath of power, which is currently being suppressed through a device called the Dempsey Suppressor. To remove it would require a significant operation, not without its risks, as it is made to be tamper proof, and made to shut out all of the Magical’s power. That all of Harley’s abilities are coming out, means that she has way more power than the Dempsey Suppressor can handle or hold back.
Harley gets attacked by the Ryder Twins on her way home, and gets saved by a hooded figure who ultimately turns out to be none other than Isadora Merlin, Harley’s aunt from her father’s side. She is the only other portal opener alive, and has been hiding herself in order to avoid Katherine. Isadora tells Harley to not believe everything that the newspapers said about Hiram, her father, and mentions Sál Vinna, an ancient Iceleandic curse in which the person under the curse is at the bidding of the person who cast the curse. It requires tremendous sacrifice–the death of everyone related by blood the cursed person. Except Katherine Shipton did not know Harley was alive, and Katherine did not kill Finch, who is also the son of Hiram, thereby giving Hiram a chance to fight the curse.
In the meantime, Tatyana, a Russian girl who is a Kolduny–a ghost whisperer, allows the spirit of Oberon Marx, a former Herculean (strength magic) on the way to being the star athlete of the San Diego Coven, to hitch a ride in her body. He is very helpful at first, assisting her in getting in touch with various spirits who provide more insight into Katherine Shipton as well as the Ryder Twins; however, at the end, he possesses Tatyana, and the Rag team has to help Tatyana fight him off.
The charms placed at the various families go off, and the team races around to find the kids. They ultimately make their way to a warehouse, where they get attacked by the teenagers recruited by the Ryder Twins. One of them, Kenneth Willow, escapes after telling them that they’re too late to the Ryder Twin’s party involving Jacob. Harley and her team rush all the way to the Smiths, where upon entering the house they trigger a potential wards that would result in the house exploding. Despite the taunting, Harley manages to make Jacob understand that it’s very important that he open a portal to another destination, and together with Wade, Harley takes Emily and Emmett through the portal. A battle ensues, in which Jacob kills Emmett after Emmett throws a knife into Wade’s back. Isadora shows up and gives him a time stopper that saves his life. She sends them back to the house, just as soon as Jacob gives Harley the hex bags that would allow her to save Mrs. Smith. Harley makes the decision for the first time to have the Smith’s memories wiped in order to spare them the agony.
After recovering, Alton gives the whole team an update–there are spies in the coven, and only the Rag Team will have access involving anything related to Katherine Shipton. Once the meeting is done, Harley asks Alton for permission to see Finch in Purgatory, the magical maximum-security prison, and he agrees, with the caveat that Wade join her. He then presents her with documents–forms that will decide her future as a magical–and while Harley already knows her decision, there’s someone else she must tell first.
Harley and Wade visit Finch in Purgatory. Finch taunts Harley, but she passes along Adley de la Barthe’s message to Finch–Adley, the former doctor of the Coven who is in Coven jail as a result of being an accomplice in Finch’s crimes, wants Finch to know that she loves him. Harley informs Finch of the Sál Vinna curse on their father, and tells him that if that’s one thing that Katherine lied about then who knows what else she has not told Finch either, which causes Finch to become violent. As Harley and Wade head back to the Coven, Harley tells him that she has made her decision to join, just before she walks through the mirrors.
My Verdict: We are learning more of Harley’s background, including that of her parents, and what lead them to make the decisions that put Harley into the situation she is today. On top of that, we’re getting other perspectives–from Harley’s friends–which gives a much bigger overview of the situation at hand as well as gives us the ability to learn about different magical abilities that make up part of this world. I feel like Harley is such a kick-awesome protagonist in the story, and I especially love her attitude about not taking other people’s garbage. I love how she’s sassy, and stands up what she believes is right, which can get her in trouble because it goes against coven rules, but at the same time it shows such a level of compassion and understanding. She’s relatable, strong, tough and impressive in how she handles herself, and has a deep understanding of where her moral limits are. That’s not usual for someone who is nineteen years old, which is saying something.
I can only see Harley getting hard-headed and pushing to get her full range of powers, the only question is how impatient is she going to get, and whether this will harm her. Considering that there are nine books in the series, there’s definitely more of Harley’s story to come.
That said, I’m not really a fan of the characters of the Ryder Twins as well as one of the teenagers that joined them, Kenneth Willow. They seem to be very shallow characters, and rather than showing what they can do, the author tells us what they do. In my opinion, they’re very two-dimensional on paper, while Harley is vivid, so it makes it hard to get interested in the portions of the book that involves these other characters. Even if the book was just about Harley’s parents, her discovering the suppressor, finding her aunt, and trying to figure out how to control her powers, as well as seeing Tatyana’s abilities up close, it would have been just as interesting. The Ryder Twins, Kenneth Willow, and the families barely make an impression, if any at all, which makes it seem like they are fillers to develop certain aspects of the book (ie, bringing about the discovery of Isadora’s existence) than actually being part of the plot of the book.
Overall, it’s been a very entertaining book, and I look forward to finding out more.