Book Review: Harley Merlin and the First Ritual

Title: Harley Merlin and the First Ritual
Author: Bella Forrest
Genre: Fiction

What’s it about: Harley and Jacob practice nightly in secret on Jacob’s portal opening powers, and Harley passes through a portal that lands her literally on Wade in his bed. She lets slip that Tarver really is Jacob, and together with Wade, they return to the training room, where Jacob tries again. Except this time something goes wrong, and the Portal starts to kill him. Harley and Wade save Jacob, and when the portal shuts, it causes a power surge that almost takes out the coven. Dr. Krieger comes into check on them, and Harley, Jacob, and he go back to the infirmary talking about the magical detector project that he’s working on. They also discuss the topic of Harley’s Dempsey Suppressor, and he’s put in the request for the tools needed to extract it, but there will be months of preparation before they can remove it as Harley has to enter the state of Euphoria, a magical meditative state. Jacob agrees to assist the doctor with the Magical Detector.

Harley confides the content of Isadora’s letter to Santana regarding her lineage, the suppressor, and Isadora’s dislike of covens. What she doesn’t mention is that Isadora’s letter also indicated that Alton was on the jury that sentenced Hiram to death, being the deciding factor in giving Hiram the death penalty when the rest of the jury was split half for and half against. Wade and Harley meet up to do some research on the Librarian, but were hitting dead ends, and they flirted a bit.

In the meantime, Astrid and Garrett go on a breakfast date for a picnic, confess feelings with one another. They discuss the new rule surrounding the bodycams on the shapeshifters, Garrett’s friendship with Finch, Katherine, and are about to discuss Alton, when Alton himself interrupts them by asking for Astrid to come with him to his office. It is then that they get into an argument about Garrett–Alton, who is Astrid’s father, does not approve of him, and during the conversation Astrid reveals that her mom is the owner of Cabot’s Espirit Emporium at Waterfront Park.

Ryann, Harley’s foster sister, calls her to gush about her new crush, and they talk about boys for a bit before Ryann reminds Harley about the Smith’s upcoming trip to Hawaii. Harley cannot go, and realizes that it’s time to face them after the whole debacle with the Ryder Twins and tell them the news about Hawaii face to face. She brings Jacob along with her to the Smiths. Afterwards, Harley gets ready to go to the interview in New York that would grant her access to her parent’s Grimoire, when Imogene stops by and gives her a replica of the Merlin Heirloom as well as information on how she can fix her own Espirit, which she can find in New York. Wade comes with her to New York, and the interviewing board grants Harley an hour with the Grimoire, so long as Wade supervises since the Crowley name carries more weight, believing that she won’t be able to read from an unfinished Grimoire. The two of them go to the Special Collections section, where Harley admits to wade that she has seen the Grimoire before and that she can actually read it. They find some information in the Grimoire on the Children of Chaos, and find the spell Imogene was talking about.

Back at the San Diego Coven, Harley and Wade find all of the necessary ingredients and fix Harley’s Espirit, after which the gemstones in it are a bit darker, and worries that the spell pulled her towards her Dark affinity. The spell also created a momentary power outage, and on their way to Alton’s office they face a Purge beast. Garrett and Astrid come to their rescue and when they arrive at the Bestiary, they help everyone else put the beasts back into their boxes, except that Quetzi, the snake has gone missing. They call the rest of the Rag Team, and Alton tells them that he had visit Purgatory to speak with one of Katherine’s former associate, but he found a medallion in the man’s belonging, which will work like a GPS.

Alton speaks with Harley about the unapproved first visit to the New York Coven, and mentions that a Sanguine spell would be the only one that will be able to rebalance her affinities, upon seeing her darker Espirit. Harley meets up with Santana in the Bestiary and together, with the assistance of Santana’s purge snake, they go looking for Quetzi, which takes them into the prison under the coven. There, they discover Adley de la Barthe dead next to a snake skin and a fang. Alton is unable to resurrect her and so Krieger does the postmortem on her. In the meantime, the security officials bring in the children from the coordinates given by the medallion, and they find out that Louella is alive, because she’s a Regen–a type of magical ability that allows her to regenerate limbs. The security people also catch Kenneth Willow, who violently yells about a Cult of Eris.

Astrid visits her mom for advice regarding the fang as her spectrometer doesn’t yield any information, and also for advice on Alton and Garrett. Her mom points out that the fang is fake, and confirms Astrid’s suspicion that Quetzi wasn’t responsible for the murder of Adley. Upon her return to the coven, Astrid informs Harley and Alton about the fang, and they start interviewing all of the shapeshifters in the Coven, including Garrett, who refuses to tell them anything.

The next day, Harley assists Nomura in assessing the children for their abilities, during which Marjorie has a premonition about the traitor being in the training room. After they send the kids out for breakfast, Harley approaches him about Sanguine Spells, and he tells them that New Orleans is the only place that is allowed to have practitioners of Sanguine Spells in the US as it is a type of Voodoo Magic. She then heads to the banquet hall herself, where Astrid tells her about the Goddess Eris from Greek Mythology. Suddenly Wade calls and tells Harley to head to the cells because Imogene and Remington, two members of the California Mage Council, had arrived on Levi’s orders to take the kids away. By the time they arrive, Imogene is already talking to the children and asks about two missing children, to which Louella responds that Katherine killed them. After much debate, most of the children are taken by Imogene and Remington as decreed, with the exception of Louella and Marjorie, who decide to stay with the San Diego Coven.

After helping clean up the cells, Harley eavesdrops on a conversation between Remington and Dylan, in which Remington is asking very personal questions. Then she also overhears a conversation between Imogene and Wade, in which Imogene offers him a chance to get on the Mage Council because of his potential. When she offers him to grab some drinks, he turns her down, saying that he’s interested in someone else. Luckily for them, Astrid interrupts asking for them to come meet.

Astrid shows the whole Rag Team, without Garrett, a black blob making its way towards the Crypt, so the whole team goes there, and they find Quetzi. He talks to them and then evades them, trapping them in the Crypt, so the team spends some time discussing Katherine and Finch, especially curious why Katherine didn’t kill him along with the rest of the Shipton line. An hour later, Alton and Garrett show up to free the team, at which point Astrid asks Garrett about his whereabouts again. He refuses to tell her, asking her to trust him, but she doubts him and checks anyway, at which point she realizes that Garrett had doctored the clips from his body cam during the time frame that Quetzi was stolen. She runs after him, only to stumble upon a body of a man with the symbol of the Cult of Eris on his chest.

Alton and the team arrives, at which point he reveals who Tarver really is, and Jacob confirms that this was most likely the shapeshifter they were looking for. Alton takes him to a table, and resurrects the man, but he refuses to give up any information and shifts into Preceptor Jacintha Parks, confessing to killing her. As a result, Marjorie makes the decision to leave for the Los Angeles Coven.

Two days later, Jacintha is buried and Harley wants to train with Nomura, but has difficulties controlling her abilities because her anger is feeding her darker affinity. Instead, they sit down, meditate and talk about Nomura, his wife, as well as Jacintha. The following day, Harley decides to go to the Forbidden Section to do some research into the Sanguine Spells, and to her surprise she finds Louella even though she shouldn’t be there. Louella explains that she overheard Astrid’s thoughts about the Greek stuff, so she’s doing research on it as she can’t just sit around considering Katherine killed two kids in front of her. Louella tells her more about her Telepath abilities, and additional myths and stories surrounding the the Five Rituals. When Harley mentions the Librarian, Louella tells her that Katherine has her.

In the meantime, Astrid spends the morning looking through Smartie, her Artificial Intelligence, for doctored footage, at which point she finds out that Alton was behind Quetzi’s release. She confronts him and he admits to it, saying that the Katherine had threatened Astrid, so he let Quetzi go in exchange for the kids, but the did have a contingency plan in place the snake didn’t get away. Astrid then seeks out Garrett, who tells her off, angry about the fact that she’s doubted him. He also reveals that he knows the truth about her relationship with Alton, and that the doctored footages were because he went to Purgatory to visit Finch. He tells her that he’s done with her, and walks out. Astrid visits her mom, upset over Garrett, but then is interrupted by weather anomalies in San Diego.

The team meets, and Tatyana, the Kolduny, takes Harley aside to tell her what she found out about Harley’s parents and Katherine from her own parents. As soon as she finishes, the whole team gets messages from Astrid about the anomalies, and they head out to a location, where they find charred bodies. Quetzi shows up inside a tornado, and Harley fights the tornado with her air ability, and the two of them talk at which point Quetzi reveals that Katherine has had the plan about becoming a Child of Chaos long before Harley’s father was murdered. He states that one of the rituals involves killing him, but he wants to fight Katherine on equal footing. As Quetzi kicks Harley out of his tornado, Katherine gates behind him and snatches him.

After a brief fight with Purge Monsters, the team follows Katherine into the otherworld only to find that they were too late, as Quetzi is being disintegrated. Jacob makes the last minute decision to save Isadora at the expense of Quetzi, and Harley almost calls Erebus using her parent’s spell from memory, splintering the Suppressor. Wade knocks her down, but the violence of the spell also kills Astrid. The team grab Astrid, and Jacob shows up to take them back to the San Diego Coven, with barely enough time for Alton to save her. She does come back, but there’s something off about her in that she doesn’t have any emotions, and Garrett is upset with himself, because he cares for her so much.

Harley goes to see Jacob and Isadora, wanting to lay into him about not saving Quetzi, but Isadora tells her that he knows his error. Harley then admits that her suppressor has splintered, to which Isadora tells her that she must break it, otherwise it will continue to poison her. Alton ultimately tells the Rag Team about his deal with Katherine, and decides to step down as the Director of the coven. At the same time, Garrett reveals that he’ll be leaving for the LA Coven. Once everyone’s done with their revelations, Astrid and Harley talk about Astrid’s condition, and they decide to go visit Remington in the San Francisco Coven because he wrote a paper on the Children of Chaos. It turns out that Remington is Dylan’s uncle on his father’s side, and that Dylan’s father jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge after Dylan’s mother died from a surgery. He reveals more information about the Children of Chaos, which he knows about thanks to his studies under Odette, a Clairvoyant known as the Librarian, and mentions that Astral Projection is a way to reach them, leading them to Marie Laveau, the Voodoo Witch of New Orleans.

Upon her return from San Francisco, Harley tells Wade everything, including about her cracked suppressor. Her Empath powers go into overdrive, and they kiss. He agrees to help her go to New Orleans to get everything she needs for the Sanguine Spell.

My Verdict: It’s an entertaining book, and while it’s not my favorite series–I don’t think it will be–but it’s still enjoyable to read, especially as I’m one of those people who likes to continue a series once I start them. There is a lot more complexity in this book than in the prior one–not necessarily in terms of characters, as much as the fact that the author brought in Marie Laveau and the Greek Mythologies. This is the kind of depth that I’m looking for, especially as mythology is so rich in magic itself. So this is great, and now I’m actually curious to find out more about this series’ version of Marie Laveau. Who is she? How does she look and act?

So far, I also enjoy that this book–like every other book in the series thus far–switches between the different perspectives of the Rag Team, and it gives us a chance to get to know these characters better. In this book, it’s between Astrid and Harley’s perspectives, and honestly, I prefer Harley better than Astrid. Astrid is smart, with her AI and knowledge, but she’s also a wallflower, whereas Harley brings life into the book, so I really hope that in the next several books of the series we don’t hear from Astrid’s point of view again.

Overall, this book is much better than the last.

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