Book Review: Spellmaker

Title: Spellmaker
Author: Charlie N. Holmber
Genre: Fiction, Historical fiction, Magic

What’s it About: London, 1895. Elsie Camden, an unregistered spell breaker is sitting with her employer, Cuthbert Odgen and the maid, Emmeline for dinner, when the police come knocking at the door. She is accused of practicing illegal spellbreaking, and whisked away to the prison.

Bacchus Kelsey, the son of a Englishman who was a plantation owner in Barbados, is dining with the Duke of Kent and his family, when he gets told that he has a visitor. He finds Ogden and they take a walk, during which Ogden informs him that Elsie was taken to prison for illegal spell breaking. Both of the men immediately know that Master Lily Merton is the person behind this. Bacchus will do anything to get Elsie out of the prison.

In the silence of the cell, Elsie sees an astral projection of Master Merton, who tells her that she needs her and that her work is not done. She manages to leave before a guard announces that Elsie has visitors, due to their wealth. She sees Bacchus and Ogden, and they both promise to get her out. Bacchus tells her that there is a grace period of a year for spellbreakers when it comes to being discovered.

The following day, Bacchus meets up with the Magistrate, and tells him that Elsie has just recently become aware that she is a spell breaker; that it happened in front of him before he became a Master Aspector. The Magistrate, still not believing Bacchus, tells him that he has information that tells him otherwise, and how could Bacchus be sure of Elsie. At this point, Bacchus makes up another lie that they have been courting and that they are engaged to be married. The Magistrate agrees to let Elsie go provided that Bacchus gets three character witnesses, gets her registered, and invites the Magistrate to the wedding.

When Elsie is taken out of her cell, she believes she is being taken for execution, only to be surprised by seeing Bacchus waiting for her. He tells her that she has been released, and for a while he tries to avoid the topic, but ultimately tells her that he told the Magistrate that they are engaged to be married. He returns her to Ogden’s house, and heads home to Kent.

They begin the wedding preparations shortly thereafter and as a result, Elsie is invited to Seven Oaks, the Duke of Kent’s estate, more often for dinner. During one dinner, she gets so close to the Duke of Kent that she notices he has another, quieter spell underneath him. She tells Bacchus about it, and the next time that she visits the estate, she tries a ruse, until Bacchus comes out and asks the Duke what spell he has. The Duke admits that he had that done when Bacchus was a young boy, with his father’s consent, during his sleep so that the Duke would stay alive longer. He had since re-woven that spell with another youthful individual. He also reveals that Master Phillips was the one who had woven that spell on them. Bacchus leaves that night from the Seven Oaks estate and heads over to stay at the home of Master Hill, who is his mentor at the Atheneum. On their ride in the carriage, Bacchus reveals that he cares for her and that the way that this all happened would have not happened the way he wanted, but the arrest had sped up the timeline. Up until this point, Elsie believed she was a burden and was unlovable.

At the same time, Elsie is beginning to take lessons with Miss Irene Prescott, about spellbreaking. She has to feign her knowledge, and finds it very boring to listen to Irene talk about equations surrounding spellbreaking. She also goes to see different Masters to find out more about their spell making abilities as well as to find out more on Master Merton. She finds out from a Master, who is also a Duchess of a different estate, that Master Merton had actually been abandoned as a child after the war in Russia, and that she ended up getting a sponsorship, where she actually paid the guy money for upkeep. Elsie also has the idea to research the articles that supposedly she had written. Both she and Ogden head to the library and find the articles, which make zero sense. Still, Elsie copies them over and tries to re-read them when she has the time to see if she could figure it out. Then, she realizes that many of the sentences in the newspapers are in British English, while one line in each article is in American English.

In quick succession, Master Hill is attacked while Bacchus is working late one night, and he barely manages to fend off the attacker, only to be saved by Master Hill in the last minute. Luckily, she survives, and starts her recovery in the hospital. Then, while Elsie is learning from Irene one afternoon, she senses a spell, and goes upstairs only to find Ogden being accosted by the same attacker as Master Hill. She manages to dispel and break many of the spells, but the attacker disappears out the window, and Irene and Emmaline both see her do it, revealing that she is way more advanced than she had been before.

As a result, Elsie tells Irene and Emmaline the whole truth about her spellbreaking ability, the whole Lily Merton situation, the articles. Irene is particularly fascinated by the fact that Elsie is able to break spells just before they start. While rifling through the documents that they have so far, Irene recognizes the painting of the American–Master Quinn Raven–who had disappeared several years ago in America, and no one knows why or how. Irene only knows about it because she was taken to the estate as an apprentice years ago, and recognized his photos. When Bacchus arrives to check up on them, they talk about the wedding briefly, before there is a knock on the door, and Emmaline lets the guest in. He asks for Elsie and when they speak to each other, he reveals that his name is Reginald Camden, and he is her brother. He also reveals that they had an older brother, Jonathan, who passed away from measles several years ago, and that there was a sister–Alice–who was a baby. Reggie also tells Elsie that their parents had travelled around a lot and they were very poor, so they left the kids with different families to be cared for and they had all ended up being cared for in different ways.

A few days later, Elsie is en route to meet Bacchus up at Hyde Park in London, but is actually attacked en route by the attacker. The driver is killed and she is kidnapped. When she wakes up again, she is in a cellar with no way out. She notices the spell on the bottle of water, and carefully avoids it, while Master Merton shows up as an astral projection to talk to her, telling her that a little while longer and that they can talk. Elsie then decides to meditate and find out how far she can figure out where the runes of the spells are. She is able to identify a whole house, which seems pretty large to her.

In the meantime Bacchus waits for her for two hours, and when she doesn’t show, he tries messaging her with the enchanted pencil. When there’s no response, he sends a telegram to the Ogden house, only to be told that Elsie had left already three hours prior to meet with him. He heads over to the Ogden house, and Emmaline tells him that Elsie had been gone for five hours at that point, to which both Ogden and him realize that she had been taken. They race around to find out what happened, and come across her carriage. They then go to the Atheneum to find out more information by asking all of the Master Aspectors, but Ogden has a different idea and asks one of the lower level aspectors, who tells him that Master Phillips has been acting strange lately. The lad gives them the address, and Bacchus decides that it has to be Master Phillips’ estate, so they split up.

Elsie wakes up from a nap, and senses someone coming towards her, so she lies in wait, and realizes that the servant has been using a muting spell to get in and out of the prison to bring the food. She knocks the servant out, removes the muting spell, and escapes her prison, trying to find a way over the walls of the estate. She finds a gate and scrambles over the top–with a twisted ankle–only to be stopped by Master Phillips, who tries to but fails to fight off Lady Mertons enchantment. Elsie escapes and falls into Bacchus, who takes her back home. At this point, the decision has been made–he will be living with Elsie in Ogden’s home until further notice.

The next morning, Irene arrives and tells them that Master Phillips has been arrested, with many of the Opuses found in his possession, while Master Merton has been pronounced dead. Ogden doesn’t believe it, so he heads out to Master Merton’s estate which he finds is crawling with guards. He’s only able to find out that there will be an estate sale, and so Elsie, Bacchus, Ogden, Irene, Emmaline and Reginald concoct a plan to go see Master Merton’s opus at the estate sale. In fact, Ogden uses a tremendous amount of magic to make the guards stop paying attention, while Elsie and Bacchus check the opus, to confirm that it is not Merton’s.

Ogden continues to go out and search for clues on Merton’s estate, while Elsie, Bacchus and Emmaline finally get contacted by Master Quinn Raven via an astral projection. He had seen Elsie’s coded articles in the newspaper, and they talk to him about what they know so far, asking him what it is that Merton wants. Elsie realizes that the spell that Master Merton wants is one that could be used to spread a contagion, and in theory it could work with peaceful messages. Ultimately, Bacchus and Elsie ask Master Quinn to consider visiting them, but he said that he would only think about it.

Shortly thereafter, Bacchus and Elsie marry at the local church. Ogden gives her away, and the Duchess of Kent is the only one who shows up to the ceremony, giving Elsie and Bacchus the opus that had been in the Duke of Kent’s possession from his uncle. The Duke of Kent had the siphoning spell removed from his body, so they planned on enjoying what time they had left together. Bacchus then takes Elsie to their new townhouse in London, where they spend a wonderful night together. The next morning, Elsie finds the enchanted pencil scribbling–Emmaline sends her the message that Master Quinn wanted to see them in three hours. As a result, Bacchus and Elsie head back to the stonemason’s home, and wait with Irene, Emmaline and Ogden to meet with Master Quinn. This time, Master Quinn shows up in a much clearer Astral projection, indicating that he’s closer by.

Together, the group comes up with a plan on how to trap Master Merton–by creating illusions of Ravens taking off from various locations that would raise an eyebrow. They set their trap at an abandoned barn outside of London, and wait. Bacchus walks around outdoors, and gets caught by Master Merton; though Elsie realizes quickly enough that something is wrong because he uses their codeword. Chaos explodes, and Elsie manages to escape, realizing that the Master Merton inside the barn is an astral projection. She find her, talks to her and then wipes her memory. The decision is then made to drop Master Merton off with the constable with her confessing to her crimes.

As a result, Master Phillips is released from the prison, but he also resigns as the head of the Physical Atheneum. Elsie and Bacchus live in their home in London for the time, while Ogden hires a new assistant. Master Quinn disappeared again, only to write a curious article thanking them.

A while later, Elsie and Bacchus head out for their honeymoon. Reggie shows up–Elsie and he had gotten very close over the two months–and shows her a piece of an article about new recruits to the Temporal Atheneum, which list an Alice Camden. He promises her he will reach out to her if he finds out that she is indeed their sister, and Elsie and Bacchus set off on their honeymoon to Barbados.

Verdict: I suspected that Bacchus’ siphoning spell was connected to the Duke of Kent–it was too much of a coincidence that when Bacchus’ spell was broken, the Duke of Kent got sick, and he is advanced in age. I was surprised at the twist that Bacchus lied to the Magistrate that he and Elsie were engaged to be married shortly–which was something that I was not expecting, as I would have like to see the romance between them growing a bit more. At the same time, this book is not a romance book, so it is probably not as heavily focused on the blossoming romance between them than it is on the action.

Quite honestly though, while I loved Elsie’s empathy towards Merton at the end–how she understood Merton because they were both alike, because they had the same background–I did not like how Merton did not get punished for her crimes. Sure, she went to jail and will probably stay there for the rest of her years, but there is a sense that justice hasn’t been really delivered. I feel like that confession of Merton’s, written after her memory has been wiped, is very paper-thin and doesn’t work to clear the names of any of the other characters, especially those like Ogden, Elsie, Bacchus and Master Raven who suffered the most.

Aside from that, the story was good, and I enjoyed it so much that I read the book in one day.

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