Quick break for another pre-Cybils review, a charming Regency fantasy-romance, with strong underpinnings.
Snowspelled. The Harwood Spellbook 1 by Stephanie Burgis. Five Fathoms Press, 2017.
Cassandra Harwood used to be Angland’s only female magicians, and one of its best altogether. Since trying an overly ambitious spell, she’s been unable to use any magic at all. She broke off her engagement and has been living with her brother Jonathan and his wife, Amy. At Amy’s insistence, Cassandra accepts an invitation to a posh winter house party where her ex, Wrexham, will be present. Will she be able to convince him that leaving him was really in his best interests?
This being a romance-type novel, it isn’t really shocking that the ultimate answer to that question is “no,” though Cassandra’s slow realization of this is quite enjoyable. Delightfully unexpected, though, is Cassandra’s magic-free solving of a threat from an elf lord, one who clearly isn’t a fan of the treaty that stopped the wars between elves and humans. I’d love to read more in this world (hooray, more is coming!), with its intriguing political system – women are in charge of politics, with the ruling body called the Boudiccate – you should absolutely read more about the real-life Queen Boudica if you’re not familiar with her! Men, meanwhile, are considered too emotional to be trusted with government but run the official magic of the kingdom through the Great Library. It’s fascinating to read about a world with rigidly codified gender roles so different than what we’re used to.
Even though Cassandra, as pictured on the lovely cover, has the pale skin one would expect from a novel set in even an alternate Regency world, inside, the world is much more colorful. Wrexham, the handsome love interest, is Maratha-Anglish, while sister-in-law Amy (a talented politician) is described as dark skinned and curly haired. The secondary couple is lesbian, with Cassandra working to help solved some of the barriers to their relationship.
All of this is packed into a novella – which is probably why the ending felt a little facile. But with such great characters and world-building, I didn’t really care. This is written for adults, but there’s nothing in the content that would make it inappropriate for advanced younger readers. All in all, I greatly enjoyed this and look forward to reading more of the Harwood Spellbook.
More Stephanie Burgis books I’ve enjoyed: