Happy November and the 20th anniversary of NaNoWriMo! I admit that I haven’t been part of the event for twenty years–but then, since it was a private event for the first year or two, not many people can claim to that title. I’ve been participating in most years since 2001, which was the first time I finished a novel. It’s exciting to see this milestone come around. Hope Nano will be around for many decades to come. Now, onto the review.
In nineteenth-century Angland, magic is reserved for gentlemen while ladies attend to the more practical business of politics. But Cassandra Harwood has never followed the rules…
Four months ago, Cassandra Harwood was the first woman magician in Angland, and she was betrothed to the brilliant, intense love of her life.
Now Cassandra is trapped in a snowbound house party deep in the elven dales, surrounded by bickering gentleman magicians, manipulative lady politicians, her own interfering family members, and, worst of all, her infuriatingly stubborn ex-fiancé, who refuses to understand that she’s given him up for his own good.
But the greatest danger of all lies outside the manor in the falling snow, where a powerful and malevolent elf-lord lurks…and Cassandra lost all of her own magic four months ago.
To save herself, Cassandra will have to discover exactly what inner powers she still possesses – and risk everything to win a new kind of happiness.
A witty and sparkling romantic fantasy novella that opens a brand-new series from the author of Kat, Incorrigible, Masks and Shadows and Congress of Secrets.
Goodreads Link: Snowspelled (The Harwood Spellbook #1)
Author: Stephanie Burgess
Genre: Fantasy Romance
Rating: 5/5 stars
I admit that I am picky about any books that claim to be inspired by Jane Austen because most of them fall short of being anything like Austen’s level of writing. Simply having a Regency setting with people drinking tea and dancing at fancy parties does not make you Jane Austen, nor does simply having romance with a snarky heroine. Jane Austen’s work was notable for many things, including her skillful dialogue, her social commentary particular about gender politics, and memorable characters. It’s a high bar to clear. So when I find a book like this one that manages to live up to the expectations.
The gender politics are a new twist because of the interesting society of Angland. In the division of labor, women are in charge of the government and politics while men are the only ones allowed to study magic (even when some girls are also born with magical abilities). Cassandra, the main character, broke the norms when she fought her way to be accepted by the only magic school, the Great Library. Now other women want to follow in her footsteps, but her eagerness to prove herself led to her downfall when she overused magic and broke her powers. Now, if she tries to use any magic ever again, it will kill her.
It’s fascinating to see how the gender roles have affected their culture and how Cassandra is working to overcome the limitations placed on all types of people. But the main story is actually about a foolish promise to an elf-lord. Just like in classic fantasy, you have to be very careful about the words you use around magical creatures, or you could find yourself trapped in a dangerous bargain. Cassandra has one week to find out who is causing a magical snowstorm or she’ll become the elf-lord’s slave–and he loves to torture humans.
LGBT representation: Cassandra helps another young woman learn magic in hopes that if she becomes a magician, she can marry her sweetheart, a woman with political aspirations. Their society doesn’t seem to have anything against same-sex relationships, but women with high political positions are expected to marry magicians. This was an interesting twist on the gender roles. The main focus of the story is on Cassandra and her heterosexual partner, but there are a few sweet moments with the lesbian couple, and it looks like they will be around in future books of the series.
This is a novella, so the story moves along quickly. There is just enough time for a sweet romance, a little politics, some teasing with Cassandra’s brother and his wife, and a hint at bigger things in Cassandra’s future. All in all, it was a quick, entertaining read without many surprises but well-executed writing. I would recommend it with a nice cup of tea to keep off the chill of the magical snowstorm. (I’ve been drinking pumpkin spice chai this fall.) And I’m looking forward to the rest of the books in the series.
Fans of Jane Austen, Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, and A Discovery of Witches will enjoy this story. If you need a lighthearted, shorter read to take a break from all the heavy epic fantasy in the SPFBO competition, you’ll find this novella to be a breath of fresh air.