Book Review: “Spellbreaker” by Charlie N. Holmberg

I really, really enjoyed Spellbreaker’s London (and by extension, England). The magic system is believable (anyone can become a magician, but the main barrier is money, like it is with most things), and the characters all seem to have some purpose.

Elise Camden is the main character of the book, although the perspective shifts between her and Bacchus in the beginning, but it’s still mainly Elsie’s story. Elsie is a spellbreaker, and none must know about it, because she’s not registered. She believes she answers to a mysterious organization she’s dubbed the Cowls, hooded figures who leave her anonymous missions to go on in order to undo spells. Elsie does so because she believes she’s fighting the wealthy and the aristocracy, and early on she gets careless and is caught by Bacchus. Thus begins the unlikely friendship between the two of them.

Unfortunately, this also means that it starts the romantic subplot between them.

At one point, Elsie sees her ex-boyfriend Alfred, who dumped her over two years ago, and realizes he’s gone and forgotten her so much that he’s gotten married! This revelation, in addition to the fact that she’s received a letter from her briefly-foster-parents the Halls stating that her family will never return, leads her to have a breakdown and assume she’s unloveable and unlikeable, and that she will never find a family. (She doesn’t consider Mr. Ogden or the maid Emmaline family, she’s made that clear – if she ever has to move on, she will never be in contact with them again, she assumes.) It’s teenage drama at its finest, even though Elsie is somewhere in her early 20s (I’m guessing 21 to 22 years old, since she said she was found at age 11 and it’s been ten years since she was rescued from the workhouse).

However, I don’t blame Elsie for this trauma. She was abandoned by her parents at the age of six (a mystery which this first book doesn’t solve, unfortunately) and sent to a workhouse, where she was rescued at the age of eleven by the mysterious Cowls. She was left, alone and penniless, and forced to work for the aristocrats and the wealthy, and who wouldn’t be a little salty about life after that?

Magicians around England are starting to die, some blatantly murdered and others just “ordinary” enough that it could have been an accident, but Elsie connects the dots in the end. I will say that I didn’t see this particular ending coming, but I did know that Elsie’s great show of “We’re sticking it to the man” by terrorizing the wealthy would absolutely come back to haunt her, I just didn’t realize that it would be in this way. The final 10% of the book (I read it on Kindle) was a breathless rush to get to the end to see if my secondary thought was right (it was not – I believed it would be a different person than they assumed it was, and while I was right in a way, I was wrong in many others).

Spellmaker is getting a sequel this year, Spellmaker, promising to continue Elsie’s journey to figure out who was behind the assassin she helped stop in this book. I’d give Spellbreaker a 4.5/5 star rating, because it wrapped up nicely with enough of a cliffhanger that I’m looking forward to what’s coming, and it let me know that I should probably re-read this book again (albeit a bit slower this time) to see if I missed the blatant clues that [redacted] left for Elsie throughout the book.

Have you read Spellbreaker? Are you looking forward to the sequel? Let me know in the comments!

And as always, keep reading.

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