Monday, February 18, 2013

Book Review: Spellbound, by Cara Lynn Shultz

Photo by Richard Hurd

After Emma Connor's stepfather nearly gets them both killed with his drunk driving, and she becomes the centre of school gossip, her aunt Christine offers her a place in her home and at the school she is on the board of, Vincent Academy in New York City. Emma gladly accepts, resolving to strive for a quiet life and tell none of her new classmates the truth about her past. But that plan gets thrown to the wayside when she meets Brendan Salinger. She thinks she just has a crush and nothing will come of it, but his interest in her becomes more and more obvious. Then she begins having vivid dreams, all set in past eras, in which she dies, and her twin brother Ethan, who died when they were fourteen, tries to warn her. As Emma follows the supernatural clues scattered all over their lives, she begins to fear that their growing love will lead to her death, again.

Spellbound is basically a Cinderella story - girl with tough family life gets rescued by fairy godmother (aka Aunt Christine) and introduced to handsome, wealthy prince (Brendan). The backbone of the novel is a cliche, but when the Mira Ink team described it as 'Gossip Girl with witches', I was intrigued, so with some trepidation I plucked Spellbound from the depths of my TBR stack.

I was pleasantly surprised. For the most part, Spellbound is an easygoing supernatural romance, but it has charm (pun intended) and a sprinkling of wit. I liked the characters, especially Emma, who narrates the story, her enthusiastic younger cousin, Ashley, and Angelique, the knowingly described school goth/witch. I enjoyed the silly friendship dramas, in which characters mostly just glare at each other across a room, and the insult-slinging, though I think Emma is a bit too judgemental when it comes to her arch-enemy Kristin's boy-obsessed nature. I also enjoyed the action scenes, especially the last one, which really had me on the edge of my (train) seat.

I was less convinced by the romance, but that's down to personal taste. Firstly, Brendan is not my type, partly because 'bad boys' do nothing for me, and partly because of his name. I hold my hands up and confess: Hollyoaks ruined the name 'Brendan' for me forever. Fans of the mustachioed one may disagree, but it is not a 'hot boy' name.

Secondly, it is heavy on the ol' instalove. If you hate instalove with an eternal, all-encompassing passion, you should probably avoid Spellbound, but if you only hate it some of the time, you might still enjoy Spellbound. The instalove here didn't irk me as much as it usually does because a) Emma and Brendan were lovers in their past lives, and b) Emma is aware of the potentially destructive influence Brendan has on her life. However, as I've said before, I do prefer to read about relationships that grow at a more moderate pace.

Although it is the first in a series, the ending is quite neat, and there are few clues as to where the plot will go from here. Until I read a preview of the second book, which is about the continued supernatural problems that Emma and Brendan have to face, I was hoping that it would have a different narrator. As much as I liked Emma, with her witty one-liners and seemingly endless supply of courage, I would happily leave her be to read a story from the point of view of Angelique, or Jenn, or somebody else at Vincent Academy. I'm not sure that I want to revisit the mind of loved-up Emma, because once she started dating Brendan, she became less interesting to me, repeatedly telling us how plain she feels in comparison to her super-attractive boyfriend, and describing his eyes. I  I don't think eye-obsessions are unrealistic, one of my closest friends (aged 28, I hasten to add) will happily blather on about her boyfriend's eyes for half an hour at a time. But I do find it annoying, so she is banned from mentioning the word 'eyes' in relation to her boyfriend (she tells me about her cat's eyes instead), and I struggled to resist skipping over all the eye descriptions in Spellbound.

Will I read Spellcaster, the sequel? Hopefully. I am keeping a open mind about this series. I did enjoy Spellbound, despite Brendan not being quite my type, and I want to find out what happens next.

Thank you to Mira Ink for the review copy. Please note that this review was based on an uncorrected proof.

How do you feel about instalove? Do you think it's acceptable in some stories, such as this one?

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