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Snowspelled: Volume I of The Harwood Spellbook Kindle Edition
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Of course Snowspelled isn’t a Jane Austen novel, but it could have been, if Austen had written more about class issues outside the gentry, included racially diverse main characters, oh and had magic. I absolutely loved the story, being easily captivated by its heroine, Cassandra Harwood. Cassandra is everything you want in a Regency-esque heroine: snarky, bold, boundary-breaking, caring, and clever. Often the heroine is the only character of this kind in a novel, but in Snowspelled we are provided with many more. Cassandra also reminded me of another Burgis’ heroine I adore, the titular Kat in the Kat, Incorrigible series.
Yet Cassandra is a more grown-up version and she has different challenges to overcome. After a magical accident, Cassandra can no longer safely use her magical powers. And learning how to cope with these new restrictions on what she can safely do, is terribly hard for her. In a sense this is an interesting parallel to learning to live with a chronic injury or disease. Developing coping mechanisms, accepting her new situation, and to redefine her expectations for her future is something we see Cassandra struggle with during the novella. She also has to learn not to feel lesser than she was and thus set herself aside, as she does in breaking her engagement to Wrexham. Burgis portrayed these elements beautifully and it was wonderful to see this represented in a novella.
The romance between Cassandra and Wrexham was delightful, especially since the question is never whether they still love each other. No, the tension here is if Cassandra will let herself be loved by Wrexham and not consider herself a burden to him if she marries him. Cassandra has a gorgeous example of a strong and supportive relationship in the form of the marriage of her brother Jonathan and his wife Amy, their late mother’s political protégée. I really adored the playful teasing between these two, the clear affection they shared, and the way they stand with and care for the other when needed.
There aren’t just heteronormative relationships though, even if the societal structure of Angland very much re-enforces such relationships. I really loved how Burgis included a same-sex couple and showed how they worked together to subvert society to make a place for themselves. Beyond the romantic relationships, there are the familial bonds and the bonds of friendship between the Harwoods and between many of the women, most notably Amy and Cassandra. I really liked their genuine affection for and loyalty to each other.
Snowspelled also contains plenty of politics, which is always a boon in my book. The structure of Angland society, with the women being the politicians and the men being the magicians, was an interesting one, especially as it creates a clear binary and has any number of consequences, not least being clearly heteronormative and dismissive of whether one’s nature is suited to the expected path, such as Cassandra’s brother Jonathan, who is no magician, yet is a passionate historian. And of course, Cassandra herself busts societal boundaries by getting into the Great Library to become a magician. And even after her accident, she decides to keep busting these boundaries some more. The political machinations between the Fae and the humans were also delicious. I love how Cassandra outwitted the evil elf-lord Ilhmere, by using her wits and a quick tongue. The intricacy of the treaties between the Fae and humanity was great and I’d love to learn more about their history in future instalments in the Spellbook.
Snowspelled is a delightful start to what looks to be a fantastic series. I cannot wait to return to Angland next year in the next novella in the series and to spend more time with the Harwoods and Wrexham. Burgis is a wonderful author, whose books always leave me with a smile. I cannot recommend her writing highly enough. If you’ve never read a Stephanie Burgis book before, Snowspelled is a great one to start with because it combines the feel of both her writing for adults and for a younger audience in one book.
This book was provided for review by the author.
I could save you a lot of time and just write 'It's brilliant - buy it!' but in case you're not feeling very trusting and need a little more convincing, here's the long version:
Snowspelled is set in an alternate version of 18th century England, in which magic exists and is part of everyday life. Burgis plays with gender roles by having them clearly defined but reversed. Women are the politicians and men are the magicians. No exceptions tolerated. Men can be compromised by women, not vice-versa. Women have more potential strength and agency than in our own 18th century society , but a similar lack of choice and personal freedom operates if you don't or can't fit into the accepted norms . One of the reasons I like SB is that her heroines are never satisfied with the status quo and are always pushing past the limits of what society deems acceptable. This heroine, Cassandra, is no exception. She cannot see a 'no' without responding 'why not?' and 'I will'. This has caused her significant problems by the time the book begins because she was born with magic - unusually strong magic - and her brother was not.
A House Party heralds potential disaster if she cannot overcome her distaste for politics and avoid the trap set by a scheming elf lord. It's not made easier by the presence of her ex and the little matter of her usual skills being unavailable. Or by some truly dreadful decision making.
I loved the world SB created, the cast of characters and the way in which she uses the story to make you think about why society operates the way it does, and whether you can be brave enough to accept the consequences of trying to change it. If that makes the book sound heavy, it isn't. It's warm and witty and I only wish it had been longer.
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