(The Harwood Spellbook #1)

by Stephanie Burgis

This one’s been on my to-read pile for a while. As I began to read, I was instantly enchanted. This is a light, romantically pleasing Regency romance-adventure voiced by Cassandra Harwood– the scion of a politically powerful family who eschewed her mother’s ambitions to become a magician.

But this Regency romance has an Angland where women wield political power both in parliament and in their homes and men are consorts who do magic. Women aren’t supposed to do magic and men who are magic-less don’t make great husbands for women with ambition. Cassandra bucked the system and became a magician anyway, with the loving support of her brother Jonathan who loves history and his politically powerful wife, Amy.

Four months ago, Cassandra almost had it all: a loving fiancee, powerful magic, and a bright future (if she could manage to convince someone to hire a female magician). Something happened to her magic, and we meet her at a snowbound house party of the powerful unable to do magic at all and estranged from her fiancee.

She soon gets mixed up with a vicious elf lord who is there to break the centuries-long treaty between Angland and the elves.

Watching Cassandra navigate the social awkwardness of having to face society when she’s lost her magic, deny her feelings toward her fiancee despite him helping her along with the elf problem, and realize how much she has to give the world even without magic was lovely and wonderful and hit all my (clean, not steamy at all) historical romance buttons along with introducing me to a clever version of England. Folks who like Mary Robinette Kowal’s Glamourist Histories or Zen Cho’s Sorceror to the Crown will like this book.

But, and here’s the reason for only 4 stars, it was waaaaay too short. There was definitely room in this adventure for more actual adventuring on Cassandra’s part (she stays in the house party for the most part) and some actual sleuthing around the elves. Things happen quickly (it’s about half the size of what I would consider a normal romance or fantasy) so when the pay off came I was delighted but still hungry. I wanted to watch her and Wrexham’s relationship develop a tad more slowly, she seems to just give in despite all her worries and fears. I wanted more results for Amy and Jonathan post-elf ritual, and I wanted more actual physical danger for Cassandra to overcome.

Great, fun read, but didn’t quite satisfy all the way.