Thursday, August 22, 2013

Book Review: Spellcaster, by Claudia Gray

(Spellcasster #1)
Claudia Gray
Hardcover, 389 pages
Harper Teen, March 5, 2013

The cover of this book mesmerized me the minute I first saw it.  That blue flame poised on the girl's hand, the way she's totally focusing on it....I immediately wanted to find out more! 

The story started me off on the edge of my seat.  Nadia Caldani, the protagonist, is a young woman traveling from Chicago with her father and little brother.  They are headed to the fictional town of Captive's Sound, which, from the descriptions in the novel, appears to be located somewhere in the northeastern part of the country.  As they get closer to the town, Nadia begins to sense the presence of a very strong, yet invisible, magic barrier, which her family is entirely unaware of. 

Nadia is able to sense this barrier because she's a witch.  Her father and brother are unable to because, in this novel, only females can be witches and perform magic.  It's a hereditary thing, passed down from mother to daughter.  Men are completely non-magical (although there's one notable exception in the story).

Suddenly, Nadia and her family are involved in an accident, as their car slams into the invisible barrier, nearly sinking into the nearby river.  Thankfully, they are rescued by a young man who appears out of nowhere....

As the story progresses, the reader is introduced to a fascinatingly complex series of events and cast of characters.  Captive's Sound is heavily steeped in evil magic, and Nadia knows she has to do something to counteract the horrible spells that have engulfed the town in a depressing, oppressive fog.

The problem is, Nadia is not a fully-trained witch.  Her mother abruptly abandoned the family one fine day, leaving her daughter's training incomplete.  She also left three devastated people behind, which is why Nadia's father decided a fresh start would be the best thing for himself and his three children. 

This novel has gotten some mixed reviews, but I sure don't know why.  It grabbed me from the very beginning, and I simply couldn't let go!  All of the ingredients that make for exciting, page-turning reading are present in this story -- compelling, fully fleshed-out characters, unexpected twists and turns, and lots of fascinating, even mind-boggling magic! 

I especially enjoyed the characters. 

Nadia received a major emotional blow with her mother's desertion, but yet, she strives to remain a pillar of strength for her father and brother.  She is totally committed to protecting her family, as well as the entire town, from the insidious evil perpetrated by the villain of the story.  She is courageous, loving, persistent, resourceful, and yet, vulnerable in an endearing way.  I like her immensely! 

Mateo Perez is the young man who rescues Nadia's family.  Interestingly, he, too, has lost his mother.  In his case, it's because of a strange curse that passes from generation to generation, on his mother's side of the family, giving him the ability to have prophetic dreams.  He is just as courageous and resourceful, as Nadia, and is a total sweetheart.  Need I mention that he's drop-dead gorgeous?  I totally adore him!  

Mateo and Nadia are inexorably drawn to each other from the moment they meet, although their relationship develops gradually.  Claudia Gray has woven their blooming romance into this fascinating tale with deceptive ease.  There is no "insta-love" here.  They are unexpectedly pulled together through a magical bond, and their friendship slowly deepens into love. 

What I really like about their relationship is that they work together as equals, even though each possesses skills that the other doesn't.  At no time does Mateo treat Nadia in a condescending manner.  In fact, they totally respect each other, as well as displaying tenderness and understanding.  This was a very mellow, beautiful thing to read.

Another very compelling character is Verlaine, a girl from the local high school.  Considered an outcast, she is either bullied or ignored by nearly all their classmates.  I really felt for her, especially, since, as I got to know her better, I saw that she was a great person -- compassionate, loyal, and  tender-hearted.  Mateo and Nadia befriend her, and together they all attempt to fight against the powerful evil that seems to be more than they could possibly handle.

And the villain....oh, the villain!  I won't identify that person here, but this character is very well drawn, being appropriately sinister, while seeming innocent and inoffensive on the outside.  This villain is a totally evil person, with no scruples whatsoever, no concern for the welfare of the people of the town.   Furthermore, this person is in the service of "The One Beneath", which is an obvious reference to Satan himself, although that dreaded name is never once mentioned in the narrative. 

The setting of the novel, as well as the events that took place, gave me a feeling of oppression, of doom and gloom.  The descriptions of the houses, the countryside, everything contributed to the overall feeling that something very sinister was behind all the unsettling events taking place in the town.  However, there was always a ray of hope, as the three main characters bravely sought solutions to each obstacle thrown in their path. 

Contributing to the creepy thrills is  all the great magic conjured by Gray's imagination -- spells of liberation, one of which helped Nadia escape from magical spiders at one point in the story (and how I hate those nasty little creatures...), spells of forgetting, of controlling the elements, even of changing a person's appearance so completely, they would be mistaken for someone else, spells of levitation, such as the one used to lift a car out of a sinkhole....  This is truly the stuff of fairy tales!  As I read, I felt as if I had fallen into a fairy tale, albeit in the modern world.

The spells are very interestingly concocted, as well.  Instead of the stereotyped weird ingredients, or magical potions and elixirs, each spell's "ingredients" consist of memories, each of which has a specific theme.  All of them are then combined to create the spell.  I've never come across anything like this before!  This is not only beautiful and very creative, but also quite moving. 

The climax of the story is open-ended, but that's because the sequel, Steadfast, is slated for publication next year.  (In fact, I featured it in last week's "Waiting On Wednesday" post.)  I already have it on my wish list, and will be eagerly buying and devouring it as soon as it's released! 

I heartily recommend this novel to all paranormal romance and urban fantasy fans!  Believe me, you will absolutely enjoy this story!  You will cheer for the three heroes as they battle their formidable opponent, and will stay up into the wee hours, telling yourself in vain that you'll only read one more page....until you discover that's it's 3 AM, and you've devoured four chapters without even being aware of it!


Claudia Gray

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  1. It does sound original and a little out of the box.

    Interesting about the feeling of oppression and gloom. I have just begun reading some stories by Thomas Ligooti and that feeling is present in his stories too (I know that you do not like horror Maria so I will not recommend him to you). Strangely I really like stories that create such an atmosphere. I really do not read a lot of fiction that exudes such a feeling so I think that the novelty has something to do with my attraction.

    That is a great cover!

    1. Hi, Brian!

      This is a young adult novel, so I'm glad you are interested in it, since I know this is not your usual reading fare. I think it's very well-written! As for the feeling of oppression and gloom, I do find it fascinating when I encounter it in fiction, as long as I can also discern a ray of hope somewhere in the narrative. In this particular one, that was definitely the case! The friendship of the three main characters, and their determination to fight this evil, was that ray of hope.

      The thing about the horror genre is that there's usually too much emphasis on fear in the narrative, nearly to the exclusion of everything else, except, of course, gory, graphic details. That's another thing about it I dislike.

      This is indeed a great cover! It's what initially attracted me to the book. Of course, books with great covers don't always have great content. I'm very happy this one did!

      Thanks for another terrific comment!! : )


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