Keeper of Enchanted Rooms by Charlie N. Holmberg

While the plot is predictable, and the setting (a fictional island in the very real Narragansett Bay, with some excursions to Portsmouth and Boston) didn’t have as much of a strong sense of place as I wanted/expected, and the characters talk like they’re from now, not 1846, I was still charmed by this book, which I found to be a fast-paced comfort read.

I like the world-building and the set-up of the magical systems: in this world, some people have magic and some don’t, and those who do may not have a lot of it, but may have talents in one or more of the eleven magical doctrines. Each doctrine is some kind of magic (e.g. kinetic magic involves movement/force) and each one has some kind of repercussion/side effect for the person using it (e.g. use of kinetic magic results in temporary stiffness). But it’s not only people who can be magical: houses can be magical too, and may need special care to keep things comfortable for their inhabitants.

At the start of the book, it’s 1846 and Merritt Fernsby learns he’s inherited a house from his maternal grandmother—despite having been disowned by his father and being estranged from his parents and siblings. The lawyer says the house hasn’t been inhabited since 1737, and is apparently haunted, so when Merritt goes to check it out he expects a crumbling ruin. Which isn’t what he finds at all: the house is in good condition, though strange things do start happening almost as soon as he arrives. Enter Hulda Larkin, from the Boston Institute for the Keeping of Enchanted Rooms, who has been sent to study the house, determine the source(s) of its magic, and hire staff for its upkeep. Which brings me to the other things I like about this book: the characters and their interactions with each other, Hulda and Merritt especially but the house (and its magic) as well.

As for the plot: as previously mentioned, it’s fairly predictable. There’s a villain—a power-hungry magician who wants more magic than he naturally has, and figures out a way to get it—and it’s pretty clear how that story will go. And it’s pretty clear how Hulda and Merritt’s story will go, too: he’s a writer, and at one point when Hulda reads his latest novel-in-progress, she gives him this advice: “If you don’t intend for the couple to have a happy ending, then don’t involve them with each other at all.” While that philosophy may not make for great literature, it does make for a sweet romance, which is apparently just what I was in the mood for.






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