Spellbreaker by Charlie N. Holmberg

Spellbreaker was an excellent vacation read for me, and I liked it enough that I’m planning to read the sequel right away: this is definitely NOT a standalone novel and I want to know how everything works out. The book opens in England in 1885 with a workhouse on fire and a young girl, Elsie, having accidentally erased a rune that was keeping the building safe from the flames. A cloaked figure beckons Elsie, who’s eleven years old at this point, to come with them: “I need your help to make the world a better place,” the person says. Elsie realizes that she’s a “spellbreaker, born with one kind of magic instead of taught a hundred.”

Flash forward to London, ten years later: Elsie has been doing the bidding of that cloaked figure and/or whatever group they’re part of for a decade; she also does non-magical work for an artist/stonemason. In this world people who make spells, known as aspectors, specialize in one of the “four alignments”—magic that is “rational”, “spiritual”, “temporal”, or “physical”. (Rational spells can be illusions, or anything else affecting the mind; spiritual magic consists of “blessings and curses”; temporal magic changes “time’s effects”; physical magic, as you might guess, changes the physical properties of objects: Elsie’s artist employer uses it to change white paint into colored paint, for example.) Meanwhile, spellbreakers, like Elsie, can unravel spells. Both aspectors and spellbreakers are meant to be registered with the government, and Elsie isn’t, which means all her spellbreaking work is renegade, and dangerous. She’s proud of what she does, though: all her assignments are described to her as things that right a wrong, or help keep the poor from being oppressed by the rich.

Next plot strand: Bacchus Kelsey, who’s in his late twenties, has just come back to England from his home in Barbados. He’s a physical aspector hoping to take the test to become a master physical aspector—and hoping to be approved to use a particular spell that will “allow him to move an object—any object—without touching it.” As you might guess, Elsie’s path and Bacchus’s path cross, and keep crossing. And in another plot strand, which affects both of them, it seems that someone might be murdering master aspectors and stealing their “opuses”, which is what their bodies turn into when they die—rather than corpses, master aspectors leave behind “spellbooks of all the enchantments they had learned in life,” which let “anyone”, magical or not, cast one of those spells (but only one time per spell).

This book is heavy on plot and well-plotted; I wanted to keep reading to find out what was going to happen next—and I find both Elsie and Bacchus to be appealing characters. I also like the world-building and how the magic in this world works/is explained, like in passages like this: “Who had penned the first spell was as shrouded in enigma as who had penned the last. None of the authors were known, and spells across all four disciplines were set. Many had studied the language and style of spellmaking enchantments in an effort to expound upon them, or create one anew, and not one had ever been successful.”






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