Monday, March 8, 2021

Snowspelled (The Harwood Spellbook #1), by Stephanie Burgis

Five Fathoms Press, September 2017

In 19th century Angland, Cassandra Harwood has pursued the contrary course of studying magic, despite all resistance from a culture that says that magic is for the more emotional and creative gender--men. Women, being more pragmatic and more stable, are expected, if they are of the upper classes, to pursue politics.

Cassandra has been successful, having gained admittance to the premier school of magic in Angland, the Great Library, graduated top of her class, and becoming betrothed to her only real competition there, Rajaram Wrexham.

Then something happened. It's a while before we learn what, exactly, but it was bad. Cassandra can't perform magic anymore--it will kill her. And two months after that disaster, her betrothal to Wrexham ends, by her choice, for reasons she doesn't explain to anyone.

Two months after that, she's at a snowed-in house party, with Wrexham also in attendance, a variety of people who at best pity her for her misfortune, and much of the ruling council of Angland, the Boudiccate, of which Cassandra's mother had been a prominent member. When two other guests get lost in the storm on the way there, Cassandra is one of those who goes out to locate them. In the process, she encounters a troll, and an elf lord. This the beginning of a possible disaster for all of Angland, as Cassandra has promised to stop people bothering the troll, thinking the troll is only complaining about people tramping all over him, thinking he's a hill. That's not it, and the elf lord, who is not at all friendly, has heard her binding promise. She solves the real problem in a week, or the treaty protecting Angland from the elves is broken.

The real problem is that someone has used magic to create this awful snowstorm, and that's bothering the trolls and preventing the elves from their normal solstice-time pursuits.

So Cassandra is juggling her fraught relations with Wrexham, entangled in politics at the highest levels, trying to figure out who is the weather magician making this storm when no human magician is allowed to do that kind of weather magic, or indeed, able to, since the restrictions on weather magic mean that only the least capable magicians study weather magic at all.

I found it a bit slow getting started, but as I continued reading, I got drawn in. Cassandra, her brother Jonathan (who also defied convention by insisting on studying history rather than magic), and Jonathan's wife, Amy, who is a capable and ambitious politician, are a close-knit and devoted family. Wrexham proves to be far more interesting than the first descriptions suggested, and both the women politicians and the male magicians are shown to have real depth and complexity, not, as might have turned out, mainly egos. Even the ones who are possessed of too much ego are individual and interesting about it.

In the end, after a slightly rough start, I really enjoyed this book.

I received this book via BookFunnel, which means, probably as a free offering from the author's newsletter. I'm reviewing it voluntarily.

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