Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this book at ALA Midwinter 2013. All quotes are based on an uncorrected text.
“A winter sunrise. The pain of abandonment. The knowledge of love.”
Nadia Caldani’s mother has left her family at the worst possible time. At seventeen, Nadia is a witch-in-training on the cusp of coming into her full power. But magic is a maternal inheritance, and with her mother gone Nadia worries that she will never learn the rest of what she needs to know to become a proper witch. But her mother won’t even return her calls or emails, let alone see her, and Nadia and her father and brother have left Chicago, and moved to the small town of Captive’s Sound, Rhode Island. From the minute she arrives in Captive’s Sound, Nadia realizes that something about the place that just isn’t right. A dark magical taint seems to be sucking the life out of the town, even as the surrounding communities thrive. And it isn’t just the town that’s strange. The first person Nadia meets is Mateo Perez, a descendent of the supposedly cursed Cabot line. Despite being a local pariah, Mateo always believed that the curse was a lie, but with Nadia’s arrival, his dreams have begun coming true, the first sign of the hereditary Cabot madness. And then there’s Verlaine Laughton, only a high school senior, but with the gray hair of an old woman. Together, this unlikely trio must figure out what is happening in Captive’s Sound, even as it becomes evident that time is running out for the seaside town.
One of the stand-out features of the novel is Gray’s unique magical system. Although she uses some magical ingredients and talismans, Nadia’s spells are largely built from her own memories and experiences. For example, the components for the spell for illuminating magical shapes are memories of a winter sunrise, the pain of abandonment, and the knowledge of love. Nadia focuses on memories that embody each of these ideas to cast her spell. These spells offer the opportunity for flashbacks and getting to know Nadia’s character and history. It also means that Nadia’s life experiences give her power, and each new experience causes her to grow both as a person and as a magical practitioner. Although it is difficult to make her way alone, Nadia is still able to continue learning without her mother’s help.
Gray assembles a classic fantasy trio of friends who fit together and help one another due to their complementary personality traits. However, rather than instantly bonding, Nadia, Mateo and Verlaine take their time figuring out how to be friends. Nadia is wilfully independent, and reluctant to get attached to anyone in Captive’s Sound, which she plans to escape as soon as she finishes high school. It’s hard for her to learn to rely on Mateo and Verlaine for help, rather than doing everything herself. And as lifelong loners, it is hard for Mateo and Verlaine to adjust to the idea of having friends. I was pleasantly reminded of the way Ron, Harry and Hermione worked out their differences and became friends in The Philosopher’s Stone. Unlike Harry Potter, however, we get to experience the POV of all three main characters in Spellcaster, and the villain as well.
Spellcaster is the first book in a series, and as a result, not all of our questions are answered by the end of the novel. Nadia’s mom remains notably absent, the mystery of the chemistry lab remains unsolved, and Verlaine’s intriguing backstory is left hanging. Fortunately, Gray already has plans to follow through on Verlaine’s tale (Steadfast, Spring 2014). Gray is currently out on the Dark Days 2013 Tour with Harper Teen, so if you’re attending the Seattle event, I may see you there!