Fiction, Science Fiction, Young Adult

Star Wars: Lost Stars

Cover image for Star Wars: Lost Stars by Claudia Grayby Claudia Gray

ISBN 978-1-4847-2498-9

“Other worlds had to be warmer. Brighter, busier, more fun in every way. He believed this despite never having visited another planet in his life; it was impossible to think that the vastness of the galaxy didn’t contain someplace better to be than here.”

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, a boy and girl became friends on the mountainous Outer Rim world of Jelucan. Under normal circumstances, this would never have happened, for the girl was one of the valley people, primitive early inhabitants of the world looked down upon by the boy’s second wave family. But Ciena Ree and Thane Kyrell were brought together by their shared love of flight, and the dream of one day flying the best ships in the galaxy by being accepted into the Imperial Academy. Thane is a cynic who dreams only of escaping Jelucan, and sees a term of service to the Empire as a means to that end. But Ciena is much more idealistic, and bound by a strong sense of honour that is deeply ingrained in all the valley folk. The Imperial Academy will test their values and their friendship, but that is nothing to what awaits them on their first posting as Imperial officers, on a top secret, newly constructed space station.

When I finally picked up my copy of Lost Stars from the holds shelf at the library, I was most surprised by the size of it, clocking in at 550 pages. But having finished it, the length now makes a great deal of sense; Lost Stars begins eight years after the fall of the Old Republic, when Jelucan is annexed to the Empire, and Ciena and Thane meet for the first time. From there we follow them, through alternating narrative points of view, to the Imperial Academy, and into the service of the Empire. They take their first postings as Imperial officers on the eve of the events of A New Hope, and continue all through the timeline of the original trilogy, and several years beyond, concluding shortly after the Battle of Jakku. This is a lot of ground to cover—about sixteen years by my brother’s reckoning—offering a whole new perspective on familiar events (and featuring cameos from some familiar faces).

Claudia Gray has the unenviable task of balancing sympathy for her protagonists with the fact that they are both, at least initially, on the wrong side of a war. Even after Thane chooses to defect, his actions are not always exactly heroic. Meanwhile, Ciena remains true to her oath, at increasing cost to herself, and her relationship with Thane. I understood Ciena’s dilemma but at the same time was sad for her, and disgusted by her choices and continued complicity in unconscionable acts. In terms of personality, Ciena is a much more likeable character than Thane, but this becomes more and more complicated as the years pass, the Empire’s atrocities grown, and still Ciena refuses to renounce her oath.
Overall, I think Gray deals magnificently with the moral ambiguity, and that starts with her flipping the original idea of Lost Stars on its head. When she initially took on the project, the concept she was given was that the idealistic character would join the rebellion, and the cynic would join the Empire. By switching that around, we get to see a much more nuanced portrayal of how good people can become complicit in evil causes. This is true of Ciena and Thane, the protagonists, but also especially evident in the character of Nash Windrider, a native of Alderaan who faces a terrible crisis when he is part of the force responsible for the destruction of his home world.

If many people were nervous about Star Wars receiving the Young Adult treatment, I was on the opposite side. As a fan of Claudia Gray’s YA novels, I was beyond excited to see her tackle the story of star crossed lovers on opposite sides of the Galactic Civil War. I have to admit that I haven’t read any other extended universe books, and I probably wouldn’t have read this one if it wasn’t written by Claudia Gray, so I can’t offer much about how this compares to other Star Wars novels. However, the feeling of the story fits in very well with the Star Wars cinematic universe, and Gray herself definitely has the nerd bona fides to pull off this project. She has not shied away from the thorny moral issues inherent in this premise, but she has also delivered the space battles and alien worlds fans have come to expect from Star Wars.


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Fiction, Science Fiction, Young Adult

Ten Thousand Skies Above You (Firebird #2)

Cover image for Ten Thousand Skies Above You by Claudia Gray by Claudia Gray

ISBN 978-0-06-227899-9

“The first time I traveled to another dimension, I intended to take a life. Now I’m trying to save one. But I can’t do that unless I save myself.”

In A Thousand Pieces of You, Marguerite Caine set out to kill Paul Markov, believing him to be responsible for the murder of her father, and the theft of the Firebird device that enables the projection of consciousness into alternate universes. But Paul proved innocent, and now Marguerite must save him from the machinations of Wyatt Conley and the Triad Corporation. In yet another effort to force Marguerite into his employ, Conley has fragmented Paul’s soul, and cast the remnants into four different dimensions. In order to retrieve them, Marguerite will have to do Conley’s dirty work, sabotaging her parents’ research in universes otherwise beyond his reach. With Theo’s help, Marguerite tries to figure out how to retrieve each remnant without betraying her parents or incurring Conley’s wrath. But the dark and violent realities she must visit to fulfill her mission cause her to doubt herself and everyone she loves.

Much of the first volume of this series focused on alternate realities, exploring the many different possible worlds that exist parallel to Marguerite’s home dimension as she chases after a suspected killer. By contrast, Ten Thousand Skies Above You is more focused on alternate personalities, and how the people she knows and loves might have been different in another world. Marguerite must realize that that no one—not Paul, not Theo, and not her—is perfect. There is always a life in which they would or could do terrible things, just as there are worlds in which Wyatt Conley’s ambitions have not destroyed his humanity.

When it comes to love triangles and alternate dimensions, you can have your cake and eat it, too—at least for a little while. Gray starts immediately from the action after Paul has been taken and fragmented by Conley, but flashbacks allow us to see the brief interlude Paul and Marguerite were able to spend together between the events of A Thousand Pieces of You and Ten Thousand Skies Above You. However, for those who are pulling for Theo, one of Marguerites biggest moments of doubt comes when she stumbles into a universe where her other self has chosen Theo over Paul.

Although the focus is on people, we still get to visit multiple versions of Marguerite’s world, one delightful—or delightfully terrifying—permutation after another. Her first stop is a war-ravaged California, where all science is bent towards military means. Yet another jump takes her to New York, into a world where Paul never slipped the clutches of the father he never speaks about. The worlds remain intriguing, even as they are designed to cast light on the characters. Gray also never gets too down and nitty gritty about the science of the Firebird, but she does manage to make mathematics and physics both beautiful and romantic, while never belittling the significance of art.

The first half of the book is full of action and romance, with little of the attention to the ethical dilemma of interdimensional travel that involves overtaking the lives of alternate selves that was present in the first volume. But just as I felt that Gray had let a critical aspect of the story slip through her fingers, she drives the seriousness of such meddling home with a ruthlessness that left me breathless when Marguerite briefly returns to the Russiaverse—the world in which she is the Grand Duchess Margarita. Yet another world hints at a reality in which Marguerite’s parents have realized the dire ethical implications of their work, and set out along another path. Taken together, they offer intriguing possibilities for the third volume, and Gray finishes with a twist will leave you dying to read it sooner rather than later.

Also by Claudia Gray:

Cover image for Spellcaster by Claudia Gray Spellcaster

Fantasy, Fiction, Speculative Fiction, Young Adult

Sorceress (Spellcaster #3)

Cover image for Sorceress by Claudia Grayby Claudia Gray

ISBN 978-0-06-196124-3

Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this book courtesy of the author.

“Maybe it was stupid to feel more nervous about coming back to school than she did about facing down Elizabeth, but she did. She couldn’t let herself freak about Elizabeth, so she ended up channeling all her fear into high school.”

Having sworn herself to the One Beneath in a desperate attempt to figure out how to defeat Elizabeth, Nadia must now face the consequences of her oath while also trying to dig up inside information that will help her, Verlaine, and Mateo prevent the apocalypse. But Elizabeth has her own plans for Nadia’s apprenticeship, and she won’t allow friends or family to keep her from delivering Nadia to the One Beneath, heart as well as soul. As Nadia spends more time with Elizabeth, her power grows, but so does the temptation of dark magic. Bound by her vows, Nadia is forced to help Elizabeth bring down a flood on Captive’s Sound that will dissolve the final boundaries between earth and hell. As reality frays, the citizens of Captive’s Sound become increasingly suspicious that something supernatural is going on, breeding mistrust and fear when people most need to work together.

In the final volume of the Spellcaster trilogy, Claudia Gray pits the forces of hell against…Team Not Evil. Though Nadia has become a sorceress, both Verlaine and Mateo are cursed, and Asa continues to defy Elizabeth while being bound to the One Beneath, these compromised souls are all that stands between Captive’s Sound and the end of the world. The deep secrecy of the Craft that was long intended to protect it leaves Nadia and her friends with few resources and even fewer allies for the final battle. Though circumstances are dark and desperate, there are still plenty of humourous quips in the face of adversity, as the name Team Not Evil might suggest.

One of the standouts features of Spellcaster and Steadfast was Gray’s magic system, which draws power from the memories and emotions of the witch. In the first two books, the memories were a great way to get to know the characters and naturally incorporate background information. In Sorceress, with the characters well established, the spells become the best way to show how Elizabeth is slowly twisting Nadia, and bending her to the service of the One Beneath. Elizabeth also shapes her experiences, forcing her to gain the memories of pain and isolation that are necessary for casting dark magic.

Nadia and Mateo’s relationship remains under fire from Elizabeth, with the added complication that as her Steadfast, his presence can actually increase the power of any dark magic Nadia is forced to perform. However, it is Verlaine and Asa whose improbable romance comes to the fore. Haunted by the fact that the One Beneath could require him to kill Verlaine at any time, Asa pushes her to seek out ancient and forbidden knowledge about how to kill a demon so that she will be able to protect herself from him, and their star-crossed romance steals the show.

Gray drives towards a tense and fast-paced conclusion. The point-of-view shifts quickly between characters, and there is a lot going on in many places at once. Carefully laid out elements from the previous installments come seamlessly together in unexpected ways to create a satisfying conclusion to the Spellcaster trilogy.


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Fantasy, Fiction, Humour, LGBTQIA+, Mystery, Science Fiction, Top Picks, Young Adult

Top 5 Fiction Reads of 2014

These are my favourite fiction books read or reviewed (not necessarily published) in 2014. Click the title for links to the full reviews. Check back on Friday for my top non-fiction reads of the year.

All I Love and Know 

ISBN 9780062302878

Cover image for All I Love and Know by Judith FrankDaniel and his partner Matt live a peaceful life in Northampton, Massachusetts. Their quiet existence is torn apart when Daniel’s twin brother Joel, and his wife, Ilana, are killed by a suicide bomber in a Jersalem cafe, leaving behind two young children. Both Joel’s parents and Ilana’s assume they will raise Gal and Noam, but neither set of grandparents knows about the promise Daniel made Joel and Ilana on his last visit to Israel.  Author Judith Frank lived in Israel for several years as a teenager, and her own twin sister still lives their with her husband. All I Love and Know is a complex and challenging novel that deals with not one but two important contemporary issues–gay parenting and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict–wrapped in a love story about a couple struggling to find their way back to one another after a devastating loss.

Categories: LGBT

A Thousand Pieces of You

ISBN 9780062278968

Cover image for A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia GrayMarguerite is an artist, but she is the daughter of two brilliant scientists, inventors of the Firebird, a groundbreaking device that enables inter-dimensional travel. When one of her parents’ graduate assistants murders her father and escapes by stealing a Firebird and jumping into another dimension, Marguerite teams up with another graduate student, and gives chase. Her mission: KILL PAUL MARKOV. With a twist on the idea of multiple universes, Claudia Gray invents a device that projects the consciousness of the user into the body of their alternate selves in other dimensions. While this eliminates the usual trope of accidentally encountering other selves, it creates its own set of moral and ethical quandaries when characters hijack the lives and choices of their counterparts. As Marguerite pursues her father’s killer through multiple dimensions, Gray has a forum to show off her talent with multiple genres, from science fiction, to contemporary, to historical in this fast-paced adventure.

Categories: Young Adult, Science Fiction

I’ll Give You the Sun

ISBN 9780803734968

Cover image for I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy NelsonThirteen-year-old Jude and Noah are twins, but also polar opposites. Jude is popular, outgoing and adventurous, where Noah is shy, introverted, and deeply weird . He is also in the closet. But despite their differences they are like two halves of the same person, both smart and creative. Three years later, the twins are unrecognizable. Noah is normal and socially competent, and Jude has withdrawn into herself, dressing in baggy clothes and shunning social interaction. They are also barely speaking to one another. Told in alternating perspectives, Jude and Noah relate how their family and their bond broke, and the secrets they are keeping from one another that prevent them from repairing their relationship. Poet Jandy Nelson has a beautiful way with words that translates into fluid prose and striking imagery. I’ll Give You the Sun is a dazzling, exuberant work of fiction full of art and passion, jealousy and loss.

Categories: Young Adult, LGBT

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

ISBN 9781250037756

Cover image for Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin SloanWhen the recession shuts down his San Francisco start-up, Clay Jannon finds himself working the night shift at a peculiar 24-hour bookstore. Not only are customers few and far between on the night shift, but they come in not to buy books, but to borrow them, from a special collection Clay is forbidden to read, but must carefully track in a log book. When Clay tries to digitize the process, he  accidentally cracks a centuries old code with his computer and a sense of humour. With the help of a couple of techie friends, Clay turns the power of the digital age on the mystery behind the secret code hoping to succeed where others have failed. Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore is  humourous mystery with something for both book-lovers and tech geeks alike. Robin Sloan has written a novel that both embodies the anxieties of the digital age, and shows digital and manual technologies working alongside one another.

Categories: Mystery, Humour

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown

ISBN 9780316213103

Cover image for The Coldest Girl in Coldtown by Holly BlackA raging epidemic of vampirism has swept across the world like wildfire, contained only by the invention of Coldtowns, government-run ghettos that are home to vampires and infected humans alike. Anyone can go into a Coldtown, but it is almost impossible to get back out. Inside Coldtowns, the most powerful vampires are internet reality stars, streaming a facade of decadence to the world that draws in human acolytes and misfits. The reality is much darker, as Tana finds out for herself when she and her ex-boyfriend, Aidan, are potentially infected at a party, and she turns them both in. Holly Black tackles the vampire novel with dark humour and a willingness to skewer tropes at every turn, while also acknowledging her debt to her forerunners. The Coldest Girl in Coldtown is both a reimagining of the vampire novel, and a tribute to the classics of the genre.

Categories: Young Adult, Fantasy

That’s it for me! What were your favourite fiction reads of 2014?

Fiction, Science Fiction, Young Adult

A Thousand Pieces of You

Cover image for A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Grayby Claudia Gray

ISBN 978-0-06-227896-8

Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this book at ALA Annual 2014. All quotes are based on an uncorrected text.

Every form of art is another way of seeing the world. Another perspective, another window. And science –that’s the most spectacular window of all. You can see the entire universe from there.”

Marguerite Caine is the daughter of two brilliant scientists, inventors of the Firebird device, which enables travel into parallel dimensions. However, this powerful invention begets an unthinkable crime when one of the graduate assistants who helped her parents create the Firebird murders her father, and escapes into a parallel dimension, far from the reach of the law.  Unable to rest while her father’s killer escapes justice, Marguerite teams up with Theo, her parents’ other graduate assistant, and uses a Firebird prototype to give chase, dogging Paul’s heels as he skips through neighbouring dimensions. The only artist in a family of scientists, Marguerite is nevertheless determined to master inter-dimensional travel, and find out why Paul betrayed her and her family.

On page one, Marguerite states her mission: “KILL PAUL MARKOV,” and the action and adventure takes off from this dramatic start. Although inter-dimensional travel is undoubtedly science fiction, what Claudia Gray has created here is a genre-bending work that refuses to be pinned down. Each successive dimension represents a unique variation on Marguerite’s home world, as Gray shows off her dexterity with multiple genres, from contemporary, to science fiction, to historical, to romance—adventure is the only constant. The first alternate dimension is a futuristic London that emphasizes technology, yet Gray effortlessly shifts to a historical vibe when the second world Marguerite lands in depicts a still-Tsarist Russia in a universe that has not yet experienced the Industrial Revolution. Yet another parallel world returns to the science fiction vibe, but takes it in an environmental direction, envisaging a world in which accelerated global warming has submerged many of the land masses. These well-realized alternate realities form the backdrop of Marguerite’s quest.

Gray does not spend much time on the math or physics behind the Firebird; the reader is placed in Marguerite’s non-scientist shoes, focused on the practical implications of the device, rather the science that makes it possible. Marguerite can only use the Firebird to project her conscious into other dimensions in which she was born and is still alive, where she inhabits the body of her other selves.  Otherwise, however, the rules of inter-dimensional travel are largely theoretical and untested, and every choice runs the risk of unexpected consequences, making for a high stakes story. Although Gray eliminates the usual problem of encountering the other self in these universes by only projecting the consciousness, inhabiting the lives of the other selves presents its own unique set of problems. Each jump is an ethical dilemma for Marguerite, who questions the morality of invading the lives and hijacking the choices of her alternate selves in pursuit of Paul. Equally problematic is the fact that the man she plans to kill is inhabiting the body of an innocent, alternate version of himself, who will be caught in the crossfire of Marguerite’s revenge. And of course, multiple universes mean multiple versions of Marguerite’s love interest, creating one of the twistiest love triangles in YA.

Despite some thorny issues and a general lack of love for love triangles, the romance proves intriguing, with ample room for both the relationship and the story to develop in the next two projected volumes in this new series.


Also by Claudia Gray:

Cover image for Spellcaster by Claudia GraySpellcaster 

Fiction, Young Adult

YA Fall Fiction Preview Part 1

The Fall Preview series continues with a sneak peek at some exciting science fiction and fantasy YA novels coming out  over the next few months. Here are some of the exciting YA reads I heard about at ALA:

Cover image for Afterworlds by Scott WesterfeldAfterworlds by Scott Westerfeld. Uglies author Scott Westerfeld is back this fall with a meta-novel that tells two intertwined stories. Darcy Patel puts her post-secondary education on hold and moves to New York in order to focus on publishing her teen novel. She doesn’t know anybody, and has no place to live, but she soon finds herself caught up in a community of writers. Interspersed with her story is that of Lizzie, the protagonist of her novel, who slips into the Afterworld–a place between life and death–to survive a terrorist attack. Available September 23, 2014.

First sentence: “The most important email that Darcy Patel ever wrote was three paragraphs long.”

Cover image for Atlantia by Ally CondieAtlantia by Ally Condie. Known for her dystopian trilogy Matched, Crossed, and Reached, Ally Condie returns in October with a new dystopian world that recalls elements of the legend of Atlantis, and The Little Mermaid. The world has been Divided between those who live Below in the city of Atlantia, where they enjoy health and longevity, while those who live in the polluted Above make a sacrifice in order to ensure the survival of mankind beneath the waves. Rio has always dreamed of living Above, but after their mother died, she promised her twin sister, Bay, she wouldn’t leave her. Then Bay betrays her, causing Rio to reveal a secret she has kept all her life. On sale October 28, 2014.

First sentence: “My twin sister, Bay, and I pass underneath the brown-and-turquoise banners hanging from the ceiling of the temple.”

Cover image for A Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia GrayA Thousand Pieces of You by Claudia Gray. Ahead of the Spring 2015 release of the conclusion to her Spellcaster trilogy, Claudia Gray begins a new series with A Thousand Pieces of You.  Marguerite Caine is the daughter of two brilliant scientists, creators of the Firebird, an invention which allows people to travel to parallel universes. When Marguerite’s father is murdered by his assistant, who then escapes into another dimension, only Marguerite is prepared to go after the killer, chasing him across worlds. Coming November 4, 2014.

First sentence: “My hand shakes as I brace myself against the brick wall.”

Cover image for The Young Elites by Marie LuThe Young Elites by Marie Lu. Adelina Amouterou is a rare survivor of the blood fever that decimated her generation a decade ago, leaving her scarred and deformed, an abomination in her father’s eyes. But rumours continue quietly circulating that some of the survivors have been left not just with scars, but unusual gifts. It is a top secret race between the Dagger Society to recruit these special survivors, and the Inquisition Axis, which seeks to eliminate them. Marie Lu, author of the bestselling Legend trilogy, returns with The Young Elite on October 7, 2014.

First sentence: “I’m going to die tomorrow morning.”

Check back next week for part two of the YA fall fiction preview, which will focus on more contemporary/realistic YA fiction.

Fantasy, Fiction, Young Adult

Steadfast (Spellcaster #2)

Cover image for Steadfast by Claudia Gray by Claudia Gray

ISBN 978-0-06-196122-9

“Seduction was never accomplished in a single conversation, or on a single night. It had to begin slowly. You took people so far, then no further, and waited for them to travel the rest of the way to hell on their own. They always did, in the end.”

Nadia Caldani moved to Captive’s Sound, Rhode Island with her father and brother after her parents’ divorce. Despite being only half-trained as a witch, she was forced to face down Elizabeth, a sorceress who has held Captive’s Sound for centuries. With the help of Mateo and Verlaine, Nadia thought she had succeeded, but it soon becomes obvious that Elizabeth’s actions at Halloween were only the first part of her plan. With Mateo as her Steadfast, Nadia has more power than ever before, but she also has more questions, and no one to teach her. As Elizabeth moves to the next stage of her plan, and the citizens of Captive’s Sound begin falling to mysterious comas, Nadia becomes desperate for any way to gain the knowledge she needs to defeat the sorceress once and for all.

One of the best features of the Spellcaster series in the magic system built of memories and emotions. For a spell of revelation, Nadia must conjure three memories: fear conquered, love betrayed, and secrets laid bare. Every spell cast is an opportunity to develop the characters, and Gray uses this to advantage with both Nadia and Elizabeth. It also provides an integrated way to summarize and revisit some of the events from Spellcaster, as Nadia incorporates these new and powerful memories into her spell craft. Having Mateo as her Steadfast amplifies Nadia’s spells, but first love is also a powerful new ingredient in her spell casting arsenal, and one with unpredictable effects.

Verlaine was a standout character in Spellcaster as well, but in Steadfast, she becomes even more central to the story as she learns more about the curse Elizabeth cast on her, and helps Nadia and Mateo try to foil Elizabeth’s plans. Elizabeth’s reluctant demon servant, Asa, is set to watch the trio, but he finds himself spending more of his attention on Verlaine. Though Nadia and Mateo are suspicious of Asa, they find themselves being easily swayed by his persuasive whispers. Verlaine proves more challenging. While Verlaine has a great deal of sympathy for Asa, she refuses to let him manipulate her, and her sympathy seems to be slowly seducing the demon instead. Gray also incorporates a lot of wit and humour into her story, and many of the best lines come from Asa, particularly in his interactions with Verlaine.

Steadfast provides answers to some of the important threads left dangling at the end of Spellcaster. Why did Nadia’s mother leave her family so suddenly and unexpectedly, cutting her daughter off from her only teacher in the Craft? What does Elizabeth gain by casting a curse over Verlaine that prevents people from noticing her or loving her? However, there is still a lot to be answered for in Sorceress, particularly relating to the Cabot curse, and Nadia’s decisions in Steadfast will have far-reaching repercussions.


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Fantasy, Fiction, Novella, Young Adult

The First Midnight Spell

the-first-midnight-spellClaudia Gray

ISBN 978-0-06-229759-4

A spell for stealing beauty:

 Flowers in the spring.
Sunlight on the waters.
A man overcome by a woman’s loveliness.”

Sixteen-year-old Elizabeth Cooper is a talented up-and-coming young witch in 17th century Rhode Island. She and her best friend, Prudence, belong to an exclusive “quilting circle” that uses magic to heal the sick and protect the crops. Elizabeth is infatuated with the handsome Nat Porter, but it is forbidden for a witch to marry the son of another witch, and the Widow Porter is the leader of the Fortune’s Sound Coven. When Elizabeth realizes that the First Laws governing the practice of witchcraft are enforced only by the social mores of the coven, she hatches a plan to flout the Laws and claim Nat Porter for her husband. This prequel to Claudia Gray’s Spellcaster series chronicles Elizabeth’s first steps towards the service of the One Beneath.

Gray was a little bit wily in Spellcaster, hiding the identity of her villain for a good part of the book. As a result, there wasn’t much exploration of Elizabeth’s motives, or development of her character. The First Midnight Spell remedies that lack in spades. The wonderful thing about Gray’s magical system is that every time Elizabeth casts a spell we learn more about her, as she has to glean the ingredients for each working from her own memories. We are introduced to a young woman who is jealous and ambitious from the very beginning, and who desires things she knows she cannot have. These characteristics eventually start Elizabeth down the path to the service of the One Beneath when she is stripped of her childish beliefs that she will be destroyed by her own magic or devoured by the One Beneath if she breaks the First Laws. Elizabeth follows the rules only so long as she fears a higher punishment for breaking them. Given her considerable and still-growing powers, the wrath of the coven is not a sufficient deterrent. The harrowing lengths to which Elizabeth will go to best her rival for Nat’s affection and have him at any cost make for a chilling portrait of the villain as a young woman. When I saw Gray speak at UBS Seattle back in March, she took a lot of delight in her villain, calling Elizabeth the best thing about Spellcaster, but it’s here in The First Midnight Spell that Elizabeth really has room to strut her evil stuff, even if she is not quite as powerful as she will eventually become.

The First Midnight Spell is really only the beginning of Elizabeth’s backstory, and that of the town that is to become Captive’s Sound, but some key elements are set in place. Besides starting Elizabeth down the path to serving the One Beneath, we also meet Goodwife Hale, the author of the powerful Book of Shadows featured in Spellcaster. I was really hoping the origin of the Cabot curse might be unveiled here, but there are no Cabots mentioned in The First Midnight Spell. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for another novella between Steadfast and Sorceress to cover that story.