When Nadia’s family moves to Captive’s Sound, she instantly realizes there’s more to it than meets the eye. Descended from witches, Nadia senses a dark and powerful magic at work in her new town. Mateo has lived in Captive’s Sound his entire life, trying to dodge the local legend that his family is cursed – and that curse will cause him to believe he’s seeing the future … until it drives him mad. When the strange dreams Mateo has been having of rescuing a beautiful girl—Nadia—from a car accident come true, he knows he’s doomed.
Despite the forces pulling them apart, Nadia and Mateo must work together to break the chains of his family’s terrible curse, and to prevent a disaster that threatens the lives of everyone around them. Shimmering with magic and mystery, New York Times bestselling author Claudia Gray’s new novel is sure to draw fans of the Hex Hall and Caster Chronicles series, and fans of the hit CW TV show The Secret Circle.
SPELLCASTER, by Claudia Gray, is a hard one for me to review. It’s one of those books that looked really great on paper, got good reviews from various sources I trust, and featured a dark New England town, witches, and angsty teens. With my recent YA obsession, I thought this was going to be a real winner. Blame it on high expectations but I came away with an overwhelming sense of, “meh” when I finished this one.
The strength of SPELLCASTER can really be found in its plot and its world of magic. Let’s start with plot. A young girl from Chicago, Nadia Caldani, moves to a small New England town, Captive’s Sound, with her father and her younger brother. Her mother basically abandoned them and Nadia is filled with hurt, bitterness and a fierce determination to take her mother’s place by protecting and caring for her father and brother. Nadia is also a witch and she immediately recognizes a darkness lurking underneath the small town exterior, a darkness that only seems to be growing stronger. Banding together with two unlikely friends, Mateo and Verlaine, Nadia decides to go to battle and use all her witchy strength to defeat evil and save Captive’s Sound. The plot moved at a good pace and there were several nice reveals that kept me turning the pages and reluctantly putting down the book at night.
However, by far the most original aspect of this story is its magic system. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever seen this before. Witches can only be women, educated and empowered through female relatives and coven sisters. This adds another bitter pill to Nadia’s abandonment by her mother – without her, Nadia has little hope of advancing in her witchcraft. Here’s the real gem – spells are cast through pure memory and emotion.
The sight of something wondrous, never before seen.
The breaking of a bond that should never have been broken.
Cold beyond desolation.
Loyalty beyond life.
In order to cast this spell, Nadia must call on memories that evoke these strong emotions and then feel them purely and deeply. Is that brilliant or what? This was such an original approach to magic that it made the paranormal aspects of SPELLCASTER feel very fresh.
Though well-written and plotted, the major weaknesses for me in SPELLCASTER were its main heroine and hero, Nadia and Mateo. They were so cardboard that it was hard for me to, well, frankly, care about them. Both are motherless, both dealing with adult size issues for such a young age, yet both lacked an evocative depth of emotion. Nadia shined when casting but other than that, I had a hard time connecting with her. It’s not a good sign when the side characters completely steal the show – Verlaine, the spunky, sharp, and funny friend; Liz, Mateo’s enigmatic best friend; and Asa, the demon, who is the major reason why I want to read the next book. All of these characters held my interest five times more than Nadia and Mateo. And the lukewarm romance between the two didn’t help.
I do want to give major props to Gray for giving us a diverse cast of characters. There’s color in this world and a non-traditional relationship with Verlaine’s two fathers. Though this was not a major part of the story, I appreciate Gray’s creation of a town that had a level of diversity not often found in many YA paranormal books.
With SPELLCASTER I vacillated between a two and three howl rating. I decided to give it three howls for two reasons – great magic and an ending that piqued my interest. A side character, Asa the demon, seems poised to play a bigger role and the mystery and conspiracy at the heart of the dark magic buried in Captive’s Sound hasn’t been fully understood, which does make me want to know what happens next. With these borderline reviews, the deciding factor is always, “would I read the next one?” The answer is, yes. But, honestly, I might borrow it from the library.