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In an alternate Victorian world filled with magic, SPELLMAKER gives us the conclusion to the story that began when Elsie Camden, a rogue “spellbreaker,” came into her own.

In SPELLBREAKER, while following the orders of a mysterious group pursuing justice and equality, Elsie tries to remove a spell on the estate of a wealthy duke, and she runs into Bacchus Kelsey. Her life changes, and for the first time she questions this anonymous group and their orders. We learn that Elsie had been abandoned by her family as a child and ended up in a workhouse. From there she worked for Cuthbert Ogden, a kind artist who has hidden his own magical talent and treated her almost like a daughter.

"Charlie N. Holmberg's duology will appeal to mystery lovers, fantasy fans and romance readers alike."

In this sequel, we know that Elsie and her friends must seek out Master Lily Merton, who is guilty of murdering fellow magicians in her quest for their “opuses”: books of spells that come into being when a magician dies. It lists all the spells that he or she used, and many have been murdered for them. Lily Merton is conniving and ruthless, and demonstrated in the first book that she can enslave another magician to do her bidding with one powerful spell. Only Elsie, Bacchus and their friends know about this, so it's up to them to bring the perpetrator to justice. Bacchus doesn't even tell his close friend, the Duke of Kent, but supporters come from unexpected places.

Early in the story, Elsie is arrested for being an unregistered spellbreaker. The punishment could be severe, but Bacchus lies and says she just learned of her talents in the past year. The truth is that Elsie has been a spellbreaker since she was a child, and her abilities are beyond gifted and necessary for her quest in this action-packed novel.

Holmberg's England might have magic in it, but some things don't change. The wealthy in this alternate Britain live in incredible ease, while the working classes often struggle to put food on the table. The ability to become a "master" magician is also mostly limited to the upper class, as talented children of the wealthy can afford tutors to help them in their magical studies. A child of poverty, on the other hand, will have to find a sponsor or win a scholarship to a magical academy to learn about magic and become a master “aspector,” someone who can perform spells and earn money from doing so. Only the most talented can pass the test and earn the title of "master."

Bacchus has dark skin, and his parents were not married. He did inherit his father's estate, but he is subject to the snobbery and prejudice that the English (and now the Americans) are noted for. We see the bigotry evidenced in words and actions throughout the story. A surprising fact is that there are no purely evil characters here, and those who perform sinful deeds are doing so for reasons that could (almost) be forgiven.

Charlie N. Holmberg's duology will appeal to mystery lovers, fantasy fans and romance readers alike.

Reviewed by Pamela Kramer on May 7, 2021

by Charlie N. Holmberg