Wednesday, 13 January 2010

‘Spellbent’ – Lucy A. Snyder (Del Rey)


Every so often my wife will get bored with her books and decide to have a go with one of mine instead. The current ratio is about two of my books for every one of hers so she’s got plenty to choose from! She picked up ‘Spellbent’ and that was the last I heard from her for a few hours, quite surprising as she’s not a big urban fantasy fan. After she finished the book, I was even more surprised to see her go straight back to the beginning and start over again! This never happens so I was interested to see what the big deal was. My wife described ‘Spellbent’ as a book that ‘wasn’t brilliant but had something about it that kept me reading’. Having finished it myself, I’d say the same kind of thing...

Jessie Shimmer and her partner/lover Cooper Marron make their living raising magic to help the crops grow. Opening a portal into Hell is not on the job description at all but one night it happens and Jessie’s life will never be the same again.
Cooper Marron is trapped in Hell and only Jessie can get him out again but her desire to do the right thing will see her inexplicably branded an outlaw by the local magical community. Jessie’s only allies are her familiar, a ferret named Palimpsest, and her own wits. Will these be enough to see her through? Especially when she realises just what is at the bottom of this mystery...

At first glance, there isn’t much to distinguish ‘Spellbent’ from other urban fantasy titles. You’ve got the feisty heroine who’s brim full of attitude and in a relationship with an older man who may not be good for her. You’ve got a magical community headed up by the richest (and possibly most dangerous) man in town. You even get a wise cracking sidekick for occasional light comic relief. This kind of setup is ideal for those who like their urban fantasy to run to a certain formula but these days I’m finding that I’m after a read that tries to do something different right from the start. If I read an urban fantasy and find myself confusing it with other titles, when I’m only partway through, then there’s something wrong! To be fair though, the magic system is original and (without giving too much away) you are likely to come across a couple of concepts illustrated in ways that you may not have come across before. ‘Graphic’ is the term of the day here! At the end of the day though, in terms of standing out from the rest of the pack regarding concept, I felt that ‘Spellbent’ failed to hit the mark...

You know what though? Despite this, I actually couldn’t stop reading ‘Spellbent’ until I’d finished it; even though I ended up finishing the book at half one in the morning!
What happened? Snyder may use tropes that are over familiar now but her real strengths lie in telling a story brimming with energy and attitude. Jessie Shimmer is a refreshingly honest character who may be severely lacking existential angst but makes up for this by offering the reader platefuls of determination, grit and courage. There’s a job that needs doing and Jessie will not stop until it’s done! When you add this attitude to a plot that races along (you can’t take your time when you’re fighting a demon) you just can’t help but be carried along with it; there is nothing else you can do...

The plot itself is driven along by rampaging action and that time honoured approach of having a question spawn two more of its devilish kind. There is plenty to keep you entertained and thinking all at the same time and I really didn’t notice how quickly the pages were being read. The supporting cast are worth getting to know as well (especially the Warlock, I like him!) and add extra colour to the narrative. Things end on just the right balance of things being tied up whilst others are left hanging for future episodes (of which there will be at least one if the back of the book is anything to go by).

‘Spellbent’ doesn’t really do anything new but the end product is a lot of fun and a story that you can’t help but throw yourself on for the ride. I’ll be around for the next book at least.

Eight out of Ten

P.S. As a fan of Gary Braunbeck’s work, I loved the little nod to Cedar Hill that popped up. It doesn’t do anything for the story but it was nice to see :o)

3 comments:

Mardel said...

I've just started reading Spellbent. It's one of the four books that I started reading in the last 12 hours or so. For me, there's something about the voice of the main character that keeps me interested. Not as "sophisticated" or jaded as a lot of other urban fantasy voices. I love reading urban fantasy, yet I've noticed that some of the character seem a little jaded, which is way better than uber-innocent.

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Amber Stults said...

I quite enjoyed it. Maybe it's the "squee" factor of so much action taking place in my hometown (Columbus, not hell) but I think it's something more - I just haven't put my finger on it yet.