The Forgotten Beasts of Eld
by Patricia A. McKillip
240pp (Trade Paperback)
My Rating: 10/10
Amazon Rating: 4.5/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4.06/5
Goodreads Rating: 4.07/5

Acclaimed author Patricia A. McKillip, a recipient of the World Fantasy Award for lifetime achievement, has written more than 30 novels since the publication of her first more than 40 years ago. Among the earliest of these novels is her self-described first major fantasyThe Forgotten Beasts of Eld, which won the World Fantasy Award and was selected as a finalist for the Mythopoeic Fantasy Award after its release in 1974. This beloved standalone fantasy was recently re-released in trade paperback and ebook with gorgeous cover art by Thomas Canty and a foreword by New York Times bestselling author Gail Carriger, who shares that this is her favorite book of all time and has been for more than 30 years. She also expresses her difficulty in finding words to properly describe the scope and brilliance of The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, and having just read it for the second time, I find myself in the same position. It’s a beautifully written story about a mage with a menagerie of legendary animals, and at its heart it’s about power, love and hate, choice—and Sybel herself, the extraordinary heroine who becomes entangled in human affairs after leading a secluded life like her father and grandfather before her.

Once, there was a mage, the son of another wizard, who left the city for a quiet existence on Eld Mountain, where he called to him three fantastic beasts: a black swan who had saved a princess, a boar who could solve every riddle except one, and a dragon who had accumulated great wealth. Just a small amount of the dragon’s riches was sufficient for him to build a beautiful house of polished stone and an enclosed garden for the animals, and his son inherited all these plus his father’s magical gifts. This son called to him three more fantastic beasts: a wise lyon from the deserts, a large black cat with a deep knowledge of sorcery, and a fierce falcon who once killed seven murderers. This mage also had a child—not a son, to his great surprise, but a daughter—who also had the mage-gift. He named her Sybel and died when she was only sixteen years old, leaving her alone in the mountain with the house, a well-stocked library, and six fantastic beasts.

Shortly after her father’s passing, Sybel discovers a book describing the Liralen, a great white bird, and becomes determined to add it to her menagerie. One day, as she’s calling to it, she’s interrupted by the sound of shouting at her gates and sends Ter Falcon to deal with the disruption. To her chagrin, she continues to hear human noises even after her raptor should have carried out her request to drop the intruder off the top of the mountain, and so she investigates the cause of the commotion. She finds a man, Coren of Sirle, with a baby named Tamlorn: the son of Sybel’s aunt, a queen who died in childbirth, and Coren’s brother, who was killed by the enraged king. Coren fears that the king will also kill his brother’s child and asks Sybel to care for him.

Twelve years pass during which Sybel comes to love Tamlorn like her own son, and then Coren returns to Eld Mountain bearing the news that the child is, in fact, the king’s son and only heir—and Coren’s family desires not only to make Tamlorn king but also to use Sybel’s power. Sybel refuses to comply, not wanting herself or Tamlorn to be used as a pawn in political games, but she’s unable to escape being drawn into the world beyond Eld Mountain.

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld is a spellbinding novel, and like Gail Carriger wrote in the book’s foreword, I’m finding it difficult to find the words to adequately describe it. It’s a trademark McKillip book with its lovely prose, fairy tale feel, occasional moments of quiet humor, and timeless themes—and yet it’s unlike anything else I’ve read. (Of course, that uniqueness in itself is trademark McKillip!) It twists and turns and doesn’t end up where one may expect from its beginning, and yet its path is always true to Sybel and her character. It’s fantasy complete with a kingdom, magic, intelligent and/or talking animals (including a dragon!), and emphasis on threes and sevens, and like the best stories in the genre, it’s an imaginative, immersive story about humanity that lingers in the memory long after reaching the end.

I found it particularly notable that The Forgotten Beasts of Eld and its heroine still seem fresh more than 40 years after it was written, during a time when McKillip had not encountered many women like Sybel in her own reading:


But when I sat down to write my first major fantasy, The Forgotten Beasts of Eld, I didn’t question the point of view that came out of my pen.  It seemed very natural to me to wonder why in the world a woman couldn’t be a witch or a wizard, or why, if she did, she had to be virginal as well.  Or why, if she was powerful and not a virgin, she was probably the evil force the male hero had to overcome.  Such was my experience reading about women in fantasy, back then.

So I wrote from the point of view of a powerful female wizard, who, even after she married, was the hero of her own story, and whose decisions, for better and for worse, were her own.

Sybel herself is this novel’s heart, and she is indeed “the hero of her own story” from beginning to end. Though she obviously bucks some tropes throughout the novel, it’s done without fanfare or drawing attention to it: she is who she is, and her personal journey is realistic and true to her. There are some brief moments showing how she defies expectations—notably, her father’s shock at having a daughter and Coren’s surprise at a woman not knowing what to do with a baby—but she is acknowledged to be a powerful woman without other characters questioning how this can be and she exerts control over her own destiny. As she goes from near isolation to becoming embroiled in the outside world, as she faces obstacles both from men who would use her power and her own inner battles, her choices are always understandable under the circumstances even if they are “for worse.”

It does feature a love story, and this too seems different from the usual. After living in seclusion, Sybel’s the one who has to learn how to love and open herself to love (not just romantically, since first she learns to love Tamlorn and befriends Malega, a neighboring witch who teaches her how to care for the baby). Once she’s married, she’s making plans and working toward her own goals while keeping secrets for her husband’s own good and protection. It’s Sybel who inhabits the light side and the dark side and everything in between as she does what she thinks is best.

Despite delving into subjects related to the shadows of the soul and becoming what one most fears, The Forgotten Beasts of Eld is not what I’d call a particularly grim book, though I do want to warn potential readers that there are a couple of parts involving rape. One is just a brief mention that Sybel’s mother did not come to the mountain of her own free will, and there is also one attempted rape scene in which the woman rescues herself.

The Forgotten Beasts of Eld is a fantastic book with a lot to digest, yet it’s utterly captivating and never dull. It’s especially impressive how such a refined story without much action can seem so earth-shattering decades after its publication, especially in its portrayal of the heroine at its core. The Forgotten Beasts of Eld is a stunning masterpiece of fantasy, and I suspect this will not have been my last time rereading this elegantly written novel.

My Rating: 10/10

Where I got my reading copy: ARC from the publisher.

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I discuss books I got over the last week–old or new, bought or received in the mail for review consideration (usually unsolicited). Since I hope you will find new books you’re interested in reading in these posts, I try to be as informative as possible. If I can find them, links to excerpts, author’s websites, and places where you can find more information on the book are included.

Quite a few books came in the mail last week, including some that have already been featured here—and one that has been featured here that I’m currently giving away…

Last week, Julie E. Czerneda discussed The Hair from her Clan Chronicles series as part of her Against the Dark blog tour, and you can also enter to win her soon-to-be released conclusion to the Reunification series, To Guard Against the Dark, plus This Gulf of Time and Stars (US and Canada—giveaway ends October 10). You can also learn how to enter the sweepstakes for a chance to win all nine books in the Clan Chronicles!

And now, the latest books!

The Stone in the Skull by Elizabeth Bear

The Stone in the Skull (Lotus Kingdoms #1) by Elizabeth Bear

Hugo, Locus, and Sturgeon Award–winning author Elizabeth Bear’s latest novel, the first book in a new trilogy set in the same world as Eternal Sky (Range of Ghosts, Shattered Pillars, Steles of the Sky), will be released on October 10 (hardcover, ebook).

The Stone in the Skull appeared on my most anticipated books of 2017 list, so obviously, this is a book I’ve been looking forward to reading! Elizabeth Bear is one of my favorite authors because her books tend to be beautifully written and thoughtful, and I am especially fond of this world—in addition to being the setting of the Eternal Sky trilogy, it’s also the setting of the wonderful novellas Book of Iron and Bone and Jewel Creatures featuring the artificer Bijou.

The Tor-Forge blog has the first chapter from The Stone in the Skull, and has the second chapter.


Hugo Award–winning author Elizabeth Bear returns to her critically acclaimed epic fantasy world of the Eternal Sky with a brand new trilogy.

The Stone in the Skull, the first volume in her new trilogy, takes readers over the dangerous mountain passes of the Steles of the Sky and south into the Lotus Kingdoms.

The Gage is a brass automaton created by a wizard of Messaline around the core of a human being. His wizard is long dead, and he works as a mercenary. He is carrying a message from a the most powerful sorcerer of Messaline to the Rajni of the Lotus Kingdom. With him is The Dead Man, a bitter survivor of the body guard of the deposed Uthman Caliphate, protecting the message and the Gage. They are friends, of a peculiar sort.

They are walking into a dynastic war between the rulers of the shattered bits of a once great Empire.

The Lotus Kingdoms
#1 The Stone in the Skull

The Eternal Sky Trilogy
#1 Range of Ghosts
#2 Shattered Pillars
#3 Steles of the Sky

Neverwhere Illustrated Edition

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman; illustrated by Chris Riddell

This lovely new illustrated hardcover edition of New York Times bestselling author Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere was just released last week.

It contains the following:

  • Illustrations by award-winning artist and Waterstones Children’s Laureate 2015–2017 Chris Riddell
  • An introduction by the author
  • An edited version of the novel
  • An older prologue that was removed from the final version
  • An interview with the author
  • The short story “How the Marquis Got His Coat Back”

National Bestseller

Selected as one of NPR’S Top 100 Science Fiction and Fantasy Books of All Time

The #1 New York Times bestselling author’s dark classic of modern fantasy, beautifully illustrated for the first time by award-winning artist Chris Riddell, and featuring the author’s preferred text and his Neverwhere tale, “How the Marquis Got His Coat Back.”

Published in 1997, Neil Gaiman’s first novel, Neverwhere, heralded the arrival of a major talent. Over the years, various versions have been produced around the world. In 2016, this gorgeously illustrated edition of the novel was released in the UK. It is now available here, and features strikingly atmospheric, painstakingly detailed black-and-white line art by Chris Riddell, one of Gaiman’s favorite artistic interpreters of his work.

Richard Mayhew is a young London businessman with a good heart whose life is changed forever when he stops to help a bleeding girl—an act of kindness that plunges him into a world he never dreamed existed. Slipping through the cracks of reality, Richard lands in Neverwhere—a London of shadows and darkness, monsters and saints, murderers and angels that exists entirely in a subterranean labyrinth. Neverwhere is home to Door, the mysterious girl Richard helped in the London Above. Here in Neverwhere, Door is a powerful noblewoman who has vowed to find the evil agent of her family’s slaughter and thwart the destruction of this strange underworld kingdom. If Richard is ever to return to his former life and home, he must join Lady Door’s quest to save her world—and may well die trying.

Additional Books:

Today I’m delighted to welcome Julie E. Czerneda as part of the Against the Dark Blog Tour celebrating her soon-to-be-released latest novel! The final book in the Reunification trilogy (and the ninth in the Clan Chronicles), To Guard Against the Dark, will be on sale on October 10. I have a guest post by the author today to share with you as well as a book giveaway courtesy of DAW Books—plus information regarding how to enter DAW Books’ giveaway of all nine books in the Clan Chronicles!

To Guard Against the Dark by Julie E. Czerneda
Cover Credit: Matt Stawicki

The Hair

Oh, not mine! When our friend Bobbie B. suggested “The Hair” as a blog topic, she didn’t mean my locks. I love my hair, don’t get me wrong—it’s attached and came with the package, however unfair that my mother and brother had such thick stuff with glorious natural waves. Mine? More the fine and fly free variety. In other words, if I don’t ask it to appear thick and lush, it won’t embarrass me by failing. I’m content with a happy sparkle, if it stays out of my eyes.

Until the next new book release, that is, when I dash to have it cut. That way it stays out of my eyes and I don’t look like a forlorn shrub. (For those curious, yes, this is the real reason my hair received no attention whatsoever between Rift in the Sky (2009) and the release of A Turn of Light (2013), contrary to rumours I was attempting to grow fantasy-author tresses. Which oddly did happen, although it remained fine and flying free, thank you.)

No, this is about my main character’s, Sira’s, hair, now almost a character in its own right. The Hair even has fans. (You know who you are.)

In-joke: Anyone notice Sira first appeared in a wig? Thought not. Read the first excerpt now that you know. Later we learn her hair had fastenings in it, but those? To secure the wig. A disguise of sorts.

Morgan took the plate, sparing only a quick glance at its imprisoned memory of a woman or girl, dressed in the latest insystem fashion, hair elaborately dyed and styled, eyes too large for the face.

How Sira’s hair really looks? Might sound familiar.

I stopped, examining myself critically in the mirrored tile of the fresher. A stranger stared back: not tall, but slim; pale skin beginning to darken in the ship’s light — except for an angry red scoring on one cheek; wispy, fair hair tending to slide over grey wide-set eyes.

Not that I’d call my hair “wispy.” Oh no. Fine. That’s it.

A Thousand Words for Stranger by Julie E. Czerneda, Cover Art by Luis Royo
As you can see, Luis Royo captured Sira’s original hair perfectly, especially the soggy wet of this moment. However, The Hair didn’t stay this way.

But wait…

I’d given Sira my hair, not that I noticed doing it at the time, because I wanted her to (a) appear Human to all around her and (b) because I wanted Morgan (my other main character) to assume she was younger than she is. Little does he know…

Most of all, I needed Sira to become Clan.

I took one last look at the now cloudless sky, feeling just as empty and cold. I bit my lip until it hurt. I would not be controlled by some mindless force or instinct. I quivered with the effort to remain rational, calm, in command of myself. My hair stirred.

Stirred? I reached my hand cautiously upward only to snatch it back as a lock lifted softly to meet my fingers. Suddenly I was blinded by clouds of hair growing longer, lusher, vitalized by some life of its own.

I tried to contain the stuff into some kind of order, then ceased, helpless as hair wove itself about my fingers. Moments later, I found myself cautiously moving aside long strands which flowed with unfamiliar weight over and past my shoulders. By moons’ light, it was beautiful, glowing, with glints of deep gold.

Eventually, the stuff hung quiescent down to my waist, no longer crackling with life, at last behaving more like hair. But such hair! I stroked the heaviness of it with an almost guilty delight, distrustful of its origin.

When I finally settled beside Huido’s box for a hopefully uneventful sleep, I took some of my new hair in one hand and rubbed it slowly against my cheek, breathing its brand-new scent.

This Gulf of Time and Stars by Julie E. Czerneda, Cover Art by Matthew Stawicki
In-joke: For this flawless rendering of a mature Sira, for The Hair, Matthew Stawicki referred to the tentacles on Davy Jones in the Disney movie: Dead Man’s Chest.
In-joke: I told my hairdresser as she gave me my first pre-book release cut, for Thousand, how I’d arranged to give my main character The Hair every heroine seems to have, at least in romance novels. I didn’t tell her it was to make Sira less Human. She might not have understood.

You see, The Hair has opinions.

…[Rael] gazed down at her unconscious sister, eased her arm to better cradle Sira’s head and shoulders, and touched a loose strand of red-gold hair. After a second, the hair politely but firmly slid away from her fingers.

I felt a thrill of pain as my unresolvable fury tore at my inner controls. My hair squirmed on my shoulders as if it could reach out and wrap around [the enforcer’s]…throat.

This one change—hair that acted on its own—did everything I could ask. Sira immediately became something other, even to herself. Moreover, I could use The Hair to expose her innermost feelings: those she tried to hide; those she didn’t know or understand. An essential vulnerability. Not only did I intend for a deep, believable love to develop between Sira and Morgan, despite her efforts to deny and resist what was, to her kind, perilous, but Sira’s innate power and formidable will easily might have distanced her from both readers and other characters. With The Hair, I revealed what she dared not.

Light fingers stroked my hair, investigating its new fullness. I closed my eyes, not needing vision, feeling the living stuff quiver under Morgan’s touch, winding in soft whirls around his hand, slipping up his arm to whisper across his cheek.

The Hair, linked to Sira’s sexual maturity as Clan, became an enthused participant in anything to do with Morgan and I thoroughly enjoyed writing its naughty come-hither behaviour, particularly when it wasn’t at all appropriate and both were frustrated.

And, when it was.

A finger lifted in invitation. A lock of hair accepted, slipped around his hand and wrist, wove distractingly up his bare arm. I watched the blue of his eyes deepen, resisted the urge to lose myself in them. “What about the Council meeting?” I said, attempting to be responsible.  “We–”

The rest was lost beneath his lips–Later.–the kiss exquisitely tender and slow, as if he discovered the shape of my mouth for the first time.

Or wanted never to forget it.

In-joke: As a person who enjoys camping, I wrote some handy attributes to The Hair. Once wet, it would vibrate, then wring itself dry. Oh, and escape any fastening. There’s the ever-so-handy repelling of most dust and never needing a brush.

Final Note

As an author, there are times you type with heedless speed, caught in wondrous free-wheeling thoughts, only to produce what you sheepishly delete the next morning. Then there are the rarer mornings, when you reread and discover you’ve created something special, something vital to your characters and their story. For all the in-jokes and knowing smiles, The Hair—Sira’s magnificent red-gold tumble of misbehaving lush waves—was that special, vital something. Without its expressiveness, its sensual abandon, an entire meaningful layer of the Clan Chronicles wouldn’t exist and the story be poorer for it.

As for the Finale? I won’t spoil To Guard Against the Dark for you. Suffice to say, where there are Clan? There could be…The Hair. (And yes, I’ve had my pre-release cut. Quite snazzy, and well out of my eyes.)

In-joke: I was tempted to ignore the metal hairnet I’d mentioned once in passing in Thousand. After all, mysterious artifacts tended to spin out of control without serious world-building commitment. Instead, I jumped in to make the net a pivotal plot point in Stratification, key to a horrifying discovery, then later had it signal the growth in power in the Clan as Aryl uses it to bind her own strongly opinionated locks. The payoff? The net didn’t just work for hair, it became a link between all the books and time periods. You never know what will matter.
Clan Chronicles Series

About the Series:
The Clan Chronicles is set in a far future where a mutual Trade Pact encourages peaceful commerce among a multitude of alien and Human worlds. The alien Clan, humanoid in appearance, have been living in secrecy and wealth on Human worlds, relying on their innate ability to move through the M’hir and bypass normal space. The Clan bred to increase that power, only to learn its terrible price: females who can’t help but kill prospective mates. Sira di Sarc is the first female of her kind facing that reality. With the help of a Human starship captain, Jason Morgan, himself a talented telepath, Sira must find a morally acceptable solution before it’s too late. But with the Clan exposed, her time is running out. The Stratification trilogy follows Sira’s ancestor, Aryl Sarc, and shows how their power first came to be as well as how the Clan came to live in the Trade Pact. The Trade Pact trilogy is the story of Sira and Morgan, and the trouble facing the Clan. Reunification concludes the series, answering these question at last. Who are the Clan?

And what will be the fate of all?

Julie Czerneda
Photo Credit: Roger Czerneda Photography

About the Author:
For twenty years, Canadian author/former biologist Julie E. Czerneda has shared her curiosity about living things through her science fiction, published by DAW Books, NY. Julie’s also written fantasy, the first installments of her Night’s Edge series (DAW) A Turn of Light and A Play of Shadow, winning consecutive Aurora Awards (Canada’s Hugo) for Best English Novel. Julie’s edited/co-edited sixteen anthologies of SF/F, two Aurora winners, the latest being SFWA’s 2017 Nebula Award Showcase. Next out will be an anthology of original stories set in her Clan Chronicles series: Tales from Plexis, out in 2018. Her new SF novel, finale to that series, To Guard Against the Dark, lands in stores October 2017. When not jumping between wonderful blogs, Julie’s at work on something very special: her highly anticipated new Esen novel, Search Image (Fall 2018). Visit for more.

Against the Dark Giveaway Details

Fill out the form below to be entered to win Julie E. Czerneda’s latest book in hardcover, To Guard Against the Dark, plus a mass market of This Gulf of Time and Stars (US and Canada).

To enter the tour-wide giveaway of the entire nine-book series, click here.

Against the Dark Giveaway Rules: To be entered in the giveaway, fill out the form below OR send an email to kristen AT fantasybookcafe DOT com with the subject “Against the Dark Giveaway.” One entry per household and a winner will be randomly selected. Those from the United States or Canada are eligible to win this giveaway. The giveaway will be open until the end of the day on Tuesday, October 10. The winner has 24 hours to respond once contacted via email, and if I don’t hear from them by then a new winner will be chosen (who will also have 24 hours to respond until someone gets back to me with a place to send the book).

Please note email addresses will only be used for the purpose of contacting the winners. After the giveaway is over all the emails will be deleted.

Good luck!

Update: The form has been removed now that the giveaway is over.

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I talk about books I got over the last week–old or new, bought or received in the mail for review consideration (usually unsolicited). Since I hope you will find new books you’re interested in reading in these posts, I try to be as informative as possible. If I can find them, links to excerpts, author’s websites, and places where you can find more information on the book are included.

Last week brought a couple of books that look quite interesting—one new book and one I already featured here over the summer—but first…

In case you missed it, there’s been one new review since the last one of these posts covering Snowspelled (The Harwood Spellbook #1) by Stephanie Burgis, a delightful fantasy novella set in an alternate matriarchal version of England in which politics is traditionally the domain of women and magic is traditionally the domain of men.

And now, on to the latest books!

Starlings by Jo Walton

Starlings by Jo Walton

Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy Award–winning author Jo Walton’s first short story collection will be released on January 30, 2018 (trade paperback, ebook). Starlings also contains an introduction by the author, a brief afterword after each story, a play, and poetry.

The publisher’s website lists the table of contents.


An intimate first flight of short fiction from award-winning novelist Jo Walton (Among OthersThe King’s Peace).

A strange Eritrean coin travels from lovers to thieves, gathering stories before meeting its match. Google becomes sentient and proceeds toward an existential crisis. An idealistic dancer on a generation ship makes an impassioned plea for creativity and survival. Three Irish siblings embark on an unlikely quest, stealing enchanted items via bad poetry, trickery, and an assist from the Queen of Cats.

With these captivating initial glimpses into her storytelling psyche, Jo Walton shines through subtle myths and wholly reinvented realities. Through eclectic stories, subtle vignettes, inspired poetry, and more, Walton soars with humans, machines, and magic—rising from the everyday into the universe itself.

Additional Books:


Stephanie Burgis’ recent novella Snowspelled, the first installment in The Harwood Spellbook series, is a delightful romantic fantasy book set in an alternate version of nineteenth-century England with magic. In this world, Celtic Queen Boudicca’s rebellion against the Romans succeeded, and since then, the country of Angland has been a matriarchy ruled by a group known as the Boudiccate. Though it is always women who handle political issues such as maintaining the peace between their nation and the elves with whom they once warred, the more creative pursuit of magic has traditionally been the domain of men. However, Cassandra Harwood always had her heart set on being a magician, and she became the first woman to enter this male-dominated sphere—until an incident left her unable to cast a single spell without risking her life.

Four months after Cassandra’s magical accident, she and the rest of her family—her brother Jonathan and his wife Amy—brave a snowstorm to attend a week-long house party. Cassandra had no inclination whatsoever to accept the invitation, especially since her ex-fiancé Wrexham would be present, but her sister-in-law believed that to be exactly the reason she must go and needled her into attending.

They arrive in the midst of a great commotion: their hostess’ cousin and her traveling companions are believed to be lost in the snowstorm. Cassandra joins the search party, but instead of wandering into the missing guests, she wanders atop what appears to be a snow-covered hill—but is in fact a snow-covered troll.

Without her magic, Cassandra doesn’t see a way to escape when the troll awakens from his long slumber, but she attempts to speak with him in an old language and is pleased to discover he seems to understand her. She promises that if the troll lets her (and Wrexham, who had been sent to catch up with her) safely down, she’ll make sure no one else will bother him, knowing that if she makes it known that a troll is on this land, efforts will be taken to avoid disturbing him.

To Cassandra’s delight, her plan works, but she doesn’t get to exult in her success for long. The troll’s master, a devious elf-lord, overheard her vow and claims that it binds her to discover who caused the unnatural snowstorm that agitated his pet. She has seven days to figure out the culprit, and failure would make her subject to the elf-lord’s punishment—and refusal to play by his rules would put the already-tenuous peace treaty between Angland and the elves at stake…

Snowspelled is an entertaining, lighthearted tale that I found rather easy to breeze through. Though Cassandra’s first person narrative is straightforward with quite a bit of telling as the setting and characters are introduced, it moves at a good pace that is further enhanced by the fun dialogue and romantic subplot. The plot is neat and fairly predictable and the characters do not have much complexity (although Cassandra’s personal journey is satisfying), but it’s an engaging story nonetheless. It’s particularly impressive that it manages to include some rather serious subject matter—such as the challenges of strict gender roles in society and Cassandra’s great loss—while remaining light and optimistic overall.

The main way it achieves this is by focusing on themes related to progress and moving forward, both as a society and an individual. It’s clear that Cassandra was devastated by her inability to continue practicing magic: her identity and sense of purpose were strongly tied to being a magician, a lifelong goal she’d fought tooth and nail to make into reality. This novella picks up four months after this disaster and two months after Cassandra broke off her engagement because she thought that would be best for Wrexham, and at this time, she’s beginning to put the pieces of her life back together. Snowspelled is largely about Cassandra’s acceptance of her situation and realization that she is more—and has more—than her innate magical ability.

This is probably at least partially due to time, but the fact that Cassandra has a wonderful support system is probably also responsible. She and her brother Jonathan, a historian, have always been close; the two siblings both had career aspirations considered unsuitable for their respective sexes since they were young (and both entered their respective desired fields). Though Cassandra seems to have very little in common with her sister-in-law Amy, a politician, the two get along well with Amy’s perception and kindness being a great help to Cassandra.

Of course, there’s also Wrexham, a fellow magician with whom she competed for the top spot in school, and their romance was one of the highlights of the novel. Wrexham obviously still wants to be with Cassandra (and both Amy and their hostess seem to be trying to put them in each other’s paths), but he pursues her without being overly aggressive, jealous, or the type of man who won’t take ‘no’ for an answer. Their interactions are quite amusing, and though their problems seem as though they could have been easily resolved had they just talked to one another, I found it believable that they did not under the circumstances. Cassandra has a pattern of deciding that those close to her would be better off if they did not become involved in her problems, and because of that, she doesn’t fill them in and allow them the opportunity to make their own choices about whether or not to help her.

This tendency to go it alone is one obstacle that Cassandra faces, and in general, I found her an imperfect but sympathetic and (mostly) realistic character. The way she lost her magic was her own fault and did seem rather foolish, but I also felt that it worked given her desperation, stubbornness, and pride. There was one case of her missing the obvious that I didn’t find convincing: although it was explained as being overlooked due to her lack of interest in all matters related to politics, I didn’t find that reasoning entirely plausible since I’d already assumed what she failed to realize from just a few chapters of her first person narrative. It was not at all a complex concept, and although I could understand how never having considered this fit with her personality, I ultimately couldn’t quite swallow that she’d never have thought of it.

The handling of the society’s strict adherence to gender roles is also forward-looking instead of making the story heavy. Both men and women face challenges because of the belief that only women are pragmatic enough for politics and only men are imaginative enough for magic, but it’s about the beginning of breaking down these barriers. Cassandra may have been the first woman to have the persistence, privilege, and support necessary to actually become a magician, but she’s not the first woman to have this capability—nor will she be the last and only woman to become a magician.

Snowspelled is an enchanting, well-done novella that remains light even when dealing with some serious situations. Though it didn’t have enough complexity to be a standout book for me personally, I enjoyed it and admire Stephanie Burgis’ skill in writing a hopeful, well-paced story founded on palpable real-world issues. It’s the perfect match when one is in the mood for a fairly short, diverting story with a sense of optimism, and I am definitely interested in finding out what happens to Cassandra in Thornbound (scheduled for release in 2018).

My Rating: 7/10

Where I got my reading copy: Ebook ARC from the author.

Related Links:

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I talk about books I got over the last week–old or new, bought or received in the mail for review consideration (usually unsolicited). Since I hope you will find new books you’re interested in reading in these posts, I try to be as informative as possible. If I can find them, links to excerpts, author’s websites, and places where you can find more information on the book are included.

Like the previous week, there’s only one new book to add to the pile, but it sounds like fun!

Last week didn’t leave me with a lot of spare time so there have not been any new posts since last weekend, but I’m hoping I’ll soon have time to work on a review of Stephanie Burgis’ fun new book Snowspelled.

A Spoonful of Magic by Irene Radford

A Spoonful of Magic by Irene Radford

This urban fantasy by Irene Radford, whose previous books include the Dragon Nimbus and Merlin’s Descendants series, will be released on November 7 (mass market paperback, ebook).


A delightful new urban fantasy about a kitchen witch and her magical family

Daphne “Daffy” Rose Wallace Deschants has an ideal suburban life—three wonderful and talented children; a coffee shop and bakery, owned and run with her best friend; a nearly perfect husband, Gabriel, or “G” to his friends and family. Life could hardly be better.

But G’s perfection hides dangerous secrets. When Daffy uncovers evidence of his infidelity, her perfect life seems to be in ruins. On their wedding anniversary, Daffy prepares to confront him, only to be stopped in her tracks when he foils a mugging attempt using wizard-level magic.

Suddenly, Daphne is part of a world she never imagined—where her husband is not a traveling troubleshooter for a software company, but the sheriff of the International Guild of Wizards, and her brilliant children are also budding magicians. Even she herself is not just a great baker and barista—she’s actually a kitchen witch. And her discovery of her powers is only just beginning.

But even the midst of her chaotic new life, another problem is brewing. G’s ex-wife, a dangerous witch, has escaped from her magical prison. Revenge-bent and blind, she needs the eyes of her son to restore her sight—the son Daffy has raised as her own since he was a year old. Now Daphne must find a way to harness her new powers and protect her family—or risk losing everything she holds dear.