I have been looking forward to Spellcrossed ever since I learned that there would be a sequel to the first book, Spellcast. In Spellcast, Maggie Graham, a plucky New Yorker is thrown for a loop when she’s laid off and her apartment ceiling collapses on the same day. She heads out to recover and stumbles on a theater in the middle of nowhere and basically has a life-changing summer with and a touch of the otherworldly. My review of that first installment is here:
The second book starts up two years after the last one left off (so I recommend you read these in order). Disclosure: I’ve met the author in person and I received this book for review from the publisher at her request.
**** There will be minor spoilers for the first book in this review! If you haven’t read it, either skip down to the ‘Overall’ section or read my review of book 1 ****
The Premise: It’s been two years since Maggie Graham’s first summer at the Crossroads Theatre. A lot has changed in two years. The theater has become nonprofit, and Maggie is its new executive director and artistic director. There are professional actors as well as amateurs in the cast, and the Crossroads even works with groups of children in some of its selections. Maggie is now the owner of the local hotel, the Golden Bough, and has slowly begun to update its look. A lot of things have changed, but one thing stays the same for Maggie — her feelings for the lover who walked away. Rowan was freed of his curse and returned to Faerie two years ago, and even though her it’s time to move on, it’s not that easy.
My Thoughts: Spellcrossed was a surprise. The surprise was it took me a lot longer to read this book than I was expecting to. According to goodreads I started it June 11th and finished it July 4th. Now, I didn’t expect Spellcrossed to be an action-packed adventure — the first installment is more character driven than anything else and I enjoyed that quite a lot, but from the get go I understood the premise: Maggie needing to figure out her life — along the way she falls in love and gets involved in the personal dramas of the Crossroads Theatre cast. The romance was quiet but tinged with mystery, and the struggles of the other actors brought a new layer of meaning to their work at the theater.
In Spellcrossed, the direction of the story felt less clear in its first few pages. It’s almost two years down the road from when Rowan left her and Maggie spends her time working on the Crossroads and the Golden Bough. It’s the beginning of summer and she’s starting rehearsals for a production of Annie. New characters are introduced (child actors and professionals as well as some amateurs), and a typical summer of theater at the Crossroads begins — full of the trials and tribulations of putting on a show. There are plenty of vignettes about things going wrong but I wasn’t sure where the story was headed until 75 pages in. Until then, the story spends quite a lot of time with the minutia of Maggie’s job as director. I am not really a fan of musical theater, and maybe that’s the reason why I questioned what the point was. In the last book it made sense that the reader knew the details of the productions and of the actors’ struggles because this was part of character growth, especially Maggie’s, but here it felt less vital.
Since I liked the first book so much I decided that Spellcrossed was just a quiet book and it was taking it’s time to ramp up, but in hindsight 75 pages is a long time to get the ball rolling, and I wouldn’t be surprised if readers stopped reading before the story really begins because of the lack of direction. The problem is that once there is something to chew on, Spellcrossed is still ramping up. Even after Rowan returns, bringing with him Maggie’s long lost father (highlight for spoilery things that happen in the first one hundred pages of the book), when I wanted to explore what was happening to Maggie, the theater kept taking up her time and the pages of the book. I felt like the theater and the other characters didn’t add much to the pacing or the story and I mentally wanted to cut swaths from this book and skip ahead to the meat: Maggie and the important relationships in her life.
When the book does hit its stride it is exactly what I wanted it to be, but the tragedy is that it takes a good three quarters of the book to get there. Until then I was mentally writing a “this book didn’t meet my expectations” review. When I hit the last one hundred and fifty or two hundred pages? That was when I really was there, getting caught up in what would happen next and empathizing over Maggie’s tough choices. The ending of this book, with it’s mix of sorrow and happiness was what I loved so much about Spellcast and had been hoping to see here. This is where the story delves into the messiness of love and relationships. Again this wasn’t an ending that was rainbows for everyone, but I think it ended the way it should. Just like when I finished the first book, it felt right. In the end I was very glad I kept going.
Overall: As with Spellcast, Spellcrossed is contemporary fantasy, but the contemporary parts ground the fantasy. Magic and the otherworldly are present, but everyday human connections are the real glue of the story. I liked this one, but it may not be for the impatient because it starts slowly and takes its time ramping up before its strong finish.
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