Fiction, Reviews

Spellbound by Allie Therin

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I never met anyone like you, Ace, like a lighthouse in a storm, take me with you.

*There may be spoilers in the content warning section above the summary. Tread lightly!*

Published: July 2019
Genre: Historical Fiction, Fantasy, Romance
Representation: People of Colour (Italian, Chinese, and Black Americans); LGBTQIA2S+ (gay/bisexual/pansexual/mlm)
Content Warning: living on the brink of homelessness; mention of systemic racism in the US; past death of a family members; past mistreatment by a parent; lobotomy to treat mental illness; magical violence; knife violence; kidnapping; murder; having debt left by the death of a family member; mention of alcoholism (incl. death due to alcohol poisoning); watching someone die; losing control of your mind; being treated as crazy/being institutionalized; strong feelings of loneliness/isolation; visual and auditory hallucinations; losing time to hallucinations; anti-miscegenation; fear of being “outed”.

Summary

To save Manhattan, they’ll have to save each other first…

1925

New York

Arthur Kenzie’s life’s work is protecting the world from the supernatural relics that could destroy it. When an amulet with the power to control the tides is shipped to New York, he must intercept it before it can be used to devastating effects. This time, in order to succeed, he needs a powerful psychometric…and the only one available has sworn off his abilities altogether.

Rory Brodigan’s gift comes with great risk. To protect himself, he’s become a recluse, redirecting his magic to find counterfeit antiques. But with the city’s fate hanging in the balance, he can’t force himself to say no.

Being with Arthur is dangerous, but Rory’s ever-growing attraction to him begins to make him brave. And as Arthur coaxes him out of seclusion, a magical and emotional bond begins to form. One that proves impossible to break—even when Arthur sacrifices himself to keep Rory safe and Rory must risk everything to save him.

— summary from Allie Therin’s website

Review

We purchased this ebook on a whim, honestly – we were on a mini, low-budget shopping spree, with the goal of discovering more queer, independently published, little-known authors. All things considered, we were sure we’d enjoy what we picked up, but we didn’t expect to absolutely fall in love with Spellbound by Allie Therin and the Magic in Manhattan trilogy overall.

As the summary indicates, Spellbound is a historical fantasy romance novel set in New York during the Roaring 20s. First off, the 20s is such a fun time to read about, and especially in New York, the whole setting definitely elevated the experience of the novel. The characters are undeniably loveable as soon as you meet them, every one – even those who are meant to be antagonists cannot be immediately hated, especially once you learn more about their motivations. The romance between Ace and Rory was sweet and electric, and their whole relationship was so low-conflict which can be lovely when you’re looking for a lighter read as escapism. And the supporting cast of characters made for a book filled with contagiously laugh-out-loud humour and a sweet found-family setup, even as the story explores some of the characters’ darker experiences. 

Therin is definitely a skilled writer, as Spellbound was fun and engaging from the start. She does a phenomenal job capturing the period that the novel is set in and really breathing 1920s New York to life in our imaginations. Along with the setting, Spellbound’s magic system is interesting, and there is such a broad expanse of magic abilities and artifacts that serve to intrigue and astound the reader.

A lot of historical fiction works tend to lack diversity, which can be terribly off-putting when you’re looking to diversify your shelf. It also makes you question the other side of the narrative – diversity has existed in society for a long time, so is the author ignoring it out of intentional disinterest or ignorance? The argument that a lack of diversity is more “historically accurate” is overused, boring, and patently false. Therin, however, does a phenomenal job capturing diversity in this novel, through our ragtag group of protagonists as well as our villains and background characters. Our main crew is composed of smooth and charming mother-hen Arthur, who wants nothing more than to protect everyone; prickly cinnamon roll Rory, an Italian who can ascertain the history of material objects through tactile connections; gender-norm-defying speakeasy co-owner Jade, a Black woman who is rambunctious and kind, and who can literally control objects with her mind; and sweet and unfazeable Asian-American Zhang who walks the “astral plane” and whose family investigates paranormal anomalies. Along with these folks, we have a background cast of equally fun and delightful characters that we couldn’t help but immediately fall in love with. Even our baddies have intricate backstories and fascinating powers. 

Meanwhile, the story is a bit of a slow build-up that takes its time with setting up the background of the world, its characters, and its mechanics regarding magic. It can take some time for the fun to kick in, which is where we can deeply appreciate the largely loveable characters. By virtue of their experiences, our characters have gone through a lot and come out of it in one piece at the other side – but Spellbound sets up a whole conflict that they all become entangled in. By the end of the book, the stakes are raised in a heart-pounding, action-packed conflict that keeps you hooked. Even while we say that, we do want to clarify that Spellbound isn’t a heavy read. The approach Therin takes with her writing doesn’t hit you in a terrible way even as shit hits the fan in the novel – like we said earlier, it therefore makes for perfect escapism. And intermingled through all of it is Arthur and Rory’s budding romance filled with sweetly spoken Italian and two men who find love after all of the trauma they have been through.

I think you stopped my heart. Luce dei miei occhi, baciami.

We absolutely adored Therin’s debut, and we’re looking forward to what she has in store for us next! It’s a gorgeous balance of stakes and sweetness, and we are totally here for it.

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