Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy, paranormal romance, urban fantasy
Series: Witchlore #2
Published by Graydon House on August 29, 2023
Purchasing Info: Author's Website, Publisher's Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Bookshop.org, Better World Books
Is her magic a threat to witchkind…or is she simply powerful enough to save the world?
Rebekah Wilde was eighteen when she left St. Cyprian, officially stripped of her magic and banished from her home. Ten years later, she’s forced to return to face the Joywood Coven, who preside over not just her hometown but the whole magical world. Rebekah is happy to reunite with her sister, and with her friends, but the implications of her return are darker and more dangerous than they could have imagined.
The Joywood are determined to prove Rebekah and her friends are a danger to witchkind, and her group faces an impending death sentence if they can’t prove otherwise. Rebekah must seek help from the only one who knows how to stop the Joywood—the ruthless immortal Nicholas Frost. Years ago, he was her secret tutor in magic, and her secret impossible crush. But the icy immortal is as remote and arrogant as ever, and if he feels anything for Rebekah—or witchkind—it’s impossible to tell.
In Small Town, Big Magic, the first book in the Witchlore series, there was something rotten at the heart of small, witchy, St. Cyprian Missouri. But by the end of the story it seemed more than obvious that what was going wrong was a big and nasty disturbance at the confluence of the Mississippi, Missouri and the hidden Illinois river that gives the town all of its witchy power.
It seemed obvious because defeating the nasty in the confluence was the big, climactic battle that nearly ends the book – at least until after it’s been subdued. Which is when that first book ended, on the mic drop that the powers that be had shown up to bring the hammer down because they didn’t do it the ‘right’ way with ‘approved’ witches – even as they proceeded to gaslight the newly formed coven about whether the evil that was about to literally flood the town ever existed in the first place.
And that’s where this second book picks up the action, as the ruling coven of witchkind, the oh-so-inappropriately named ‘Joywood’, brings that hammer down in a way that is so petty and such an over-the-top attempt at belittling AND gaslighting that the new coven knows that whatever this is all about, it isn’t about what they did so much as who they are – even if they don’t know why. At least not yet.
They don’t have much time to find out, either. Ten years ago, back when Emerson and Rebekah Wilde were both eighteen, the sisters failed their coming of age ceremony and were supposed to be stripped of not merely their magic but their memories of it. Emerson emerged as kind of a shadow of her true self – at least until the events of the first book when she not only broke the block on her memory but reclaimed her powers as well.
Rebekah never forgot a thing, because she ran into exile instead. She couldn’t practice her magic, she couldn’t come home, and she couldn’t bear to keep in contact with the friends she left behind because her sister wasn’t really her sister anymore.
Now she’s back, doing her level best, which sometimes fails, to not fall back into the destructive behaviors of her adolescence. Because that’s just what Joywood wants and she’s able to focus her rebellious streak on denying them that above all things.
The one thing from those years that she can’t seem to let go of is her ‘crush’ on the cold, powerful, gorgeous and immortal asshole, Nicholas Frost. Back then, he secretly trained her power but abandoned her when she needed him most. This time around he’s playing the biggest game of ‘come here no stay away’ that has ever been played.
But Rebekah isn’t a teenager any more, and she’s tired of being played – by Nicholas, by Joywood and especially by a fate that has kicked her around for the last time – no matter what it takes to bring it and her powers to her command and no one and nothing else’s.
Escape Rating B+: In that opening bit of petty bullshit, I began wondering if the reason that nasty showed up in the river was either because Joywood summoned it themselves – or if they were just so corrupt that like called to like. I’m still debating that particular question – but hunting for the answer certainly kept me turning pages.
In fact, I liked this second book a bit better than the first, because I felt for Rebekah and her snarky rebellion in a way that Emerson’s partially-manufactured goody-two-shoes perfection did not touch. What I liked best about Rebekah was that she never fell for Joywood’s act. It’s all a setup and she knows it’s a setup and she never pretends otherwise to herself or her friends.
Even better, it doesn’t take much to convince her friends that she’s right. It is not paranoia if someone really is out to get you, and Joywood really does have it in for the Wilde sisters. Even if the why of it all is still a bit TBD (to be determined).
A question that has yet to be completely resolved by the end of Big Little Spells. The question that DOES manage to get itself resolved is the romantic question, the one about what’s really going on in that hot immortal asshole’s cold, cold heart when it comes to Rebekah. For that, at least, we get the whys and the wherefores, AND we get a resolution that deals at least partially with what would otherwise be a vast power imbalance.
And it was great to see some truly epic UST get resolved, along with the processing of a whole bunch of suppressed grief as well as a bit of a stand up and cheer moment from at least half the town.
So stuff happened. In fact, this book in particular was more about the stuff happening, the things being done – or attempting to be done – TO Rebekah and company than anything else. It was, in a peculiar way, more than a bit political. And I was all there for it. Some readers did not like this as much as Small Town, Big Magic because it was more about witchy small-town politics and the mean no-longer-girls in charge of them and less about the romance. Personally, I liked this one better for the shift.
But the things that did not get resolved, that are still hanging over the series like the proverbial Sword of Damocles – or more like Chekhov’s Gun on the mantel waiting to be fired – are the questions about the true motivations and the depths of the corruption that Joywood has sunk to in their quest for power.
The answers to those questions seem to be being dribbled out slowly so as to be able to give each of the romances their chances to shine – and to put together the steps necessary to defeat the evil that Joywood represents. I liked this particular droplet of that part of the story more than the first. There are intended to be two more books in the series to finish things – and hopefully the Joywood – off.
So far, at least, I’m in for another round, because this was better than the first. We’ll just have to see how that goes as the series continues.