Buckle up, folks, this is going to be a long one.
So, I saw on a FB group that an author was looking for readers of an upcoming book. It was book 2 in a series, and it had very pretty covers, so I volunteered. First, I read book 1. So, here we go:
The King’s Spell by E.J. Kitchens:
Only a king can banish sorcerers and strip enchanters of their power. Only a king is immune to spells and potions. Only a king knows the truth behind the legends. Until now.
Magic Collector Devryn Ashby may have deserved the curse that saps his magic-manipulating abilities, but it certainly won’t help him with the task King Reginald has assigned him. Instead of allowing him to continue hunting for those who stole the powerful Enchanter’s List, the king makes Devryn trainer-in-magic to the mischievous enchantress Lady Meredith Lofton.
Except for an occasional matchmaking exploit, Lady Meredith has little use for her power of enchantment—until the king asks her to train in magical warfare techniques. This both excites and terrifies her. And irks her, for she refuses to be bossed around by the critical Devryn Ashby, a man she’s not even sure she should trust.
But as dangers increase and the sorcerers’ schemes unfold, Devryn and Meredith must choose whom to follow—their own desires and prejudices or their king. Only a king knows how much the kingdom depends on their choice.
THE KING’S SPELL, Realm and Wand book 1, is a YA Christian fantasy series with a “Jane Austen romance meets fantasy adventure” feel. It’s mystery and adventure with a slow-burn romance. It is part of the Magic Collectors story world but is a standalone series. Devryn Ashby is a minor character in The Rose and the Wand, but it is not necessary to have read that book beforehand.
My review: 3/5 stars. It’s a Regency style fantasy world with fancy dresses and top hats, and all the social and political craziness that goes with a Jane Austen novel. There are the enchanters, who are people born with magic. There are the Half-magics, who have the ability to take magic from an enchanter and use it, but they don’t generate magic themselves. There are Sensors, who can tell when someone or an object has magic, but they can’t manipulate it. Then there are the Sorcerers, who … uh … I guess do bad things with magic and enslave people and stuff. Thing is, we hear about them, but we don’t see them in action.
The worldbuilding for these books is terrific. The characters are fun. But the book is hampered by a couple of things.
First off, even though the summary says that you don’t need to have read the earlier books … you need to have read the earlier books. King’s Spell starts off with a villain from an earlier book being stripped of his magic, demonstrating just what the King’s Spell can do. Devryn, the half-magic hero, has a cursed cut on his hand that keeps him from collecting magic. How’d he get it? Whoops, if you didn’t read The Rose and the Wand, you’re up a creek, because the book is going to tiptoe around the plot of the earlier book without telling you much. Which is a shame, because his curse has all kinds of interesting conditions that are barely touched on.
Second, the cover art screams ‘romance’, but this book is not romance. It’s historical fantasy thriller. It’s all about the mystery of an assassin trying to off the king, and a lot of trying to figure out the pieces of the mystery and put them together. This is great if you were expecting a thriller. Not so great if you were expecting a romance.
Meredith, the heroine, is cute and spunky and associates with Oliver Twist-esque pickpocket kids, trying to get them off the street and into a respectable orphanage. These kids wind up knowing an awful lot about the evil sorcerers trying to infiltrate the country. But at the same time, Meredith is a happy carrier of the Idiot Ball, which she will lug for pages and pages. In fact, the end of the book is a cliffhanger in which she lugs the Idiot Ball clear off the side of a dock into a river. I liked her as a character and I kept waiting for her to put two and two together. Hm, no, she never does.
Welp, so much for book 1. Onto book 2!
The King’s Enchantress by E.J. Kitchens:
Only a king has no magic and yet the command of it. Only a king does an enchantress serve. But even a sorcerer can be a king to some.
Devryn Ashby has reluctantly accepted his appointment as Guardian—a trainer in magic—to enchantress Meredith Lofton, but the effects of his curse are getting worse. If he can’t get find a way to get around it or cure it, he might be forced to reveal his secret to the Loftons and King Reginald. He’d do almost anything to keep his curse a secret. And the Dark Mage knows it.
But with Meredith and her beloved street urchins in danger and something both magical and animal hunting enchanters for the Dark Mage, Devryn must learn to overcome his curse. Or work with an enchantress.
The King’s Enchantress is book 2 of the clean “Jane Austen romance meets fantasy adventure” series Realm and Wand.
My review: 3/5 stars
Book 2 starts right off with the climax book 1 didn’t have. I don’t know why it was removed from book 1 and installed in book 2, instead. Meredith recovers from her fall in the river weirdly fast, the terrible curse she was suffering from turns out to be only a sort of magical food poisoning. She and Devryn actually interact to save some urchin kids (GASP they actually interacted! This almost never happened in book 1).
This funky precedent is being set with these books. In between the gorgeous worldbuilding and the tantalizing tastes of magic, the fascinating politics and the mysterious notes from the Dark Mage, there is no real tension. A Bad Thing happens and then … it gets resolved with few consequences. Over and over.
King’s Enchantress is 445 pages long, and it should have been about 100 pages shorter. There are pages and pages of filler scenes where the characters diligently study books at the library and learn nothing. The best parts, where Devryn and Meredith are training in magic, are sparse and short. The pacing is S L O W. I know some people like slow pacing, and that seems to be an expectation for these semi-fairytale books. But it would be pages and pages before anything actually happened. I kept expecting the pieces to fall into place. Soon I’d reach a part where I’d understand everything. Everything would be explained. I was at 70%. They’d explain everything at 80%, right? Or at 90%?
The whole book is about tracking these magically altered animals called mage hunters. They attack enchanters and suck the magic out of them. The whole book is about these things. And then, suddenly, in the climax of the book … there are no mage hunters. There’s a sorcerer plot to enslave the heroes with a spell that had literally never been mentioned until that point. You’d think in all those 445 pages, it might have been mentioned that sorcerers could enthrall enchanters and use them as slaves. Seems like an important plot point. But nope.
I reached the end of the book frustrated at the lack of any explanation of anything. Devryn hasn’t figured out the curse on his hand despite some really obvious foreshadowing. Meredith learned something important about the mage hunters and … nothing came of it. The romance was limited to fluttery feelings and denial of those feelings. I imagine these plot threads will be explored in later books, but it made for a really unsatisfying read. I kept thinking and hoping that there would be that AHA moment when it all comes together, and it never did.
Overall, both books get a 3/5 star rating from me. Good writing, fascinating worldbuilding and politics, highly imaginative uses of magic, but hampered by a lack of cohesion and consistency in the storytelling.