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Spellcast by Barbara Ashford

Spellcast
Barbara Ashford

This is a review for a book I received from the publisher/author.

The Premise: When Maggie Graham is laid off and her apartment ceiling collapses into her bathroom on the same day, she has a good cry, then dusts herself off and decides she needs to figure out what to do next. So she packs up and drives. She finds herself in Dale, Vermont, next to a tiny theatre holding auditions for their summer program. On a whim Maggie tries out, and gets a small part. At the Crossroads Theatre, Maggie meets many people, including mysterious, otherworldly director, Rowan McKenzie, who chooses roles according to need rather than talent. As the summer at Dale continues, the more Maggie learns about Rowan and his special relationship with the theatre and the town.

Read an excerpt of Spellcast here

My Thoughts: It's hard to categorize this book. I think it falls under contemporary fantasy, but it feels like it's themes are more about the human condition than it is about the fantastic, although there is a definite otherworldly influence that permeates Maggie's experiences in Dale. It also has romantic elements, it doesn't follow the usual romantic conventions. I would say that the story has fantasy and romance elements but it also has a healthy dose of realism.

The story begins with Maggie's introduction to the Crossroads Theatre and is integrated into it's family-like atmosphere. I think that if you are a fan of musical theatre and if you've been part of the stage atmosphere yourself you will enjoy the camaraderie that quickly becomes part of Maggie's life. It starts off as you would expect: meeting a lot of people in a short amount of time - the other out-of-towners who have stumbled upon the Crossroads and have auditioned, as well as the locals that keep the Crossroads running. There's a  a dizzying number of characters introduced in a short time, particularly at the start of the book, which I found a little confusing at first, but once I got my bearings and was able to group characters into cast and locals I was good to go, and the large number of characters seems necessary to the theatre atmosphere.

There's a friendliness and enthusiasm that Maggie feels, but she notices some strange things as well. The other actors found themselves in Dale much the way she did - they somehow stumbled upon it by chance, with no prior plans to be there. Then there is the theater director, Rowan, who makes some odd choices in who will play what roles. As Maggie gets to know the Crossroads, she realizes that there's a reason for the plays beyond mere entertainment, and Rowan is at the center of why.  So Maggie watches the enigmatic Rowan, taking note of his Svengali-like appeal and influence over the cast and crew. The permanent theatre people are protective of his secrets, which only makes Maggie more curious.  As the summer continues, she finds out what he really is, and of course the more she discovers the more involved she becomes in Rowan's life.

Compared to most of the other characters, Maggie is relatively level-headed, and most of the story is told in her first person point of view, so we get to see the Crossroads through her no-nonsense, slightly cynical gaze.  Maggie's refusal to have the wool pulled over her eyes makes her the ideal character to explain the unreal goings on at the theatre and to uncover what is behind it. Interspersed with Maggie's POV are small sections where Rowan's feelings about Maggie are described in a sort of diary-entry format.

Of course the combination of Maggie's character with that of Rowan's and the mutual interest, there is the set up for a romance, but while this story is romantic, i didn't feel like it followed the rules of your usual Romance. Although I could feel Maggie's excitement and growing feelings for Rowan, I found myself disconnected from it. It felt like there were too many obstacles and people involved, and that I didn't know enough about Rowan to understand Maggie's feelings, but this disconnect worked within this story, where it may not have worked elsewhere.  Ultimately Maggie and Rowan's relationship in Spellcast is more about their individual growth through their knowing one another than it was about following the usual romantic path. I actually liked where their story went and how this book was resolved. There was something satisfying and hopeful about the ending of Spellcast even though it may not be the ending you expect (although it does try to warn you).

Spellcast felt self-contained but I found out that its the start of a series. The sequel comes out Spring 2012.

Overall: I liked this one. It has a unique mix of elements - real life with it's human problems sharing space with the fantastic and fairytale, with a romantic, musical theatre twist. I'm not sure how to describe it, but it managed to convey love and life in a way that felt equal parts everyday and otherworldly. I like that it had elements that were a little uncomfortable and alien, and that things didn't work out as they would in a fairytale, but it still had an ending that felt right. With a sequel in the works, I'm eager to discover where the story will go next.

Buy: Amazon | Powell's | The Book Depository

Other reviews:
Wicked Lil Pixie - 5 stars (out of 5)

Comments

( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
estara
May. 20th, 2011 05:36 pm (UTC)
Okay, you like it and Joshua Palmatier also likes it - I'll be linking this at the dawbooks community. The more I hear the more it comes across to me as slice-of-life. I definitely will check an excerpt now.
janicu
May. 20th, 2011 06:08 pm (UTC)
Yup, "slice of life" mixed with contemporary fantasy. In a good way. I seem to have a nice run of books I've liked lately :)
calico_reaction
May. 21st, 2011 03:48 am (UTC)
Yay!!!! :)

I need to (re) read this myself and get a review up! :)
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )

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