SPELLBOUND by Ophelia Silk (BOOK REVIEW)
Content warnings (from author’s site): child abuse, heteronormativity, (attempted) forced marriage.
Jane Paris is everything a young woman should be: polite, charming, and obedient, with a glowing reputation and a good man all but begging for her hand in marriage. If she has any doubts about her role in life, they’re easy to push down. But when she takes a fateful shortcut through the woods, her idyllic life is threatened by an attack from the fabled beasts who stalk the trees. Fortunately, she’s rescued by the equally fabled witch who lives there. Unfortunately, the attack has left injuries that only the witch can heal. Jane is forced to stay with her until she recovers.
This poses a problem, because the witch, Adelaide Thompson, is everything that Jane is not: blunt, abrasive, and unapologetic. But there is more to the fabled woman of the woods than meets the eye, and her harsh exterior belies a gentle kindness. As they grow closer, Jane’s attraction to both magic and the witch herself get harder to ignore. But can a life with Adelaide alone and cut off from society truly fulfil her, or will she be forced to compromise on her happiness no matter her choice?
This is exactly my cup of tea – gentle, low stakes fantasy that focuses on character-building and takes its time to let people grow. Plus, it’s got a prickly, independent witch as a love interest, which is a character archetype I love, so when the authors offered me a review copy I leapt at the chance! Spellbound is pretty different from Ophelia Silk’s previous book, Dragon Tamer: where that had loads of action, this is a much quieter book. Not every love story has to have dramatic obstacles in its way; sometimes, it’s about internal change, and this is such an incredibly beautiful depiction of how one character can bring another out of their shell, and of recovery from emotional trauma. I loved every moment.
Jane has been scared of the stories her community tells about the woods and the witch they hold all her life, and as a ‘good’ girl she would never try to find out more until she’s pushed past her breaking point. She reminded me a little of Larkspur from A Song for the Road, in that she’s dismissed by the people around her as boring and nice, but she finds a core of strength when she needs it – it’s not a heroine type I tend to be drawn to, but I really fell in love with Jane and her journey of self-discovery. Adelaide is far more my typical preferred heroine – someone capable and self-possessed to the point of being unassailably independent – and having her take the love interest role to Jane’s main character was a really interesting way to flip the character conventions on their heads. Sparks fly between the two of them immediately, and while I wouldn’t quite say they start out as enemies, it’s definitely a journey from deep mistrust and difficulty communicating to lovers (which I admit isn’t quite as catchy!). Those who are familiar with romance tropes will immediately recognise ‘you’re wounded and you have to stay here while I heal you’ as a time-honoured set-up, and it’s played to perfection here, giving Jane and Adelaide space to get more comfortable around each other, where in other circumstances they would probably have never given each other the chance to connect.
The cottagecore vibes in this one are strong. Much of the story takes place in Adelaide’s house in the woods, which is an absolute dream of a warm, witchy space with a marvellous garden. That garden actually needs tending, and potion work actually needs doing, and the realism of the witchy life helps to make this feel super cosy. The whole book manages to pull off the perfect amount of fluffiness, while still including enough darkness to feel worth it. I loved the focus on the work of a relationship – too often I’ve seen ‘opposites attract’ romances where there’s no work put in on compromise, and you’re left thinking that as soon as the couple has to tackle a problem, they’ll be right back to issues. That is so not the case here, and there’s visible evidence of both Jane and Adelaide developing as characters and working out their issues by communicating, so if solid relationships that actually work are your jam, you’ll enjoy this – for me, it made it super satisfying. In addition to the romance, there’s also a really strong thread of female friendship and community, and those platonic relationships are also given a huge amount of importance. Part of Adelaide’s journey is learning to open herself up to being loved and liked, and sharing parts of herself with people, and I really enjoyed seeing her reap the benefits of that.
This is only a short book, so I won’t tell you too much more – and you’ll notice I’ve talked mostly about the atmosphere and not the plot, for fear of spoiling it for you! If you’re in the mood for a soft, witchy, sapphic cottagecore story, this is a must read – and if, like me, you wanted to romance Morrigan from Dragon Age as a female warden, this is the perfect book for you.