by Stephanie Burgis
Series: The Harwood Spellbook #2
Also in this series: Snowspelled, Moontangled
Publisher: Five Fathoms Press
Publication Date: February 14, 2019
I received an advance review copy of this book from Publisher. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.My rating:
Cassandra Harwood scandalized her nation when she became the first woman magician in Angland. Now, she's ready to teach a whole new generation of bright young women at her radical new school, the Thornfell College of Magic…
Until a sinister fey altar is discovered in the school library, the ruling Boudiccate sends a delegation to shut down Thornfell, and Cassandra’s own husband is torn away from her.
As malevolent vines slither in from the forest and ruthless politicians scheme against her, Cassandra must fight the greatest battle of her life to save her love, her school, and the future of the young women of Angland.
I absolutely adored Snowspelled, so I was ridiculously excited to read the next novella in the Hardwood Spellbook series. I made the mistake of starting to read this in bed and ended up staying up well past my bedtime to finish it! This is so heartwarming and was just the warm, cozy hug I needed! While I think this could be read as a stand-alone, I’d recommend going back and starting with Snowspelled, because it’s just that good!
Cassandra has spent so long relying on only herself – a good skill for becoming Angland’s first woman magician, but not so much now that she’s finally married to Wrexham and opening the first women’s college of magic on her family’s estate. Though they were married five weeks ago, the Boudiccate – the governing body comprised solely of women, since men are deemed too emotional and irrational for politics – has kept Wrexham busy and away from home, and her brother Jonathan and sister-in-law Amy have their hands full with their two-month-old daughter. She’s thrown herself into preparations for turning Thornfell House into a school and planning a curriculum that she’ll teach herself (well, except for weather wizardry – enter Gregory Luton). But the school has attracted a lot of negative attention, not the least of which is a trio of Boudiccate inspectors set to arrive the same day as the students, and even more sinister forces are gathering to shut the school down – not to mention the unexpected career effects on those closet to Cassandra. With seemingly everyone against her and her friends’ and family’s futures at stake, how could the school she’s dreamed of for so long possibly survive?
“I know you’d rather stay and deal with all of this yourself,” I said, “but you know as well as I do, if you want to keep your position—”
“One day, Harwood,” said Wrexham sharply, “you might consider not deciding what’s best for me no matter what I say about the matter.”
I love Cassandra! She has a tendency to make decisions to “save” others at her own expense, and combined with her overdeveloped sense of self-reliance, that gets her into trouble with her family and friends. And thankfully, we get to see a lot of those people, and I loved that Cassandra had such a wonderful support system in them. While I wish there were more Wrexham in this book (though I understand why there wasn’t), I was pleased to see Amy, Miss Banks and even Lutton again. The secondary characters – good and bad – are well-written and even the bad guys are motivated by understandable reasoning. Even better, they’re a diverse set of characters, with varying skin tones and sexual orientations. I seriously got the warm fuzzies from watching all the women in Cassandra’s life – well, and Jonathan, but it was mostly women – band together to support her.
“Have you ever noticed that both of us are good at understanding magic but rather hopeless at understanding other people?”
While you’d think a matriarchal society would be a feminist paradise, there’s actually a lot of thoughtful exploration of why simply flipping the power dynamics doesn’t make that happen. Women are politicians and men are magicians, and a women who aspires to the highest arena of power – the Boudiccate – is expected to be married to a magician, leaving those who prefer women to make a choice between either abandoning their political careers or marrying solely for optics. Cassandra’s school is upsetting this status quo, and there’s the general sort of “think of the women!” rhetoric used against it that I’ve heard in real life from certain areas. As a woman with a career and hobbies that were traditionally men’s spaces, I identified with Cassandra’s struggles in so many ways, and Ms. Burgis did an amazing job of distilling those feelings into words. That – and the gentleness of the eventual conflict resolution – are reminders that Ms. Burgis is also a middle-grade author, and I think that has a very positive impact on the story that I appreciated.
Overall, I adored this novella, and I will be anxiously awaiting the next entry in the series! The back of the book mentions that Miss Banks and Miss Fennell will be the subject of the next installment, and I’m so very excited for that!