Jumpdrives & Cantrips

February 3, 2008, 1205
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , ,


With numerous fans waiting in anticipation since the late nineties for a new novel, Melanie Rawn has produced an immensely readable book with likable and engaging characters in Spellbinder. Rawn is known for her high fantasy novels of consistent thickness and complex politics. Spellbinder (subtitled A Love Story with Magical Interruptions) is a full departure, instead veering into the realms of paranormal romance more so than urban fantasy. The author should be applauded for moving towards new ground, especially in light of her admission in the author’s note that she needed a complete departure from her previous works after recovering from clinical depression.

Some of the plot summaries make the book out to be a massive battle between good and evil: it is not. It speaks to superior construction that everyone has motivations and is not made out to be good or evil, instead working towards their personal ideals. This novel is truly about the relationships in the book; anyone expecting the common tropes of fantasy will be gently dissuaded from their expectations, instead left to be riveted by the interactions between people in the book. Which isn’t to say magic isn’t there, but it is more like the interruption the subtitle promises than a central plot element.

Holly McClure is a wonderful character as a Spellbinder: someone whose blood increases the power of any spell regardless of what the spell intends. I could call her a “tool,” and I wouldn’t be incorrect in the technical sense. She can barely use magic herself, instead relying on her magical guardians and friends for assistance in this realm, and generally spending her time avoiding it. She also is a writer who attempts to create a relationship with a U.S. Marshall, Evan, without letting him in on the fact that she a) lives in a world of hidden magic and b) is a wildly successful best-selling author with loads of cash. The first he can deal with, but the second ends up being a deal-breaker, and much torment ensues.

And the torment spills into–and is partly caused by–the magical end of things. It’s nice to see magic treated as the problem and not just the eternal solution. Which brings me to the antagonists of the book. I applaud heartily that Melanie Rawn wrote these characters as not completely evil for no good reason, but give them choices, and make them in a multi-dimensional manner. Some of them are redeemable, and in fact, some of the less prominent protagonists seems more unlikable than the so-called villains of the novel.

The plot is a slow burn, which isn’t really surprising given the 500-page length. Extended flashbacks sometimes drag a little, but are important to the characters. Things happen, but insidiously, sometimes creeping in under the radar. To be honest, I read this book simultaneously with another that offered a faster turnaround, especially during some of the more miserable “life sucks” portions when Holly’s life goes to pieces. The major “battle” at the end was anticlimactic, but certainly not the point of the book, and didn’t require a massive suspension of disbelief like some paranormal romance.

Essentially, if you like your potboilers, this book may not be for you unless your fascination lies in character studies. However, if you revel in character driven books that dwell in a more realistic realm, Melanie Rawn’s Spellbinder will be a godsend.

Rawn, Melanie. Spellbinder. New York: Tor, 2006. 500 pages. $10.99 (Canadian).


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