Thursday, May 7, 2020

Sarah Painter - The Language of Spells

When you are ready, seek, and you shall find. It is your gift. Gwen Harper left Pendleford thirteen years ago and hasn't looked back. Until an inheritance throws her into the mystical world she thought she'd escaped. Confronted with her great-aunt's legacy Gwen must finally face up to her past. The magic she has long tried to suppress is back with a vengeance but gift or burden, for Gwen, it always spells trouble. She has to stay - she has nowhere else to go - but how can she find her place in the town that drove her out after branding her a witch...? 

Comment: I got interested in this book because it was on a list of similar authors to Sarah Addison Allen, whose books I like very much but that, sadly, has not released anything new recently.
I had never heard of the author but I was betting on being amazed at least by the magical realism elements the story would certainly contain.

In this story we meet Gwen Harper, a young woman who left her hometown of Pendleford many years ago in the sequence of some problems linked to her ability to Find things. Gwen descends from a family whose members might reveal some powers, and this means the family is often considered to be a family of witches. Gwen was in love with Cam but following her personal issues, the issues with her mother, later with her sister and even with her ability, all made it that she preferred the life of a nomad, living off her van as the mood and the opportunities carried her.
Now Gwen is back because after her aunt Iris died she left her her house. However, everything Gwen wanted to leave is right there, as are the people. Will she cope, will she be able to deal with what is on her path? Will she achieve happiness at last?

On paper, this story has all the necessary elements to be a good one: the heroine has a past she wants to forget and she is bent on being back for just a specific amount of time. We know, without any clue whatsoever except experience in these types of stories, that Gwen will be challenged to think about staying, to think about what others thought of her and if she feels like owning up to her inheritances, both the estate and the family powers.

I think the bones are all there because throughout the novel Gwen deals with her powers indeed, with the community, with her ex, with some new friends, with her sister and niece, even a little bit with her estranged mother, with the memories, with the tasks her aunt supposedly left her, with an enemy, with her past in general. That is a lot to deal with! This means the book does feel very full, totally filled with subjects to be solved and the possibility to develop amazing elements.

Sadly, for me at least, the story failed in one key element to make everything work out well: fluidity in how graceful or optimal the story's development is done. The elements are there, they just don't flow well, they aren't done in such a structured way that would feel organic, almost meant to be. Things are put on the page without much of a system, as if the author wanted the main character to deal with the several situations, so they were introduced and explored randomly, connected only when it was necessary...
The writing style certainly didn't convince me and at some point I felt a little bored by how things were happening.

Gwen is a great character but I wished we had more on her powers, on her link with her aunt, with her awareness of what she had to do when people asked her for help, I don't know... I created this expectation in my head and the reality is that the story felt more superficial than what I desired.
The other characters play their roles but none felt special, except maybe her niece Kate that also has a POV, which I assume because the next book will center on her.

The romance is a lovers reunited trope which I tend to dislike but that can also provide interesting psychological evolution in the characters. The first time Cam and Gwen meet again, they were antagonists. Then they sort of discuss their past. They sort of become friends. Then they start thinking about each other and sleep together. Then they become...lovers? It's all so... easy, too simple for the supposed amount of issues they faced in the past. I felt it lacked real emotion.
I definitely wouldn't say this was romantic but again, I believe a different way of telling this story might have made all the difference.

I didn't end this book convinced by the author. It's frustrating because the elements are there but they aren't done in a captivating or special way. Dare I say this was not magical?
Sure, it's just my opinion, but I wanted fireworks, I wanted magic to be important for the story, for Gwen to overcome her past and be happy. It just didn't quite got there and I think I won't read the sequel.
Grade: 5/10

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