Charlie N. Holmberg


Science Fiction / Fantasy


Date Reviewed:

October 9, 2021

pellbreaker is a fantasy story set in an alternate Victorian England where magic is real. Elsie Camden is an orphan girl is not capable of creating magic herself, but she has a talent as a spell-breaker. Magic is cast as invisible runes, drawn onto a surface to create a magical effect. But Elsie can see the hidden runes, and she has the ability to unravel the runes and thus defeat the spell. Elsie is uncommonly good at spell-breakering; she can defeat the strongest runes, however tightly they are woven or expertly hidden.

At the start of the tale, Elsie is a young girl, when a fire breaks out at the orphanage. The young Elsie, not realizing what she had done, had unraveled the fire-warding spells. If she is discovered, punishment will be harsh (despite her young age) - unregistered spell-breakers are not tolerated. Fortunately, a kindly woman dressed in a hood and cloak rescues Elsie. The mysterious benefactor explains to Elsie that her secret society needs spellbreakers to thwart the oppressive and cruel aristocrats. Elsie can join their Robin-Hood styled band, called the Cowls, and secretly work for the good of society.

The Cowls find Elsie an ideal safe place to live - for the next decade, she works for a kindly sculptor named Ogden. Most of her time is spent handling his customers and keeping his books. But occasionally, a note will appear for Elsie stamped with the secret symbol of the Cowls. The note will contain instructions where she must travel and what runes she must dismantle. It is a dangerous occupation, because the consequences if an unlicensed magic-breaker like Elsie gets caught are severe. The difficulty and the risks increase over the years, but Elsie is growing in her abilities too. Despite the dangerous missions, the Cowls saved Elsie from a dismal fate as an orphan, plus, she relishes the opportunity to work for the commoners.

Elsie receives instruction to travel to a Duke's estate and unknot some spells on the doorway that prevent the servants from leaving the main house. Elsie journey out to the site, and undoes the hidden wards as instructed. But soon come instructions to return to the estate and repeat the unraveling, because evidently the runes have been rewritten. This time, Elsie is caught. A man from Barbados, named Bacchus, catches Elsie and can now turn her over to the authorities and certain doom. But rather than expose Elsie, Bacchus forces her to promise to use her abilities to remove runes and around the estate - it seems someone might have cursed the fields? Someone has used charms to decorate the walls with an unfashionable and ugly aspect? Elsie has no choice but to comply with Bacchus demands, and so returns multiple times. With each encounter, Bacchus and Elsie come to understand each other better - there is romantic subplot between them. Eventually, Elsie's service to Bacchus is complete - is this to be the end of their interactions? Of course not!

There are magic books called opuses that hold the spells. These books are obviously valuable, and it seems someone is murdering the owners of these volumes. Naturally, Elsie gets involved into this larger plot.

Previously, I had read The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg. I remember it being okay, but I never bothered to look up the other three novels in that sequence. Spellbreaker is a better story, I am keen to read the second half the story in Spellmaker - the tale is definitely not finished in Spellbreaker, it just the first half of one larger story.