Charlie N. Holmberg


Science Fiction / Fantasy


Date Reviewed:

November 9, 2021

pellmaker is the second and final book in Charlie Holmberg's short series on magicians set in Victorian England. Once again, the story is centered upon Elsie Camden, who has grown to be a spellbreaker extraordinaire. Alas, Elsie is unregistered and unlicensed, which means that if she is caught, then the consequences will be severe. And indeed, this exactly what happens in chapter one. The police arrive at Ogden's stone-masonry shop and drag Elsie off to the frightening Her Majesty's Prison Oxford, a dark and foul place designed to hold magic users. Elsie herself has no magical talent, her only talent is unraveling the runes of other magicians.

While languishing in prison, Elsie is visited by a projection of Master Lily Merton. Merton is a spiritual aspector; she is the cunning villain behind the Cowls that, in book one, Spellbreaker, had tricked Elsie into dismantling runes that protected assets that Merton wanted to steal. Merton wants to recruit Elsie to her cause, but Elsie will have none of it. Elsie is horrified by the crimes that she enabled Merton to commit by removing the protection runes. Unfortunately, the novel fails to explain why Merton wants Elsie wedded to her cause - simply so that Merton can murder more magicians and steal their opuses? (Some how I missed the important point in book one that when a master magician dies, his body is transformed into a book that lists all of spells that he learned in his lifetime.) Merton has been collecting these magical tomes, but why? There are four types of magicians: spiritual, physical, temporal and rational. A magician specializes in one of these disciplines, and yet Merton seems to be killing magicians of any branch and collecting their opuses, even though, presumably, she can only use the spiritual spells. Why, for example, does she have Ogden, who is a master rational magician, attacked? Doesn't anyone notice that all of these magicians are perishing and their opuses are not found? Nor did I understand Merton's plan to recruit Elsie to the Cowl's cause - having Elsie thrown in prison (because of course it was Merton who betrayed her secret) seems an odd way to convince Elsie to willingly join. What if Elsie had said yes? Was Merton then going to stage a jailbreak to free her new ally?

Elsie turns down Merton's offer, and shivers in her dark cell. Fortunately, she has Master Bacchus Kelsey as a friend to help set her free. Bacchus goes to the judge and convinces him that Elsie was not registered as a spellbreaker because she had only just discovered her spellbreaking powers. Bacchus claims that he knows this to be true, because he is quite close to Elsie. Indeed, trying to convince the man, he tells the judge, he and Elsie were engaged to be married (which explains how a Lord would be spending time with a stone-mason shop girl). The judge is swayed by Kelsey's story, and Elsie is released, but the judge expects to be invited to the wedding. So Bacchus really will have to marry Elsie (not that he minds, it was his intent to court her all along).

The rest of the story follows two threads: in story arc number one, Elsie, Bacchus and Ogden race to discover whatever Merton's diabolical scheme is. In the second arc, wedding preparations proceed while Elsie constantly frets about whether Bacchus actually loves her. Did the noble Bacchus sacrifice his position to marry a lowly shop girl merely out of an outsized sense of duty? Despite Bacchus' trying constantly to show that his love is genuine, Elsie just can't be convinced. I confess that I thought that there was just a bit too much time spent on the romance aspect. Of course Bacchus and Elsie are in love, can we please get back to pursuing Master Lily Merton?

In the end, I was a bit disappointed by Merton's plan, what little there was of it. I wish Holmberg had concocted a better evil plot. The story is still an enjoyable read because the characters are well drawn. The reader is sure to enjoy Elsie and Bacchus and their compatriots. I would read another Charlie Holmberg novel.