Hello again! I can’t believe it’s already fall. 2020 has been a rollercoaster ride. Today I’m reviewing one of my most anticipated fall 2020 releases, Spell Starter (the sequel to Caster, which I reviewed last year and is getting a film adaptation!), as part of the blog tour hosted by Shealea @ Caffeine Book Tours. I’m also sharing a playlist for the book in a separate post, so check that out as well!
Title: Spell Starter
Author: Elsie Chapman
Publication date: 06 October 2020
Age group: Young Adult
The Sting meets Fight Club in this magical, action-packed sequel to Caster by Elsie Chapman.
Yes, Aza Wu now has magic back. But like all things in her life, it has come at a great cost. After the tournament, Aza is able to pay off her parents’ debt to Saint Willow. Unfortunately, the cost of the gathering spell she used to strip Finch of his magic has put her permanently in the employ of the gang leader. Aza has been doing little errands using real magic — collecting debts, putting the squeeze on new businesses in the district. But that had never been the plan. Saint Willow is nothing if not ambitious and having Aza as a fighter is much more lucrative than as a fixer. Especially if she can control the outcome. Aza is going to have to put it all on the line again to get out of this situation!
Disclaimer: I received an ARC from the publisher as part of the tour in exchange for an honest review. This did not affect my evaluation of the book.
Listen. I need everyone to support the heck out of the Caster movie when it comes out because I need Spell Starter to be adapted as well. Like Caster, Spell Starter is dark and atmospheric and a feast for the senses and would make a visually stunning experience on the big screen.
It was interesting to see how the author built upon the world, events, and stakes of the previous book. While the primary antagonist is the same, their relationship has changed since Aza is being forced to work for Saint Willow directly, under the threat of ruining her parents’ business. Aza is once again competing in a tournament, but it’s a different situation because the tournament is run by newcomers who have a different agenda and fewer scruples than the Guild. Furthermore, Aza is using magic that isn’t hers that she struggles to control, and her goal is no longer to win but rather to earn Saint Willow money from bets on the outcome.
Aza is no longer the same person she was at the beginning of the first book. Any naivete she possessed is gone; her psyche is haunted by bitterness, guilt, and anger. As her stolen magic drives her to new lows of excruciating pain, the anger grows and the temptation of power and destruction lurks in the shadows. Watching Aza grapple with this temptation and the costs of succumbing was a visceral and immersive experience because of the evocative imagery used to describe it.
The lows caused by the magic extend beyond Aza’s mind and body, affecting the entirety of Lotusland. The magic from the casting tournament wreaks greater destruction on the city than imagined and there is an ominous sense of impending apocalypse throughout the story. The magic is unstable and unsustainable, and the power and ego of a few threaten the whole population.
One of the things I really enjoyed about the book was the new bits of worldbuilding explored through the tournament. The tournament stages are more than aesthetic plot accessories, they’re very deliberately constructed to evoke a bygone era of abundance, a nostalgic tribute to a world that they cannot return to. Clear blue skies and verdant growth exist only in illusions. The final tournament stage in particular is a resurrected image of Lotusland’s Chinatown, and the announcer explains its origins and demise. It seems to serve as a warning to the casters about the consequences of greed and hubris.
The ending is a bit open-ended, but it feels right for the story that the author’s trying to tell. Both in the story and in real life, the destruction of the world (i.e. climate change) is an ongoing process that you can either enable, whether actively or passively, or fight against, and the ending seems to ask, “what will you choose?”
Content/Trigger Warnings: blood, death, murder
Amazon — https://amzn.to/31ioSK6
B&N — https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/spell-starter-elsie-chapman/1135037083?ean=9781338589511
Book Depository — https://www.bookdepository.com/Spell-Starter-Caster-Novel-Elsie-Chapman/9781338589511
IndieBound — https://www.indiebound.org/book/9781338589511
Goodreads — https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/49090458-spell-starter
About the Author:
Elsie Chapman grew up in Prince George, Canada, and has a degree in English literature from the University of British Columbia. She is the author of the YA novels Dualed, Divided, Along the Indigo, and Caster as well as the middle-grade novel All the Ways Home, and the coeditor of A Thousand Beginnings and Endings and Hungry Hearts. She currently lives in Tokyo, Japan, with her family.
Author website — https://elsiechapman.com/
Instagram — https://www.instagram.com/elsiechapman/