Spellbent for Leather

I’m in a mood to review something other than comics for once…

Spellbent by Lucy A. Snyder

I’ve been a colossal fan of Lucy A. Snyder‘s short fiction for ages and ages — I previously reviewed one of her short story/poetry collections here. I think she does a great job of blending fantasy, humor, and horror, and when I heard she had gotten her first novel published, I made sure I went out and picked it up.

This is an urban fantasy novel — something that’s unfortunately come to mean either “sparkly vampires” or “porny vampires.” Or both. I still remember when it meant “fantasy that took place in an urban setting.” And I’m relieved that Snyder remembers that, too.

So what’s the story about? We’re set in a world a lot like ours, except that magic is real, mostly kept secret, and governed by councils of mages who try to keep everything running smoothly. Our lead character is Jessie Shimmer, an apprentice wizard living in Columbus, Ohio, and being taught the fundamentals of magic by her lover, Cooper. Things get started when a simple spell — a weather spell on the behalf of local farmers — goes seriously awry, stranding Cooper in a hellish dimension, unleashing a giant monster on the world, and inflicting terrible injuries on Jessie. She survives, thanks to the assistance of her familiar, a ferret named Palimpsest, but the corrupt mage council brands her an outlaw, bars her from trying to rescue Cooper, and puts every possible roadblock in her path.

So Jessie, flat-broke and homeless, short an arm and an eye, with the local political boss working to keep her isolated from anyone who can help her, has to somehow shake their magical surveillance, find somewhere to live, track down Cooper’s brother, the only guy who can give her any aid, and figure out how to get Cooper out of Hell. That’s a tall order for an apprentice spellcaster…

Verdict: Thumbs up. This one reads a lot like a comedy-drama-horror-fantasy. You’ve got Jessie running through Hell armed with a sword, shield, and dragonskin armor. You’ve got horrific, soul-crushing demons and malign conspiracies using all the powers of magic to destroy innocent people. You’ve got a ferret who talks like an uptight Canadian librarian, potheads craving a magical marijuana high, and Jessie using a shrinking spell on a belligerent security guard’s underwear. You’ve got a perfectly nice heroine, initially not too talented, advanced, or ambitious, forced to climb back up after being beat down as low as anyone can get, and emerging… well, don’t want to tell the ending, but it is all pretty awesome.

I enjoyed the heck out of it. You should go pick it up.

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