SPELLHAVEN by Sandra Unerman
Reviewed by: Shona Kinsella
Spellhaven tells the story of Jane Fairchild, a young musician, kidnapped by magic for her musical skill. She is taken to the magical city of Spellhaven, a beautiful place that is built upon an uneasy alliance with the unseen; magical spirits who have been bound by the ruling magicians of Spellhaven. The Unseen must be appeased with regular performances of music and drama, and so talented people are kidnapped and forced to serve for a set number of years.
Jane refuses to serve unless they agree to teach her magic in exchange. She also refuses to serve the man who kidnaped her, Lucian Palafox, insisting on taking service with one of his rivals. Despite her anger towards him, Lucian fascinates her as much as he antagonizes her.
The city of Spellhaven is beautifully described and well established and we are introduced to some interesting characters there. I enjoyed the way that the author showed differing perspectives of the island and its people. Jane is furious at her forced servitude but many of the others that have been brought there are glad of the experience – especially the women who find that they are valued for their skill and contribution in a way that they were not at home.
I was never quite able to get to grips with Jane as a character. On the one hand, I immediately felt sympathetic towards her but at times I wasn’t sure why she was taking certain actions. Her motivations were not always clear and I would have liked to see her developed further.
Spellhaven is really a book of two parts. The first part tells the story of Jane’s time on the island, while the later section tells of her return to England. The two storylines felt somewhat disconnected and I couldn’t help but wonder if they would both have been better served if they had been split into two books. The second part, after Jane’s return to England, felt rushed and a bit under developed.
There’s a lot to like about this book; beautifully detailed world-building, the magic and music, the mystery of the Unseen, the elegance of the prose. My only complaints are that there are things I would have liked more of – more time on Spellhaven, more character development, more detailed motivations.
I think this author has a lot of potential and I look forward to seeing where she goes next.