Two rival apprentice sorcerers must team up to save their teachers and protect their own magic in this lively young adult romantic adventure from the New York Times bestselling author of In Deeper Waters, and So This Is Ever After.
Edison Rooker isn’t sure what to expect when he enters the office of Antonia Hex, the powerful sorceress who runs a call center for magical emergencies. He doesn’t have much experience with hexes or curses. Heck, he doesn’t even have magic. But he does have a plan—to regain access to the magical world he lost when his grandmother passed.
Antonia is…intimidating, but she gives him a job and a new name—Rook—both of which he’s happy to accept. Now all Rook has to do is keep his Spell Binder, an illegal magical detection device, hidden from the Magical Consortium. And contend with Sun, the grumpy and annoyingly cute apprentice to Antonia’s rival colleague, Fable. But dealing with competition isn’t so bad; Sun seems to pop up more and more, and Rook minds less and less.
But when the Consortium gets wind of Rook’s Spell Binder, they come for Antonia. All alone, Rook runs to the only other magical person he knows: Sun. Except Fable has also been attacked, and now Rook and Sun have no choice but to work together to get their mentors back…or face losing their magic forever.
About the Author
F.T. Lukens is a New York Times bestselling author of YA speculative fiction, including the novels So This Is Ever After, In Deeper Waters, and the forthcoming Spell Bound, as well as other science-fiction and fantasy works. Their contemporary fantasy novel The Rules and Regulations for Mediating Myths & Magic was a 2017 Cybils Award finalist in YA Speculative Fiction, the Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Gold Winner for YA fiction, and won the Bisexual Book Award for Speculative Fiction. F.T. resides in North Carolina with their spouse, three kids, three dogs, and three cats.
Let me start this piece by saying that as someone older, it’s refreshing to be faced with my own unconscious bias so that I can learn and grow from it to be a better person and to be a better ally to the people in the LGBTQIA+ community. Two of the four main characters in the book use They/Them pronouns. Even though my child identifies as Non-Binary and uses They/Them pronouns, I found myself trying to know what box to put the characters in. Even though they don’t identify with M/F, we are unconsciously biased into labeling them.
I will not dwell on that too much at the moment but will revisit this towards the end of my review.
We begin with Edison Rooker, a teen who has recently lost his grandmother. His grandmother was a cozy sorcerer steeped in magic, situated in the magical community. Even though Edison had no magic, she raised Rook in this community and the magical society. Once she passes away, the Magical Consortium (the council that creates, enforces, and keeps sorcerers and magical beings in line) tosses Edison out into the non-magical community, away from the only home he’s ever known. The Consortium told him that he didn’t belong to the community anymore since he was non-magical, unable to see the Ley Lines, the source of all magic, or manipulate it.
But Edison Rooker is a fighter. He’s a tech-savvy prodigy who designs a device in secret. This device which he calls Spell Binder, is a tool for which the non-magic can detect magic Ley Lines. He has spent the best part of a year working on this device and is ready to test it. There is only one problem. He needs a sorcerer to confirm that his device works. With that goal in mind, he asks for a job from the most powerful sorcerer in Spire City, Antonia Hex, who runs the Hex-A-Gone agency. Antonia is a hex and curse breaker for hire.
I knew I would like this book when we had a Beauty and the Beast reference plus a Dungeons and Dragons reference two pages into the story. 😁 We see a spelled coatrack try to be helpful to our nervous hero by trying to remove his backpack. Plus, a resentful carpet bent on tripping everyone that is guarding the front door. I grinned at the description of Antonia as neither evil nor lawful good, a Dungeons and Dragons character alignment….😁 I played a lot in college. It was the 90’s, don’t judge me. If I had to give her an alignment, I would say she’s Chaotic Neutral….
Antonia breezes in and rejects the kid but decides to name him Rook. Names have meaning in society, and to be named by a sorcerer is a stamp of acceptance. Rook begs for a job as office staff if he can fix Antonia’s computer and the coffee pot and stop the phones from ringing. He meets her conditions and begins life as an office staff secretly hoping to become an apprentice.
The relationship reminds me of the one between Luz and Eda, the owl lady from a show called The Owl House. The pair complement each other very well. Antonia is a rebel, so hiring a non-magical person for her agency is her small act of rebellion against the authority of the Magical Consortium. Rook is an intelligent teen desperate to return to the magical community he grew up in. He’s a lonely misfit who finds a kindred soul in his boss.
The next pair we introduce is the yin to Rook and Antonia’s yang. There is Fable, the by-the-book sorcerer who is friends and rivals with Antonia. Fable’s pronouns are They/Them. Fable is the type who sticks to the rules but finds themselves continually alongside Antonia, the rule breaker. Antonia and Fable compete for jobs and try to one-up each other, but when push comes to shove, the pair help each other out. Fable’s apprentice is Sun, whose pronouns are also They/Them. Sun is slight, awkward, bristly, and not good with people, but clever and dedicated.
Sun and Rook also become frenemies but with a bit more under the surface. Rook is enamored of Sun, and Sun is wary of Rook. Sun is a closed-off person who doesn’t like the physical touch of others. Rook is immediately respectful of Sun’s boundaries, respectful of their pronouns, and loves to banter with Sun when the opportunity arises.
The book is lovely. It’s a coming-of-age tale about not fitting in, finding your people and yourself, and standing up for what you believe in. The novel is sprinkled with so many geeky references to fairy tales, folk tales, and other literary references that make me smile. Whether it’s the author’s intention, I can’t say, but I found so many tidbits to make me smile.
Antonia hexing her ex-lover to bray like a donkey reminded me of A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Shakespeare. Another lovely Shakespeare reference is when Sun creates a potion in an actual cauldron, and I can’t help but think of the witches in Macbeth; toads tears remind me of the eye of a newt…😁
There is even a reference to the anime Death Note with a line about a book where you write the names of people then they die.
This is my interpretation, but there is so much going on underneath the surface of this story. There is a moment when Antonia and Sun are teamed up to argue with Fable that he can’t be magical just because Rook can’t see the Ley lines.
Sun, “Besides, who is the Consortium to decide what the standard is? There’s not a right way to be magic, is there? Why are we keeping people out of our community who want to be here? He’s one of us.”
This feels aimed at sometimes those among the LGBTQIA+ community who gatekeep from within, saying A-Sexual, Intersexual, or Non Binary people aren’t a part of the community when it’s just as accurate that they are marginalized and have a right to be included in the queer space. They need acceptance from others inside the community because they feel the LGBTQIA+ community is where they fit in, their family, community, or home. It should be a safe space for these people to be accepted for who they are, not denied because they don’t fit the mold or box within the standard letters of the organization.
Back to my bias, and an unconscious one at that. I didn’t realize I was so hung on having my characters fit into boxes. Our site is Love Without Gender, but we focus on LGBTQIA+ media content. In this case, Non-Binary fits into the purview of our site. We are trying to be inclusive on our site, which means there will be bisexual, asexual, intersex, and trans-inclusive story’s to be reviewed and shared. We will be more conscious of how we view the media we consume.
Overall, Spell Bound is a sweet story set in a kooky fun magical city. It’s suitable for anyone middle grades to adults. You can enjoy the story at any age. I suggest you give it a try. You won’t be disappointed.
Overall Rating: 4 out of 5 stars. [See our Review Guide]