Publisher: Scholastic Point (April 1, 2013)
Book Source: Review copy (e-book) from the publisher through NetGalley
There's more than one way to be powerful . . .
It is during a routine school project that Abby Silva -- sixteen and nearly friendless -- makes a startling discovery: She is descended from women who were accused of witchcraft back in 1600s Salem. And when Abby visits nearby Salem, strange, inexplicable events start to unfold. Objects move when she wills them to. Candles burst into sudden flame. And an ancient spellbook somehow winds up in her possession.
Trying to harness her newfound power, Abby concocts a love potion to win over her longtime crush--and exact revenge upon his cruel, bullying girlfriend. But old magic is not to be trifled with. Soon, Abby is thrust headlong into a world of hexes, secrets, and danger. And then there's Rem Anders, the beautiful, mysterious Salem boy who seems to know more about Abby than he first lets on.
A reckoning is coming, and Abby will have to make sense of her history -- and her heart -- before she can face the powerful truth.
On the whole, I enjoyed Spellbinding, despite its liberal use of familiar fantasy and YA tropes – in particular, the child missing a parent, the outsider teen, the crush on the unattainable popular guy, the youngster with special gifts/destiny, and the love triangle.* Abby’s narrative has an authentic adolescent voice, and the questions in the story – why does she have these gifts, how do her dreams tie in, who is Rem and what does he want, and what’s really going on? – drew me in and propelled me along.
Abby is a typical teen despite her gifts, veering between maturity and immaturity, compassion and self-interest, wisdom and impulse. Inevitably, she resents her father’s new girlfriend and despises Megan, the popular-but-mean-spirited girlfriend of Abby’s childhood friend and secret crush. These are understandable feelings, but dangerous if given rein by someone who can make things happen by merely thinking or wishing, as Abby finds out to her dismay. I could empathize with Abby’s choices even when I knew they would lead to trouble, but I liked her best in the moments when her sense of moral rightness overtakes her more selfish desires.
For the most part, Abby’s relationships with other characters ring true, and there are some truly interesting characters here. Rem, the boy-witch who becomes Abby’s other love interest, intrigued me from the start, as he is intended to. I wanted to get to know him more than we actually do. Instead we get hints and little snippets of information; I sensed more back story there than actually made it into the book. That may be due to the first-person presentation, but it was a little disappointing. Abby’s friend Rachel and her intuitive, tarot-reading boss could also have used a little more page time. Abby’s father’s girlfriend starts out as a stereotype but doesn’t stay that way. And Abby’s crush, Travis, is a refreshingly nice young man. Even Megan, Travis’s bullying girlfriend, is a little more three-dimensional than she first appears.
The pacing of the book is a bit uneven. The first half or even two-thirds of the book, which focuses on Abby’s discovery of her heritage and her abilities, works well. There’s a slow build-up of tension and suspense, interwoven with the complications of Abby’s actions, which speeds up as it approaches the climactic moment. The denouement, however, comes suddenly and is solved too quickly and easily; in a way, the solution also contradicts a problem laid out earlier. To be honest, I felt a little cheated at that point; given the build-up, I expected a more difficult solution, one which involved more struggle, effort, even anguish on Abby’s part.
Throughout the novel, Gold weaves in Salem’s history, which has always fascinated me. But again, I wish she had done a little more more with it. Abby’s dreams of her ancestor’s death are never completely explained; are they genetic memory, reincarnation, or something else? Nor is the nature of the connection between Abby and Rem ever clarified to my satisfaction, although it’s evidently a strong one, and seems to go beyond their respective powers and current identities.
Spellbinding is a promising entry in the YA paranormal field, enjoyable even though it falls a little short of its potential. It's not clear whether Spellbinding is a stand-alone novel or the beginning of a series. Gold left a loophole or two which could allow a sequel if she chooses, but the book doesn’t have the slightly unfinished feeling of the first installment in a series. Either way, I’ll be on the lookout to see what Gold writes next.
Recommended if you like: witches, Salem, love triangles, and YA paranormal
*Am I the only one who is getting a little tired of the last one? Triangles have become as ubiquitous in YA as alpha males are in adult romance. I admit they have their literary uses, and they can be done very well, but I’d like to see a bit more creativity in avoiding them. My apologies to fans of love triangles; it’s a personal preference on both our parts.