Spellbound by Kelley Armstrong

SpellboundA review by Nalini Haynes

Spellbound is the 12th book in the Women of the Otherworld series, a series set in an alternate reality present day Earth where vampires, werewolves, zombies and witches are all real although most are unaware of this fact. The central character in this series varies from book to book; Savannah Levine, a 21 year old witch, is the central character for Spellbound, which follows on from Waking the Witch.

At the end of Waking the Witch Savannah feels responsible for a number of deaths and for a child going into foster care because the loving grandmother had gone to gaol for accidentally killing someone. Spellbound opens with Savannah running away from her problems, always a good solution. Savannah wishes she could change things, giving back the grandmother to the child in fostercare, and mentally offering to give up her powers in exchange. Unbeknownst to Savannah, someone takes her up on this ‘offer’.

Stripped of her powers, Savannah is confronted with her lazy attitude towards learning non-magical abilities including self-defence. Adam, Savannah’s long-time heart-throb, is his usual self; trying to offer comfort and protect her whilst also challenging her to overcome her ‘disability’. Savannah’s fear of abandonment causes her to be reactive to those who care for her.

Add to this mix a group of supernaturals who challenge the status quo with the objective of revealing themselves and taking over the world. They claim a prophecy is about to be fulfilled, of which Savannah, a witch with demonic and human blood, is a sign. Savannah’s friends are also under threat due to this prophecy, because the group is ‘collecting’ the people they identify as being part of the prophecy. A child is kidnapped and his foster parents are also taken.

The threat of impending exposure causes conflict internal to the supernatural community, with a number of players revealing different motives. Balaam, Savannah’s demonic grandfather, suddenly takes an interest in Savannah for unknown reasons. Other demons seem to be vying for the favour of other children of demonic/human unions.

This is the first book in this series I have read, so I was on a rapid learning curve for the backstory and the rules of Armstrong’s world. I haven’t figured out the rules concerning vampires, werewolves or zombies yet as they tended to be more peripheral and the assumption was made that readers are au fait with this lore. It appeared that a number of minor character appearances in Spellbound may have been ‘fan services’ in the form of cameo appearances of characters from previous books.

A common problem with long running series is the tendency to devolve into a soapy, but Armstrong has risen above this trap. Strong characters, and different central characters for different books, coupled with a story arc has kept Spellbound out of the soapy realm. Savannah was a flawed character, revealing her selfishness, laziness and manipulative side after establishing herself as an otherwise likeable character. I felt she was a ‘normal’ person with whom we can probably all identify at times, even if we don’t want to admit it.

The overall story was engaging and enjoyable, although there were a few holes in the plot. I won’t go into the holes for fear of spoiling the story. There was only one hole that bugged me at the time, any others were more questions that came from not being familiar with this world or from analysing the story after reading.

I enjoyed Spellbound as a lighter fantasy read with interesting characters and a story arc to carry me through this book, leaving me wanting more. I’m definitely interested in reading the series. This is highly recommended to paranormal fantasy fans, especially those who enjoy young adult fiction.

Previously published in Dark Matter issue 5, September 2011.  This blog has been pre-dated to reflect the date of original publication.