Disclaimer: the author requested that her publisher send me a free, unsolicited copy of this book for review. I gave that copy away and purchased my own, partially because I want to support the author, and partially because my resolution was to not get freebie copies. So even though there was a free copy sent to me, I still paid for my own copy of this book.
Why I Read It: after reading Ashford’s debut Spellcast and loving it (admittedly, I’d beta-read the rough draft), I was excited AND scared to learn there would be a sequel, since I thought book one worked so wonderfully on its own. Yet I couldn’t very well ignore the sequel, so I pre-ordered it and let it sit for a month or so after it arrived, waiting for the right time to read it. The right time ended up being during the Olympics, but you’ll get no complaints here!
The premise: ganked from BN.com: IT’S NOT EASY LOSING THE MAGIC IN YOUR LIFE…
But when Maggie Graham freed Rowan Mackenzie to return to Faerie, she took the first step toward her new life as director of the Crossroads Theatre. A hectic new season of summer stock leaves her little time to moon over the past. She has to balance the demands of her interfering board president and a company of actors that includes bewildered amateurs, disdainful professionals, a horde of children, and an arthritic dog. And while Maggie yearns to give others the kind of healing she found at the Crossroads, even she recognizes that magic must take a back seat to ticket sales.
But magic is hard to banish from the old white barn. Memories lurk like ghosts in the shadowy wings and the unexpected is as time-honored a tradition as the curtain call. And when the tangled spells of Maggie’s past turn her life upside down, it will take more than faery magic to ensure the happy-ever-after ending she longs for….
Spoilers, yay or nay?: Yay. Not just spoilers for Spellcrossed, but also the first book, Spellcast, so if you aren’t caught up, please read the Spellcast first before going any further. Everyone else, onward!
Discussion: I have not beta-read this novel.
I did the first, Spellcast. Ashford asked me, last year, if I could beta-read this one, but the timing was bad and she needed feedback sooner than my time would allow, so I went into this novel not knowing what to expect. Well, I had a smidgen of what to expect: I knew Rowan would be coming back, and I knew that because the ending of the draft of Spellcast I read had Maggie and Rowan reuniting at the lake. So glad she cut that and ended book one where she did. I like that ending even more now that we’ve learned that Maggie’s survived her first summer season on her own, and she’s working hard on her second one, when Rowan comes back. It’s good because she’s learned she doesn’t NEED Rowan to do this… had he come back too early, she would’ve never found her own strength to carry her vision of the theatre, so that was a great decision made by Ashford (and I say that un-biasedly, despite knowing the author).
I will say, however, I did not care for the prologue. At all. I could’ve skipped it and been completely fine. In fact, until I wrote that sentence you just read, I forgot that the prologue comes back into play later in the book when Maggie and Rowan are comparing dreams. I suppose it’s nice that we know Maggie’s dream in its entirety so that we can compare it to Rowan’s, but…. yeah, still not a fan of the prologue.
Once I got past the prologue though, it was easy to settle back into the rhythms of the Crossroads Theatre and all the characters, who I felt I knew so very well after book one. I needed no time at all to re-familiarize myself with the world-building or characters: it literally felt like I was coming back to visit old friends, and that’s not a phrase I toss around lightly. I forgot how much I was entertained by Mei-Yin’s dialogue, or Reinhard’s porcupine hair and fatherly attitude, and seeing these things all over again filled me with a quiet sense of joy. Ashford has a great cast to work with, so it’s no wonder she wanted to come back for a sequel.
The story itself surprised me in how quickly it moved through the summer season. We don’t see Maggie working one-on-one with her actors and we really don’t see her do a lot of directing during rehearsals. Instead, we get whirlwind summaries of things we read in more detail in book one (such as how to move around the stage, vocal exercises, etc) while Maggie’s juggling multiple projects at once and trying so very hard to make the Crossroads a success. After all, the theatre now has a board, so I appreciated her stress in trying to create a modern theatre while still preserving what makes Crossroads so special: the calling of the Mackenzies, and the necessity of giving people the parts they need, not the ones they’re made for.
Entertaining as this was, and by entertaining I don’t mean I was glued to the pages, it’s just entertaining enough in that I’ve been in musical theatre and could get quite the few giggles and sympathies while reading, I was chomping at the bit for Rowan’s return. And when he did, it was a doozy: he found Maggie’s father, and while I vaguely remember hearing Ashford talk about doing that once upon a time ago, I was still caught completely unawares.
And this is where I discovered this story had meat on the bones, because it turned into not just a story with Maggie coming to grips with the man her father REALLY is. It’s a story where Maggie and Rowan learn how to handle the bumps in the road of their relationship, where Rowan starts making an effort to break out of his shell and really become a part of a family. All of this was wonderful and painful in a wonderful way, the latter referring to the fact that Maggie’s father is so child-like, so self-absorbed, so narcissistic, that he has no idea this grown woman helping him is his own daughter. So when that revelation comes, it’s wonderfully painful.
Yet this book, for its emotional ups and downs, isn’t quite as powerful as Spellcast. Part of that’s because like any sequel, the new shine has worn off and we’re not as easily surprised. And in this particular case, seeing Maggie and Rowan finally get together was so much more satisfying than seeing Maggie learn how to let her father go. Yet that’s not to say this book doesn’t have some major moments. Maggie, in an effort to return photo to her father before he goes into fairy, is seduced by the gateway and the music coming out if it. It’s only with great, great, GREAT effort she can turn her back on that call and stay in the real world, with Rowan. Which lead to the epilogue, which was told in Rowan’s POV, which was quite worrisome, because despite the conclusions Rowan comes to in this section, I dislike being out of Maggie’s head. I want to know what she’s really thinking, if she’s really missing the call of the fairy. I want to know if she’ll become like her father, and always have that desire to find that concentrated magic and wonder once more.
But as it ends, Rowan proposes, Maggie says yes, and things are good. Not perfect: both Rowan and Maggie know they have a long way to go, and unlike Spellcast, which I didn’t feel needed a sequel, I suspect we’re going to get at least one more book, because I didn’t feel satisfied by what little explanation we get for Maggie’s recovering from her brief encounter with the fairy. Their story most likely isn’t over, and I’m really curious (as well as fearful) to see where Ashford takes it.
And now: some of my favorite moments from the book:
– Amanda singing “Tomorrow” at Arthur’s funeral.
– The cats following Rowan around town, which cracked me the hell up.
– The photo of young Maggie holding her My Little Pony she got for Christmas. Not just any pony, but Moondancer. I SO HAD THAT PONY!!!!
– Rowan visiting the various places in town and the reactions it caused among the Crossroads family. So, so touching.
– Rowan having fun with the kids and helping the kids fill in their coloring books.
– The very end. So sweet.
My Rating: 7 – Good Read
If you enjoyed Spellcast, you’ll enjoy Spellcrossed. The sequel takes a while to rev up, especially if you aren’t interested in musical theatre, but if you are, you’ll enjoy getting reacquainted with the musicals (Lord knows I’ve forgotten WAY too much about Into the Woods, and we put it on in high school!), and getting reacquainted with the characters. Once the main plot of the story hits, the internal tension ramps up, and even though you know how things are going to end, you still want to be wrong. You still want to see how everything will work out. The ending leaves you on a wonderfully happy note, yet tinged with a bit of, as Ashford states, shadow. At this point, I know another book will be coming (at least, I hope so), and I’m really, really curious where the story goes next.
Cover Commentary: Ashford has the worst luck with cover art. This thing looks like the cover of a deranged Christmas play from hell. Seriously, who would want to buy this book with a cover like this? Too much going on, and I hate that the background image is surrounded by the red curtains and stage, a framing device that could’ve worked wonderfully for the text alone, but with this? Ugh…. here’s hoping the author has far better luck with the next cover.