Saturday, March 1, 2014

Review: The Sweetest Spell by Suzanne Selfors

Title: The Sweetest Spell
Author: Suzanne Selfors
Genre: YA Fantasy/Fairytale Retelling
Publishing Information: 416 pages; August 12th, 2012 by Walker Childrens

Series: Standalone
Where I got it: E-book from the library

Synopsis from Goodreads:

"Emmeline Thistle, a dirt-scratcher's daughter, has escaped death twice-first, on the night she was born, and second, on the day her entire village was swept away by flood. Left with nothing and no one, Emmeline discovers her rare and mysterious ability-she can churn milk into chocolate, a delicacy more precious than gold.

Suddenly, the most unwanted girl in Anglund finds herself desired by all. But Emmeline only wants one-Owen Oak, a dairyman's son, whose slow smiles and lingering glances once tempted her to believe she might someday be loved for herself. But others will stop at nothing to use her gift for their own gains-no matter what the cost to Emmeline.

Magic and romance entwine in this fantastical world where true love and chocolate conquer all.

Main characters: 2.5/5

Now, there's nothing wrong with a main character who has memories as a newborn... just kidding. That's the first sign that your character is on her way to being the "special" one who defies laws of nature, and that's just what Emmeline was. After being protected by cows who kept her alive after she was deemed unworthy as a newborn, Emmeline later gains her gift. As a character, Emmeline was naive and innocent, but that allowed the reader to learn about situations and people through her eyes and form our own opinions as she did. I liked some of the quirky characteristics about her, like her connection to cows and her curled foot. The big negatives that came up with Emmeline's character were that she was bland and lacked a personality, and that I felt like I'd seen her character a thousand times. She was a typical Mary-Sue type character who just happens to be beautiful, have a special talent and transform from the "ugly duckling" into the "beautiful swan".

Secondary characters: 3/5

Owen was sweet and kind, but I he was very one-dimensional for a long time. It was tough to get a read on him, even though he had his own chapters in his point-of-view. Later in the novel, he really gained his own voice and I found myself liking him more. But there still wasn't something that truly defined him as a character other than his love for Emmeline. Griffin was quirky because he was so obvious about his biggest flaw, but even he developed as a character throughout the novel and I found myself liking him simply because he was so open about his flaw. Beau, though he came into the story later, was a different way of using a character as a plot device. That being said, there were some unique things about him that allowed him to develop as his own character: his unique love for his kingdom, his role as an inventor, and his relationship with the Baron. One quirk was that most of the secondary characters were men except the queen and one milkmaid, and neither of them was portrayed in a very good light. Just something to ruminate over.

Writing style: 3.5/5

I don't mind the writing style matching the setting in most cases; if you're writing a historical piece then your narrator and dialogue should match that time period. But there were a couple moments in this novel where that writing style was just too much: the "aye"'s and the "oaf"'s. Still, Emmeline's voice was bitingly witty and funny, which made the read a fast one. So much of the writing was obvious, but so much so that it seemed like Selfors made it intentional. Griffin's immediate reaction to search for his mirror after being cut made it obvious how self-absorbed he was and I wished it was a little more subtle. The alternating point-of-views was really confusing to the point that I often had to stop reading and go back and think about who was narrating. If there had been some header at the beginning to signal a change in POV, I think that would have made it infinitely more clear. The story also moved at a breakneck speed; this is weird for me but I almost wished it would have moved a little slower so I could savor the story and details.

Plot: 4.5/5
At first I wasn't sure about those quirky names (Root, Seed and Furrow were the town names)and the allusions to real places: Anglund instead of England, the River Time instead of the Thames, Londwin instead of London, Kell instead of Celt, etc. Even the premise of Emmeline having the connection to cows was a little ridiculous. But I realized that this is one of those books that you just have to go with. Once I suspended my disbelief, I was sucked in to the story. The worldbuilding in this novel was unique: I loved the idea of chocolate being such a precious substance, and the husband auction was a different twist on the customs of marriage. The rewritten history was fascinating to me and overall the alternate universe was done really well. One thing I didn't like was the convenience of a lot of plot points, such as when Owen just happens to show up at the end when Emmeline had thought he'd already left.

Ending: 3/5

I loved the justice and how the matter with the gift was handled. Although I like larger, grandiose schemes, I liked the one that Emmeline and Beau put together. I mentioned this already, but I thought a couple plot points fell into place too conveniently. I thought the way that the romance ended was perfect; with each person giving up something and getting something in return.

Best scene: Learning the real history of the Kells

Positives: The worldbuilding/alternate universe, the fast paced writing, the details

Negatives: The alternating POVS, sometimes the writing was a little too fast, some characters were a ltittle one-dimensional

Cover: It looks very mystical, dreamlike and fairytale-esque, which matches some of the general themes of the novel. Wish there had been some chocolate on that cover though!

Verdict: Once you suspend your disbelief, this fantasy romance is so much fun to read!

Rating: 6.6/10 (3 stars)

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