Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Review: Spellcast

Spellcast by Barbara Ashford

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When I read the premise of this book - magic in a summer stock theatre company in Vermont - and also Carrie Vaughn's front-cover quote, "Warm, humorous, emotional, heartfelt and full of magic", I was expecting something like [a:Debora Geary|4654545|Debora Geary|] produces in her Witch novels. Well... it is and it isn't.

There are moments where I was moved. There are moments where I laughed out loud, usually at a bit of characterization. But those moments are separated by long stretches which sometimes came very close to tedium.

A big part of the problem is that a lot of the plot involves people learning life lessons from the characters they're playing in the musicals, and if you don't know the musicals they're performing there's a heck of a lot of stuff that you just miss. The author does manage to convey the general plots of the musicals and an idea of what the main characters are like, but it didn't have the impact for me that it might have for someone who was familiar with the shows.

The first-person narrator starts out rather world-weary and cynical, and stays exclusively that way for a long time. I think the character arc is well-handled, but it still doesn't make for a lot of warm moments in the front two-thirds or so of the book.

And then, there are too many characters to keep track of. At one point early on I was reading about Gary doing something-or-other, and thinking, "Gary? Who the hell is Gary? Was he introduced at some point? What does he look like?" I paged back to the mass introductions near the start, but I never did find him.

Again, the premise of the book means that there's a large cast, because the musicals have large casts, but fewer of them, with clearer distinguishing features which were mentioned more than once, would have been a lot easier to follow (and be interested in). Or why not have a cast list so that the audience can keep straight who's who, who they play in each musical (there are three), and their relationships to one another? Some relationships would have been spoilers for important plot points, but you could go with the ones that the viewpoint character perceived at the start.

To be honest, I think less would be more. In the paperback edition I read, the book finishes on page 433. If some kindly fairy editor cut a hundred pages, six or eight characters, one of the three musicals and a big chunk of angst I think I would have enjoyed the book more than I did.

It had its moments, but they were too far apart.

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