Spellcast by Barbara Ashford (DAW, May 2011)-32 year old Maggie Graham is having a very, very bad day. First she loses her job, then she watches as the bathroom ceiling in her tiny New York apartment falls down. Determined to get away, she takes her meager savings and heads for the country lure of rural Vermont. Following her gut, she takes a certain exit, that leads to a certain town (Dale), where there is a certain white barn… Sorry for sounding a bit cryptic, but from the beginning, there seems to be mysterious hand guiding Maggie in her journey to Dale and to the irresistible white barn. Don’t worry, the author won’t torture you, and YOUR journey to find the mystery of the Crossroads Theatre is a big part of the joy that is Spellcast.
See, Maggie just happens to hit Dale right before auditions close for the summer stock at the Crossroads. Following a compulsion that she doesn’t yet understand, she decides to take the plunge and audition. After all, before a series of inane jobs left her disillusioned and depressed, she did quite a bit of stage acting, and has forgotten just how much she loved it. When Maggie arrives at Crossroads, she discovers that she’s one of many that have auditioned, and eventually realizes that she’s one of the only one in the cast that’s had acting experience. So, the productions should be horrid, even disastrous, right? Not so! Somehow, this ragtag bunch of people are able to make magic on the stage, and it might have something to do with the brooding, mysterious (and super sexy) director, Rowan Mackenzie. At first Maggie chalks it up to simple charisma, or magnetism, the way he brings out the best in people and casts them in JUST the right parts. She soon begins to suspect that it’s something more, something way bigger, then she ever could imagine.
I really can’t convey how much I adored Spellcast. Maggie is vulnerable, jobless, and many years later, reeling from the pain of her father’s abandonment. She finds she can’t quite resist this community of unusual and inexplicably charming people, and soon finds that maybe something has been missing in her life. I never thought I’d have much interest in a novel that revolves around musical theater, and the author certainly knows of what she writes, having been a stage actress herself. I found every bit of it fascinating, though! Then there’s Rowan… Oh boy, where do I start? Are you a sucker for the moody, brooding type? Yes? Then you’ll love Rowan. Rowan of the alabaster skin and expressive eyes… Oops, I digress. Maggie is instantly attracted to him, but her mind really isn’t on romance at the beginning of this story. Don’t worry, that certainly changes, and the tension between Maggie and Rowan will have you eating up the pages. Torturous, I say!! But in the most wonderful, magical way. All isn’t what it seems in Dale, however, and hints of a curse and otherworldy connotations are always at the peripheral, then move to the forefront in the second half of the book. If you’re looking for kick-ass chicks and magic wielding mages, you won’t find them here. What you will find is beautiful characterization, graceful storytelling, secrets galore, an achingly tender love story, and yes, magic. Plenty of magic! There’s plenty to love about this wonderful, unusual book, so I could go on, but I urge you to discover the magic for yourself. Spellcast is as close to perfect as it gets for me, and I’ll eagerly await the release of Ms. Ashford’s sequel, Spellcrossed next year (le sigh.)