Review: Spellcast

Barbara Ashford
Urban Fantasy
433 pages
Book 1
DAW books

Back Cover:
First, she lost her job.  Then the bathroom ceiling in her Brooklyn apartment collapsed.  That was when Maggie decided it was time to run away from home for a while.  A weekend in Vermont sounded like the perfect getaway.  Spying a road sign for the township of Hillandale, toward Dale.  For some reason the area felt familiar, especially the big white bard she passes on the way to town. 
And, as thought everything about this journey was somehow preordained, Maggie ended up auditioning for her and being offered a job in the summer stock company of the Crossroads Theatre-housed in that white barn outside of town. 
As it turned out, she was practically the only person on the cast with previous acting credits.  But none of her professional experience could prepare her for the magic that was about to happen on the stage of this big old barn, or for the theater's unorthodox staff, especially its moody and mysterious director....

After hours of having a completely quiet and catatonic wife, my husband had to interrupt and ask, "Must be a really good book huh?"  He said I looked up with this look of awe on my face and said, "It's like nothing I've ever read before."  And that's exactly how I felt; how I still feel even days later.  

To be completely honest, when Ms. Ashford asked me to read her book I was nervous that I would find it hard to connect with the story -being that I'm not a thespian, nor have I ever stepped foot on stage.  But I shouldn't have worried about that, because Ashford's love for the theater runs deep enough for the both of us.  You can feel the warmth of that love radiate from the way she describes something as simple as stage direction, to the way she elaborates on something as important and complex as method acting. It boils down to the skill she has in writing about something she so clearly loves.  It's become a part of her soul, and she's been kind enough to share that part of her soul with us.  So if you're worried, because like me, you're not a theater buff, please don't let that stop you from picking up this touching and heartfelt tale. 

The book is a complete mystery for the majority of it.  You will guess that you know what's going on in this strange Vermont town, with this cast of unusual yet somehow realistic characters, but then something will happen and you'll think "well, that's new. Maybe I don't really get what's happening."  Eventually you stop trying to figure everything out, and just go with it. The story that unfolds is one that is so stirring {in a fantastic way}, that it'll stay with you long after the last page is read. The connections I made with the characters are lasting, and I'm anxious to see what story they have to tell me next.  

From the very first page I was drawn in by the voice and the tone of the book. Hell, here's the first page.  Tell me you don't want more from this character... 

On a scale of one to ten, the day has registered 9.5 on the Suck Scale even before I climbed into the bathtub with my bottle of Talisker. First, the "I'm sorry, but the recent merger means that we'll have to let some people go" speech at work. Then, the horrifically exuberant letter from some college classmate that exclaimed, "Hurry, Maggie! only a few days left to register for our tenth reunion!"
Now, it appeared to be snowing. Inside my bathroom.
I gazed heavenward and frowned. A few moments ago, the crack in the ceiling has merely struck me as a depressing metaphor for my life. Now, it has blossomed into a giant spiderweb.
Mesmerized by whisky and the sheer improbability of yet another disaster, I watched the web expand. Like a character in a movie who stands on the frozen lake while you're shouting at the screen, "The ice is creaking up, you moron!"
When the first chunk of plaster struck my knee, I grabbed the Talisker and scrambled to safety. Seconds later, a chunk the size of my microwave plummeted into the tub, sending a small tidal wave lapping across my feet.
I stared at the iceberg of plaster floating in the tub, at the gaping hole in my ceiling, at the water racing down the hallway. The I did what any strong, self-reliant New Yorker would do after surviving the loss of her job and the reminder of ten years of lackluster achievement on both personal and professional front. I cried.

Bottom Line: I can only guess that I'm feeling much like the first person who read Jane Austen or William Shakespeare's first work must have felt. This book, this author, these characters, they're keepers.

5 stars


  1. Can't freaking wait for book 2! DYING for book 2!

  2. So I take it you and Nat would essentially cut a b*tch to get your hands on book 2, huh? Good thing that I'm heading to a bookstore after work. I'll make sure to pick up a copy. Great review Jess!

  3. You already had me sold on this one! Now I wish I had called in sick to work today so I could just stay home and read it all day. Great review.

  4. I bought this because of you and Nat!!! I can't wait to start it - hopefully in the next week or so!!!!!!!!

  5. Colette and Pamela - Damn Jess and Nat. Am I right. Suggesting books and we, like little sheep, pine for them. *sigh* Thank goodness they have excellent taste. ;)

  6. I've placed this book on my TBR list between you raving about it on twitter and this fabulous review! Jess, I'm so happy you enjoyed this book so much. :-D Best book this year for you...I'm thinking that says "Deanna, you must read this!" Tehehe.

  7. Colette: I could read this again. Right now.

    Pam: I hope you enjoy it as much as we did!

    Julie: PFFT I'm just returning the favor. All my PNR recs come from you ;)

    Deanna: This book is amazing. Enjoy