Sweet & Bitter Magic by Adrienne Tooley
Tamsin is the most powerful witch of her generation. But after committing the worst magical sin, she’s exiled by the ruling Coven and cursed with the inability to love. The only way she can get those feelings back—even for just a little while—is to steal love from others.
Wren is a source—a rare kind of person who is made of magic, despite being unable to use it herself. Sources are required to train with the Coven as soon as they discover their abilities, but Wren—the only caretaker to her ailing father—has spent her life hiding her secret.
When a magical plague ravages the queendom, Wren’s father falls victim. To save him, Wren proposes a bargain: if Tamsin will help her catch the dark witch responsible for creating the plague, then Wren will give Tamsin her love for her father.
Of course, love bargains are a tricky thing, and these two have a long, perilous journey ahead of them—that is, if they don’t kill each other first.
DISCLAIMER: I received an eARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Tamsin can no longer love, and Wren is full to bursting with nearly too much of it.
When a plague settles over the land, stealing people’s memories before stealing their lives, it’s up to two very different girls to set things right. Tamsin, a witch, has been cursed to no longer feel love in any form, not even love for warm weather or clear skies. Her world is dull and coarse, a sharp contrast to Wren’s life, which blooms with color and the all-powerful love for her ailing father. Wren is a source, incapable of manipulating magic like a witch, but overflowing with it all the same.
Together, they must venture across their lands to find a way to stop the plague before it claims more lives, and along they way, they must reckon with the enormous consequences of their own hearts.
Truth be told, I hesitated to write this review.
Sweet & Bitter Magic struck an unexpected personal chord with me. Or maybe a personal nerve? Either way, I went in excited beyond words, because it’s a witchy sapphic book! Can I ever get enough of witchiness or sapphic content? The answer is no.
But in this case, there’s such a heavy emphasis on love that every page tugged at my aromantic heart, and not in an amazing way. On the one hand, the book early on stresses that Tamsin has been cursed to never feel love. Not just romantic love, but any love. Familial love, platonic love, even the love of a warm cup of tea on a chilly day eludes her. She lives her life in a state of dull misery because this curse robbed her of the ability to love, or really even to feel joy. For that, I actually applaud the thoroughness, because the summary made me fear the curse would only bar Tamsin from romantic love, a trope I am deeply tired of. I am not cursed for not feeling romantic love, and despise reading books that frame the absence of romantic love as some great and terrible tragedy.
That said, sometimes, I felt like there was an emphasis, in Wren’s POV, on Tamsin’s inability to love her back due to the curse. She never holds it against Tamsin, thankfully, but she focuses on that detail as a big part of Tamsin’s tragedy. Even now, a week and some after finishing Sweet & Bitter Magic, I’m having some trouble articulating what exactly rubs me the wrong way about this, but I know it does, and that it does so for reasons relating to my own aromantic experience.
On the one hand, it feels selfish to cry over this. Not selfish to cry over everything that Tamsin misses thanks to the curse, but selfish to cry over her apparently unreciprocated romantic love. And on the other hand, isn’t it normal and deeply crushing to know that someone does not love you back? Aren’t Wren and Tamsin teens, who no doubt feel emotions with extra punch?
Like I said, it’s hard to pin down what doesn’t work for me here. I know that vagueness may be unhelpful, especially for other aro readers looking for detail, but I truly am struggling to find the words for my discontent that also encompass how delighted I am to read a sapphic, witchy slowburn.
“Love was a powerful and terrible creature.”
How many words into this review, and we’re still talking about love? But that’s the thing about this book: it is about love. It’s about love so big you’d give anything to keep it alive. Love so strong that you don’t think twice about the sacrifice involved. Both Wren and Tamsin have experienced loves with such great intensity that they’ve been willing to uproot their entire worlds, consequences be damned.
And for all my earlier waffling and half-griping, I adore it.
I’m thrilled that Sweet & Bitter Magic sees two girls falling in love. I’m over the moon that it addresses multiple kinds of love and their different roles and influences in our lives. And most of all, I love that it shows you what happens when love oversteps. Even in love, there must be boundaries. It can turn toxic, no matter how well-intentioned a feeling it may be.
Sometimes, you just need to see two girls grapple with their biggest feelings. And then you need to see them develop feelings for each other, enemies to lovers style. Sweet & Bitter Magic delivers on that without a doubt, turning an adventure to save a queendom into something intensely personal at the very same time.
Sweet & Bitter Magic may not be entirely for me, but maybe it could be for you!
I can’t get past that little doubt in the back of my mind to fully enjoy Sweet & Bitter Magic. Such is the effect of personal experience, I suppose. But maybe it will be a hit for you! It’s tender and full of heart, with a whimsical magic that echoes with a certain darkness. And like I said, it has a distinct touch of enemies to lovers, with some mutual bargaining splashed on top. Somehow, I think that’ll draw quite a few of you in. 😉
And in even better news, Sweet & Bitter Magic is already on shelves! You can buy it or request it from your library today. No waiting anxiously for pub day, no waffling over where to place a preorder. It’s here, it’s queer, and it’s full of love.
I really do hope you love it in turn. Even if I don’t, I know there are many of you who need a story like this. Who will adore it. And I wish you only the greatest joy flipping through its pages!
CW: loss of a loved one, child death, animal death, violence