Spells Trouble by Kristin Cast and P.C. Cast
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Double double, twins spell trouble…
Hunter and Mercy Goode are twin witches, direct descendants of the founder of their town of Goodeville. As their ancestors have done before them, it is now time for the twins to learn what it means to be Gatekeepers–the protectors of the Gates to different underworlds, ancient portals between their world and realms where mythology rules and nightmares come to life.
When their mother becomes the first victim in a string of murders, the devastated sisters vow to avenge her death. But it will take more than magic to rein in the ancient mythological monsters who’ve infected their peaceful town.
Now Hunter and Mercy must come together and accept their destiny or risk being separated for good.
DISCLAIMER: I received an eARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
EXPECTED MAY 25TH, 2021
What should be a celebration turns rapidly into a tragedy for Hunter and Mercy Goode.
The night of their sixteenth birthday, they pledge themselves to their patron gods, preparing to become full witches in their own right. But even as they reach this monumental milestone, something goes horribly awry, killing their mother and weakening the gates of Goodeville in the process. Now, overrun by grief and fear, without their beloved mother’s guidance, the twins must discover the source of the evil seeping into their town if they hope to protect their loved ones who remain.
That’s easier said than done, though, and along the way, Hunter and Mercy must come to understand one another, too.
Conceptually, this could have been exciting. In practice, though, Spells Trouble is an exercise in futility.
Frankly, the only reason I didn’t DNF this book was my own stubborn nature, and the faint hope that maybe it would improve by the end. Obviously, seeing as I gave it only a single star, it very much did not, and this is due to its constant failure to accomplish anything of note. You would think that portals to various underworlds would elicit a great sense of urgency, even with grief weighing on the twins. Yet the pacing and tone is all over the place, sometimes leaning almost towards a younger YA voice and focusing on blips of character bonding that don’t advance the plot, and sometimes launching into a full on sex scene between sixteen year old kids that also does very little for the plot.
(I would have had less of an issue with the sex scene if it wasn’t so…detailed? I get that teens sometimes have sex, and I think it’s reasonable for YA authors to include that. But when your sex scene is written with such an emphasis on the sexy? In YA? Yeah, that’s pretty uncomfortable.)
Really, most of the issues stem from this failure to advance the plot. Over the course of the entire book, the Goode twins alternate between mourning their mother and fumbling through possible ways to protect the trees that serve as underworld gates, only to end the book knowing they failed after all their hard work. What, then, was the point of all those attempts? What was the point of all that tense research and the drawing of boundaries between characters?
It ultimately feels like a waste of 320 pages to place our characters essentially where they started, except more distrustful of one another than before.
But Spells Trouble doesn’t just flounder in its plot. It’s careless in its representation and approaches.
This section of my review could easily go on forever, but I’ll try to keep it concise. The short version? Certain fragments of representation were handed out as if to score brownie points. Certain personality traits were slapped onto characters to make them less dull, only to make them feel even flatter. It’s overall a train wreck, dripping with a carelessness that has me rolling my eyes so hard I can see the back of my skull.
The personality trait issue is the far less serious of the two I’ve mentioned, and takes a little less time to cover. For some reason, the authors make sure to highlight that Hunter is an aspiring author, only to give that hobby minimal depth beyond a single notebook and her inability to put the words on the page. It barely shapes her character otherwise.
Meanwhile, Mercy sometimes uses British slang for absolutely no reason at all. She doesn’t have anyone in her life from England, and hasn’t spent any time there at all. It’s entirely inexplicable, and while I’m sure there are kids out there who play around with slang and accents for minimal reason, it only serves here to make Mercy irritating, as well as a collection of eccentricities pasted on top of an otherwise boring character. Complexity and nuance who?
But easily most frustrating are matters of attempted representation. The most obvious issue is the way Hunter is treated. She is a lesbian, but the matter only surfaces when discussing childhood bullying she faced (complete with gratuitous slurs!), or when she feels isolated and not like other folks in Goodeville. Here I was, all excited about a book that might have a sapphic witch, and all I got was this lousy case of dogpiling and misery.
And while we’re at it, let’s talk about how the authors handle race and culture, because they’re terrible at it. Turns out, the underworld gates in Spells Trouble are linked to mythologies across the world, including underworlds from Japanese, Hindu, and Egyptian mythology. And these gates? They were founded by a white woman, who conveniently found the solution to holding mythological underworlds at bay when the indigenous populations could not.
(It’s no surprise that this indigenous population is said to be gone now, and that SURPRISE, one of the supporting characters is half Native American! Not that you would know unless it was mentioned, since there are absolutely zero indicators otherwise. And naming which group of indigenous people he’s part of? Gee whiz, that must have been too much work.)
Overall, it makes Spells Trouble clumsy, frustrating, and disrespectful, even if that wasn’t the authors’ intent. After all, you can intend to do right by someone or something and still cause harm instead. Or, as it often feels in this case, you can try to score your brownie points but just not really, truly care.
In full honesty, I cannot recommend this book.
I regret not DNFing it, to be frank. And I can’t even come up with a sort of reader who might enjoy it. When I finished reading, I felt like I’d wasted the last three hours of my life. You probably know as well as I do that’s never a good feeling.
Save your three-odd hours for another book, one that’s actually enjoyable. Or go for a walk. Maybe play a video game. Simply anything else is probably more rewarding than Spells Trouble.
CW: animal death, underage drinking, violence, gore (including eye gore), graphic injury, loss of a loved one, homophobia (including slurs), sex scene, drug use