A bell tinkled as I entered the shop, and the cat stretched and padded over to greet me. Standing on his hind legs, he pawed my thigh. I knelt down and scratched his ears.
“Hey, there, Merlin. How have you been? You ready to tell me whether you’re really a cat or not?”
Merlin mewed and blinked his large yellow eyes at me before strutting back to his spot on the windowsill.
Fred, a middle-aged witch with a balding gray head and cheaters that almost fell off his spotted nose, stuck his head out from one of the aisles.
“Good morning, Fred.”
“Anna,” he greeted with a smile and emerged with arms full of books.
“How are you?” I asked.
“Age seems to be catching up to me these days. I can’t get the winter chill out of my bones.” He set the thick volumes on the counter with loving care.
“You’re not that old, Fred.”
He chuckled. “You’ve always been such a kind girl. So what can I help you with today? That old copy of Sherlock Holmes finally given out?”
“No. I take good care of it. I’m actually just passing through today. Do you mind giving me a hand?”
“Out on another adventure, eh?”
I nodded without elaborating, and he motioned me to follow him.
The bookshelves, packed with dusty old tomes, were set up almost like a maze. I could get lost in any one of the books on his shelves, so I always thought a maze was the perfect setup for Fred’s shop. Out of sight of the front door was a shelf filled with folklore and fairy tales.
A hanging lamp illuminated the titles. It looked like a winged dragon with claws that wrapped protectively around the light bulb. His barbed tail whipped behind him, ready to crash anyone who came near.
Fred reached for the tail and twisted it twice with a “click, click.”
The bookshelf unlocked, and Fred pushed it open to reveal a set of stone stairs.
“I need to go to Miller’s Magical Tools,” I told him.
He breathed life into my violet will-o’-the-wisp guide and set it free.
“Thanks, Fred.” I smiled at him before descending to Starlight Avenue.
This is a mystery, with magic and set in the 1920s. Honestly, how could I ever resist it?
The story is set in a 1920s America where Prohibition is on magic rather than on alcohol. Some decades previous, the magic community revealed itself and witches and humans have lived side by side, knowingly, ever after. A person can either be born a witch or a human, and a human can never become a witch (well, unless they perform unspeakable acts). This slowly created some kind of segregation, since magic and magical tools can be dangerous to humans. Ultimately, a form of Prohibition was put in place, though – like the real Prohibition – it was actually very loosely enforced.
I really liked the concept. I especially liked how it played out in the story. The relationship between humans and witches – including the characters here involved – is complex but realistic and interesting. I’d say this fantasy aspect of the story was the best – at least from the perspective of this fantasy reader.
The mystery was intriguing, especially at the beginning. To a certain point, I found it complex enough to keep my interest, and yet handled with logic, which also kept my attention.
Unfortunately, towards the end, the mystery slid into a strained idea which didn’t really work, in my opinion. I mean, the way it started off, the mystery could have ended in a stronger way. But it was adequate, so I won’t complain too much.
There’s also a romance element to the story that becomes ever stronger the more the story unfolds. This has proven to be the weakest part in the end.
Although I’m not a romance reader, I appreciated this aspect of the story, in the beginning, because it was focused on Anna’s growing as a person. The way she handled (or tried to handle) loss and grief, though grounded in the fantasy world, was realistic and relatable. But as the story progressed, several romance clichés emerged. Since the end of the story hinged on the romance element, clichés greatly affected its strength. I’ll just say that I discussed this story with a friend who does read romances and she could guess the entire closing sequence without hesitation and without my help.
But this doesn’t mean the story was ruined. I still think it was a great story and a great set up for a series. I’ll read more if I have a chance.
In post is part of the Thursday Quotables meme, which was originally created by Lisa Wolf on her book blog Bookshelf Fantasies