Review: Spellbound by Cara Lynn Shultz

Spellbound
Cara Lynn Shultz

Harlequin Teen (2011)
344 pages
YA / Romance / Supernatural

Purchase it from Amazon here

I usually try to avoid major plot spoilers, but I can’t really review this one without giving some things away.  Read at your own risk.

 

This book wasn’t really what I expected.  Based on the title and the cover, I expected teenage witchcraft and spells going awry and mystical powers wreaking havoc on the protagonist’s life.  And yes, there is a bit of all those things, but the story isn’t really about any of them.  It’s about a teenage girl named Emma, who has had a disastrous life.  Her twin brother died tragically a few years before, her mother died months before from illness and her step father is an abusive alcoholic that nearly killed her in a car crash.  These circumstances push her to New York City, where she moves in with her rich aunt and begins attending a prestigious Gossip Girl-like private academy.  There she meets the usual high school stereotypes – the cocky jackass who thinks everyone wants him, the bitchy queen bee who gets everything she wants, the over enthusiastic student council president, the secret gay best friend, the newly dabbling witch, and, of course, the bad boy.

Someday I will write a long rant about my problem with the “bad boys” of YA fiction (I’m looking at you, Patch), but not today.  Today I will commend Cara Lynn Shultz for writing a bad boy who turns out to actually be a decent guy that I can see an intelligent teenage girl falling for.  Rock star sexy and aloof, Brendan quickly catches Emma’s attention and then spends the first half of the book running hot and cold on her before the motivation behind the story finally begins to come to light.

And that’s what bored me.  The first half of this book is boring teenage high school drama.  Girls being catty, rumors being spread, asshats being asshats, boys being moody and girls being overly emotional.  Only the occasional string of supernaturally busted streetlights or vivid dreams of warning brought any mystery or intrigue to the story.  Not once would I have guessed that reincarnation and generations long curses were involved in the plot in anyway until… suddenly they were.  And the story became interesting for a little while.

The climax of the story, involving a homicidal teenage maniac and a fight in an abandoned Central Park was the highlight of the book.  It was paced well and, though the dialogue had its cheesy moments, it was really exciting.  I didn’t know what would happen – would someone die?  Would the cops get there in time?  Would they all end up lying on the ground, bleeding internally from all the massive punches to the stomach?  I didn’t know and that left me excited and eager to read on for the first time in the entire novel.  If only the 200+ pages before had been as exciting.

There just seems like there had to be a better way to tell this story to maintain the supernatural aspect throughout.  I think I would have liked it more had it been two parallel storylines being told in alternating chapters, one following Emma and Brendan and the other the story of Lord Aglaeon and Gloriana.  Then the entire backstory of the curse that was affecting Emma’s life wouldn’t have been condensed into a handful of pages.  It needed more detail, more intrigue intricately interwoven between the two romances.  Instead I was left feeling as though the story I really wanted to hear about was the one not being told to me.

And then I might not have had to suffer through some of the cheesy dialogue between Emma and Brendan when they finally admitted they had a thing for each other.  Then again, perhaps the amount of gushing would have been better received had I been more fully immersed in the lives of their original selves.  In the current context, it just seemed like the type of overwrought emotions and dialogue I would have written as an emo kid in high school.

One of my other problems with Spellbound was the significant amount of pop culture references.  It means the novel will probably age very badly.  It’s very much of its time and, a handful of years down the road, will most likely feel antiquated to its target age group.  It’s just one of those things that always jumps out at me for some reason.

But as for now, I can see why this would appeal to teenage girls.  There are some great villains in the bitchy Kristin and the nightmarish Anthony, who have believable motivation for doing what they do.  The supporting characters, while never really rising above stereotypes, keep the story from becoming too overwrought with hormonal emotions.  There are enough supernatural elements that it doesn’t start feeling like real life.  And above all, there’s the whole lesson of true love is ever lasting and eternal and will overcome all obstacles, even homicidal maniacs.  I don’t know a single teenage girl who doesn’t want to hear that more often, whether she’ll admit it or not.

And the absolutely best part?  It’s written in a manner that it is a standalone story, not obviously setting up for a sequel.  Yes, there are a couple of loose ends that could be used in a second novel, but they were left open in a very soap opera-y way (bad guy exit stage right to possibly come back later, that kind of thing).  At least, I was content until the short story at the end, “The Things I Deal with for Friends”, potentially set up a sequel using another “myth” from the book where Emma learned of Lord Agleaon and Gloriana.  Can no YA book be its own self-contained story anymore?

In the end, it’s standard YA paranormal romance.  There isn’t much special about it, which was disappointing.  It’s light fuzzy entertainment that allows you to turn off your brain and soak in cotton candy for a while.  If you come out feeling a bit sticky, what else did you expect?

 

 

C

Middle of the road paranormal YA romance fiction; generally likeable characters, but dialogue is cheesy and pacing issues left me bored many times

 

A e-galley of Spellbound was provided to me by the publisher via Netgalley