Can magic and science come together to catch a murderer?
Cassie’s world is turned upside down when she’s given an unusual blood sample to test. And when a mysterious man shows up at her lab telling her he has the answers she’s looking for, she’s pulled into a world of murder, investigations, and intrigue.
Finally able to explore the connection between her powers as a witch and her expertise as a scientist to uncover why paranormals keep turning up dead. – Spell Caster is a reverse harem paranormal mystery set in the Paranormal Council Universe.
Sigh. This wasn’t bad. It was just sort of a mess. For one, it’s called a reverse harem, which infers (though admittedly doesn’t say) it’s erotic. Most reverse harem books you encounter are, so tying itself into a known erotic trope suggests it is too. It isn’t. The steamiest this gets is that Cassie kisses each of her mates once (and they’re not even descriptive passionate kisses) and then each man kisses her forehead or the top of her head once. There is no passion or eroticism in this at all. If she was interested, I’d let me 9yo read it.
Similarly there isn’t any passion (erotic or otherwise) about the mating. Cassie has a calm conversation with each man and then moves on. It literally could have been a work meeting over coffee. (Once even is over coffee.)
But most importantly, how this four-way mating might work isn’t addressed at all. It’s clarified that each man is her mate and they aren’t each others mates (no menage). But I have a hard time believing that will work with no jealousy. Why would these guys share a mate?
The book would have simply been IMMENSELY improved if the author had left the mate element out and let the book be about Cassie getting a new job and earning her spot on the Paranormal Crimes Investigation team. And I honestly think the author would only have had to cut about 2% of the text to make this true. I cannot emphasize enough how underdeveloped the mate aspect is. It’s so underdeveloped that it’s just a distraction and detraction in the plot. I think I’d have really liked the book if it was just a paranormal mystery. As it is, I was just disappointed.
Edit: On a side note, the title is Spell Caster, but Cassie doesn’t cast a single spell in the book. She uses magic, but never an actual spell. Just saying.
Author, Christine Amsden was giving away Audible codes of her Cassie Scot series recently and I received some. She’s also a fairly local-to-me author and I love to read/review their books.
Below is the description of book one. It stands as a decent enough description of the series as a whole.
She was born into magic, but she has none of her own…
Cassie Scot is the normal daughter of powerful sorcerers, born between worlds but belonging to neither. She strives to find a place for herself, but living in the shadow of her family’s reputation isn’t easy. All she wants is a nice, normal job, but her dreams of independence from magic are threatened when she is plunged into a paranormal investigation which gets her tangled up with the victim’s powerful family, the Blackwoods. Dark, dangerous, and handsome Evan Blackwood tempts Cassie deeper into a world she seeks to escape. Yet Evan – and magic itself – may not be ready to let her go.
Reviews in which you can sense me getting progressively more frustrated with this series and which contain spoilers:
I’m reminded of my relationship with the Kate Daniels series. I never want to rate any individual book super highly, but I always want another one. Cassie Scot is like that.
I was bothered that at 21 she’s still treated like a child, and apparently expects nothing else. I disliked that there was obviously information being kept from her and she seemed content to not pursue it. Her dithering over the boyfriend felt forced, it obviously wasn’t a difficult decision. I thought she had a couple too-stupid-to-live moments (the swimming pool, comes to mind). I went a little ragey finding out it ends on a cliffhanger, with some important info sill being held in reserve from the reader. But I also simply enjoyed the ride, liked the characters and want to know what happens. And, in the end, that matters more to me than anything else.
Secrets and Lies: This is a disappointment. The writing here is fine, as is the narration. Plus, I read and enjoyed book one. At the time of writing this review, I’m about a third of the way through book three and enjoying it too. I even have book four that I intend to read and anticipate enjoying it. But this particular book’s plot just happened to include two elements that I hate. And I don’t just mean dislike a little bit, but actively hate and try to avoid in my books.
I honestly think that a full half of mystery books are about women being raped, trafficked, or used as breeding stock (which is all part and parcel of the same), possibly more. I am just so sick of it. I no longer find anything about it new, or original or enjoyable. In fact, I cringe away from them. Women being victimized is all over social media all day. It’s in the news. It’s spoken of among friends and apparently it’s inescapable even in the literature we read for fun. Female victims vastly outnumber male in general and sexual violence seems a favorite theme of authors. I’m just plain sick of getting slapped in the face with it all the time. So, while I acknowledge this isn’t Secrets and Lies fault, it 100% set me on edge and severely compromised my enjoyment. I feel like it’s a lazy plot line.
And here’s the thing, sure, I can see that in a society that values powerful bloodlines there would be those who try to take advantage of it. But I can also see that there’s no reason some women wouldn’t born uber powerful too and girls taught from day one to protect themselves. But instead we’re just given women=victim, over and over again. Even in just this series, book one’s victims were a teen girl and an over-sexualized woman. And here, in book two, we’re given two innocent girls. I sense a theme (and expect it to continue forward in the series). Men are predators and women are victims. I am so sick of this never varying narrative in my fiction.
This brings me to the second element that I hate, I mean really rage about. And it’s kind of related, in that it’s commonly seen (though not as common as women=victims). I absolutely hate when a character is wronged and then forced to forgive the perpetrator to save the day. I hate this! What Cassie’s parents did to her was horrible. She was entitled to all of the hurt and anger she felt. That she was then forced to forgive them to save them is almost a violation all it’s own. That she could hurt and be angry and still want to save them, because she doesn’t want to see them dead, is one thing. Fight a battle, pay a price, make a speech, there are a million actions she could be forced to take to save the people who hurt her and still maintain her own (rightful) emotions. But for her to be forced to forgive, that’s too personal and a new wrong all of it’s own. So, she has to be further wronged because she’s been wronged. Fuck off.
What’s more, the whole idea that she should forgive her parents because her mother suffered a past trauma doesn’t track for me. It made the events worse. They threw Cassie out, fully unprepared, to be victimized in exactly the same way her mother was. That doesn’t make it forgivable to me. That makes it worse. Nothing in this plot line did anything but anger me.
Plus, it was just too much of an emotional swing. The parents were loving, wonderful good guys. Then parents did something horrible and became bad guys. Then we find out mother has been traumatized in the past, so they’re supposed to be good guys again. I couldn’t personally make all those adjustments in times. So, I disliked seeing Cassie trying to rebuild her relationship with them. That should be on her parents, not her, and they should be working for it.
All in all, I disliked this book based on it’s plot. I still enjoy Cassie. I still like the series. I acknowledge this book as an anomaly. I haven’t one-starred it (because it doesn’t deserve it), but I really wanted to. It just seemed to hit all my most hated hot buttons.
Mind Games: I don’t know. I’m seriously torn on this series. I like Cassie and the actual writing/tone of the books (I really do.) and the narrator is great. But I’m just constantly frustrated with the decisions Cassie and the author make. The last book had me all but enraged and this one didn’t. But I just wasn’t happy either. I’m sick of the constant reminder that women are sexually enslaved as breeding stock (and the endless stream of men trying to get Cassie for this reason), can’t figure out why only women are ever spoken of being drained of magic (seems to me it would work just as well on men), and the Cassie never pushes for the information I want her to or tells people the things I think they should know.
I mean, I really feel like that if she had a true heart to heart where she told Evan how much it hurt her to not have her magic and see him refuse to give it back, I feel like he’d relent. But she asked once, didn’t push and didn’t tell him her actual feelings. Similarly, I feel like her family sold her out AGAIN in this book, but she never said a word about that. It’s so frustrating to repeatedly watch her walk away with things unaddressed.
Having said all that, I really do like her. I like that she’s gaining strength, even without her power. I like that she protects people. And I like the side characters. I just find the decisions she makes and the plot lines the author utilizes frustrating as hell.
Stolen Dreams: I’ll give this a three based on objective-like quality. It probably deserves more, as it is well-written. But as has been the case with every book past the first, I’ve become increasingly frustrated with each one. And this last one had me so irritated I was ranting to my husband about what was obviously going to happen before it even did. And when it finally came about, I just wanted to one-star the sucker and DNF it.
I like Cassie. I even like Evan. I understood that the actions of their family aren’t theirs and they were not in control of the situation. It’s not actually them I dislike. (Though watching Evan try and manipulate and trick Cassie into marrying him, just like the dozens of other men, almost condemned him in my eyes.)
But something about the treatment of women in the book has been niggling me from the beginning and getting worse as the series went on. And I finally pinpointed it here. It’s two fold. The first is Cassie being powerless and eventually accepting that.
Let me be more clear. Cassie spends the whole series successfully learning to defend herself without active magic. And importantly, she wants her magic and to be able to defend herself. (Not be defended, she wants to defend herself.) And she gets a lot of pushback for this from men who want to protect her instead.
One of the large turning points of the book is that Evan (who has her power) finally offers it back and she refuses it. She finally accepts that “not everyone is a warrior” and she doesn’t have to be one because she married one instead. In other words, she accepted that it’s a woman’s place to stand back and be protected, not to actively protect themselves.
This whole, ‘not everyone is a warrior’ wouldn’t have been as egregious for me if it had been Meredith or someone who didn’t want to fight anyway. But for Cassie, who does, to finally accept this felt like a feminist kick in the teeth. She basically just stepped back into the traditional female role she had been fighting all along.
What’s more, it put her firmly back in the traditional female role of sacrifice. She sacrificed her own power (and for a little while her family) to be with him. While he got to keep all of his ill-gotten power and get the girl. That made me angry.
As did seeing him try and force her into loving him. I promise you, a person can be so angry as to never want to see or have anything to do with someone and still love them. Happens in families all the time. Just because she might have lingering feelings of love does not mean she wants to tie herself to him. The whole ‘bet me’ plot line felt like a skeezy trap. It made him no better than all the men who slipped her love potions, in my opinion.
My second issue is bigger and vaguer. A running theme in the series is the slave trade, in which women (and apparently only women, if we go by anecdotal evidence) are kidnapped, drained of their magic to make them biddable, and sold into ‘marriage’ (which one would assume also means rape). This is spoken of as horrible. The one stranger the characters meet who is such a woman is obviously being abused. HOWEVER, every such woman we meet and get to know is perfectly happy in her captivity. All the men (and everyone else) refer to them as wives, bought wives, but wives. The slavery aspect is subtly erased.
If these were women who put themselves on the market to be bought, that would be fine. But remember the kidnapping, rape of magic and sale? These aren’t wives any more than Sally Hemingway was Jefferson’s ‘mistress.’ She and they were slaves. So, for the mayor’s wife to lecture Cassie on how she and her husband love each other, for Evan’s father to wax lyrical about trying so hard to make his first wife happy, etc, dismisses the gravity of slavery. He said he loved his wife, but he still had to let her go. She wasn’t free to do so on her own. She was owned.
This acceptance of slavery, despite calling it bad, was strongly reinforced by the fact that throughout the series men are trying to enslave Cassie through magic and everyone just accepts it as normal. Cassie herself even decides to go work for and help the man who came closest to catching her. She understandood perfectly that he tried to enslave her mind, magically roofied her and tried to rape her. She sees this. But he’s apparently not a bad enough man to avoid contact with or judge as evil. And neither is his father, despite buying a traumatized slave as a ‘wife.’
The combination of these issues finally led me to hate this series, even as I liked the characters. There’s something pervasively and perniciously anti-woman in them. If you remember that the word ‘nice’ once meant foolish or stupid, you can then understand what I mean when I say it encourages us to be ‘nice,’ to not step out of our role, to not strive for more. Cassie did, and it was frustrating for four whole books. She only got her happiness when she stopped and accepted that she needed to let Evan do the protecting (and by extension much of the decision-making) and accept that she was better off without power.
The author did try and mediate this a little by saying Cassie didn’t want her magic because she loved herself the way she was and giving her a gift she couldn’t access with her power. But the first felt pat and the second wasn’t part of Cassie’s decision-making. She didn’t know until after the decision was made.
So, I clicked the three-star button on the sites I cross-post on. But in my heart this was a one-star read.