Stephanie Burgis' Harwood Spellbook series gives plenty of enjoyment. There are moments when you're intrigued by a well-crafted world. There are moments where your blood boils at the injustice thrust upon characters. There are also moments of fun and levity, bits that elicit a smile or a laugh. Thornbound, the second book in the series, has all of these aspects aplenty.
Thornbound picks up soon after Snowspelled left off. It tells the story of the first week of classes at Thornfell College of Magic, a new institution breaking the mold and prejudices of the day and training women in the practice of magic. One of the elements I truly love about Burgis' writing in this one is that she manages to write a story that feels small and personal but set it in a world that is deeply crafted. Her fictional Angland could give the worlds in many epic fantasy novels a run for their money. The similarities and differences in comparison to our own world are extremely well done. The world walks the line between historical fantasy and an entirely secondary world, often making you ask the what if questions that historical fantasy is so good at while also offering the sandbox that secondary world fantasy so often does. Burgis is also exceptional at writing antagonists that elicit visceral reactions from the reader. There were moments when I wanted to throw something at the antagonists. We aren't dealing with dark lords here, but with run of the mill, every day selfishness and blindness that is incredibly relatable.
There are a couple weaknesses in the novel. For me, the largest is that, because it is a short novel, I often had ancillary questions that went unanswered. There are so many delicious hints dropped in terms of the magic and the world on which I want the story to go just a bit deeper. The story is obviously meant to be small in scope, so I can't fault it too much for this, but I would have liked to have seen just that little more in terms of the magic and world. Another issue I had was that, going in, I expected this to be another romance, similar to Snowspelled. But it had hardly any romantic elements at all. I certainly wouldn't call it a romance. More a sort of cozy adventure fantasy. This isn't a weakness, just an element that I missed in this story, knowing how well Burgis can write romance. And yet, it isn't that this story feels the lack of it. I wanted to see more of the romance, true, but I don't think the story suffered as a result.
Thornbound is another quick, fun read from Stephanie Burgis that will appeal especially to those who enjoy personal, small-scale stories set in well-crafted worlds. I certainly can't wait to see what Burgis brings us next.
Review by Calvin Park
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