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Dark Spell (Kelpies) Paperback – July 1, 2013
'This is a modern-day Harry Potter set near a Scottish school in St Andrews... I cannot recommend this book highly enough.' -- Daily Record Book Club 'All told, a solid 4 stars.' -- 2 the Point Book Reviews blog 'A coming of age story with a paranormal/witchy twist.' -- Tome Tender Blog 'The characterisation is excellent, and I particularly like the way Callie is shown struggling to get to terms with her powers which read almost as hormonal energy...This is elegant writing... a pacey, thoughtful, scary, exhilarating read and highly recommended.' -- The School Librarian (SLA) 'The story is well engineered, and works not only on the superficial level, but on more than one level... I am not surprised that it has won awards. I found myself enchanted by Dark Spell. I enjoyed not only the characters, but also the sense of place the author delivers of the mix of old and new in contemporary Scotland. Gill Arbuthnott conjures a stunning mix of teen angst and magic mixed with just enough danger to scoot you to the edge of your seat. Big thumbs up on this one!' -- Novelspot
From the Inside Flap
15-year-old Callie Hall has just found out she's a witch, and things keep going wrong. Sometimes her mind seems to make things happen, things she can't control. She can set fire to things without a match, and when she's angry people can get hurt.
Her friend Josh understands she's a bit weird, but it's only on a dark and dangerous visit to the tunnels under the ruins of St Andrews' Castle that he realises just how strange she really is. Something comes back with Callie -- in Callie -- something she can't escape.
Can Callie control her power long enough to send back the darkness, before it takes over her life? And will Josh ever understand her secret?
A brilliant, engrossing teen fantasy from the author of Winterbringers and The Keeper's Daughter.
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We start with Callie, her mother Janet and her grandmother Rose. Rose is an active and powerful witch. Janet has no magical abilities at all. Callie's powers are awakening, and no one has warned her that, hey!, she might be a witch. As her untrained magical abilities begin to manifest she understandably begins to freak out. She just thinks she's unpopular and different and has pretty predictable problems at school. Finally, grandmother Rose explains the witch connection to her. Mom is in total denial about the whole magic thing. So, there is Callie/Mom conflict, mom/grandmother conflict, some Callie/grandmother conflict, and so on. (A "mean girl at school" subplot is hinted at, but mercifully, not developed.) All of this is predictable, uninspired and actually addressed with what feels like a sense of obligation on the author's part; like it would never occur to anyone to have the mother be happy for her daughter. I address this at length only because it drags on long enough and makes all of the characters unappealing enough that you might be tempted to give this volume a miss. Well, don't be so quick on the trigger there, cowgirl.
Callie begins to gain some control over her powers. Her long distance boy friend, (he's a boy, he's a friend, but he's not a boyfriend), shows up for summer vacation and adds some life and cheer and energy to the story. The two visit the old tunnels under the St. Andrews castle, and a dark spirit attaches itself to Callie and begins to haunt her. Once we get to the tunnels everything picks up steam and takes off. There is dread, small ominous signs, night terrors, appearances, hauntings, possessions, and threats. A gloom appropriate to the Scottish fog settles over our heroes as they try to cope. Creepy, scary scenes are presented with great flair and yet restraint. This is scary ghost story telling with real muscle. This isn't just little unsettling bits here and there; this is full on, (though still middle grade), walls-dripping-blood stuff. The teens must solve the mystery of the identity of this restless spirit, and of what it wants and how it can be banished. All of this is handled skillfully.
So, the upshot is that if you can put aside the distracting teen drama you will be rewarded with a solid middle grade ghost story. And I suspect that if you're a teen reader who has gotten pretty much used to the usual teen angst sub-plots, that will be even easier.
Please note that I received a free advance ecopy of this book in exchange for a candid review. Apart from that I have no connection at all to either the author or the publisher of this book.
This interesting tale is a coming-of-age story of Callie Hall and how her first real witching encounter displays her unique powerful skills. With her family threatened, and her best friend, Josh, in the mix, how can Callie ready herself for the dark force of nightmares?
"They were right. She was a freak. And there was no one she could tell." (loc. 51)
I liked the premise of this book, and I found the plot build-up interesting. I really feel that, although the age of the characters are 15, that this book fits really well with the Children's and Middle Grade genre it's in. It's a nice little paranormal fantasy, and I was beyond pleased that romance did not play a factor in Dark Spell, but the situation, wording, dialogues and actions felt a bit stiff. Callie's constant insecurities and self-esteem issues struck a bad chord with me, but other than that the characters are pleasant. I must say that I did not like how Callie's familial relations are not displayed as simple pronouns like "mom," "dad," or her "grandparents" because using the adults first name's got really confusing and I had to constantly remind myself of how they are related to one another, and Callie. Even if I saw the names separately right at this very moment, I still wouldn't be sure on who is who. I love how the story is told in third person, so as the reader can get a better experience in the adventure's outlook, but I think that better transitions could have been used between character point of views to avoid confusion. Better transitioning probably would have been better at the beginning when the time spans kept spreading in a matter of paragraphs.
"There was something special about Callie - nothing to do with her being a witch - that meant he didn't want to let her down. He cared about her; he didn't want her facing this alone." (loc. 1607)
In all, I believe that this is a delightful tale for those of the younger generation. I could easily have seen myself reading a tale like this in elementary or middle school. I love the plot and the frightening supernatural twist it takes and how much more interesting and different it makes the story. The ghost of a witch? Great stuff! I would recommend this book for the younger crowd who love to dabble in paranormal fantasies and witchcraft, and who are as tired of reading about romance in everything, as I am.
First Line: "I am living in a nightmare." (loc. 9)
Last Line: "Callie smiled as she watched him walk away." (loc. 1948)
Galley provided by NetGalley via Floris Books
*Quotes are from uncorrected advanced galleys and may change before going to press. Please refer to the final printed book for official quotes.
Callie is a sweet yet headstrong character that is trying to figure out who she is and why she doesn't fit in with other kids her age. Her long distance friend, Josh, comes to visit for a couple of weeks during the summer and quickly gets wrapped up in Callie's witchy problems. I really like their friendship and I am glad it didn't turn romantic. It is refreshing to read about a boy and a girl that are good friends without any sort of tension.
I have a few complaints with the book. The first is that some of the situations and the characters' reactions didn't feel realistic. The second is that much of the story was very formulaic and predictable. Lastly, I didn't see the point of including the characters of Evie and her posse at the beginning. They were irrelevant to the plot and felt out of place once I got further into the book.
On a different but not unrelated note, I absolutely love this cover! It's gorgeous. I love the colors and the texture. The cover is what made me pick up the book. Love it.