“Spells Trouble: Sisters of Salem (Sisters of Salem, 1)” by P.C. and Kristin Cast. Pittsburgh: Wednesday Books, 2021. 320 pages, $18.99 (hardcover).

Direct descendants of Sarah Goode, Hunter and Mercy are twin witches who are learning what their ancestors have been doing to protect their town of Goodeville. They are to be Gatekeepers – protectors of the five gates to a different underworld that Sarah sealed when she founded the town after escaping persecution in Salem. On the night of their 16th birthday, their mother is murdered during the gatekeeping ritual. As more are murdered, the sisters vow to make their mother proud and avenge her death by resealing the gates and figuring out what has gone wrong.

I requested this book because I was very excited about the authors, the premise and the entire story. I’ve had a harder time writing this book review, because while there were things that I did really enjoy about the story, I did have some serious issues with other parts of it. In general, if I’m just sent a book that I wind up not liking, I opt out of reviewing it. In this case, I’m going to review it and do my best to do right by my readers. That said, there are those who absolutely loved the story, so always remember that what one person says does not hold true for everyone, especially when we talk about stories.

One thing I want to cover is that this is a young adult novel, and the recommended reading age is 12 to 18 years, which I do not agree with at all. I would give content/trigger warnings for (general SPOILERS possible here) use of drugs (pot), underage drinking, discussions of sex and one very graphic sexual scene. Now, knowing that the majority of what I read is young adult, and that age range is not reflective of those who read it – I just want to put this out there for anyone considering it. I was mature for my age, and probably would have read this and been fine, but I think it’s more of how the content is handled throughout than the fact that it’s there in the first place – which I’ll get to.

Witches and magic are some of my all-time favorite things to read about. The world building was interesting, and the prologue of this story was fantastic. If the entire novel had revolved around Sarah Goode, I think I would have liked it much better. That idea, and the twists there, were well done. It set up for such an amazing story – however, the shift also hurt the story. Going from a woman full grown in her magic with such knowledge, to two teenagers still figuring it out, and with a completely different tone/language was abrupt. I do also wish that the magic system and world building had been better flushed out, because at different points in the novel it seemed to change.

The twins themselves are just turning 16 and ready to declare themselves to their chosen gods. Their mother, who we know will die from the synopsis, was interesting but came off kind of cringy. I also have to say that going into this story knowing the mom will die made those scenes harder to read. I loved her in some respects, free, powerful and open with her daughters. The conversations she launches into with her daughters about sex, however, just didn’t feel right, or sound … right? Don’t get me wrong – I’m open-minded, and all for communication about it – it makes more sense to be open than for them to find out on their own, but I think it was more the language than anything else.

Xena was probably one of my top two favorite characters. Jax would be the other. Between the two of them, the friendships and bonds within the novel were its strong suit. However, that cannot be said for the two twins, who never seemed to be close at all and struggled for the entire novel. Even when they seem to be coming to an understanding, they immediately went back to fighting – sometimes for reasons that weren’t clear. There were moments when it seemed like they would get along, and in those moments, the novel was much stronger for it. Hunter was my more favorite sister. I never managed to like Mercy much at all.

As to my above spoiler warnings, the one that bothered me the most was the graphic sexual scene. Now I read romance and everything else – so it wasn’t the sex that bothered me, but more the way it was handled. There is quite a bit of emotional manipulation in here. Also, while I see it for the plot device that it is to move some things forward, it never felt right – not in the lead up, not in the scene, not after. For the audience too, it was much more graphic than I would have thought – as is the language used by the boyfriend later when referring to it. The boyfriend is problematic (And I think is supposed to be, but it is so apparent, it leaves you wondering if you are reading too much into it). Now, do teens discuss this and with this language? Yes. And handled differently, it could have worked – instead it felt like a lesson shoved in your face in a very bad situation.

I’m curious to see what book two will bring, which is scheduled to come out next year. The book ended with there still needing to be much done. There are characters that I would like to follow in the story. The magic could be incredible, and the story idea is fantastic. There is really something here that could be phenomenal. I hope that the rest can grow, and maybe the writing and story as well. I’m willing to give book two a shot.

– Reviewed by Fallon Willoughby, first-year experience instructor, Southcentral Kentucky Community & Technical College.

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