Spell Booked is the first in a new(ish) series called “Retired Witches Mystery” by married writing duo Jim and Joyce Lavene. I have a certain love for husband-wife writing pairs, since they represent what I think is so awesome about being married (corny, I know.) Combine this fairly arbitrary fact with the genre work-up of Spell Booked– that is, urban fantasy/mystery crossover- and I am in book heaven.
Our reading journey begins with three aging witches, Molly, Elise, and Olivia, who want nothing more than to head down to Boca Raton for a cozy retirement. However, they are not allowed to do so until they find younger replacement witches who can take over their spell books and continue the line. Normally, witches pass down their books to their descendants, but our plucky heroines don’t have that option. With their powers waning and acting downright unpredictable, Molly, Elise and Olivia are in a bit of a pickle to find their younger counterparts.
Just as they find one promising candidate, an ignorant young librarian named Dorothy, Olivia is violently murdered by a rogue witch. Compounding the problem is Joe, Molly’s non-magical, homicide detective husband who doesn’t know about his wife’s ability and doesn’t want her anywhere near a crime scene. With a murder to avenge, a fledgling witch to train, and a Witches Council to argue with, it’s a wonder that these feisty ladies ever thought they’d retire on time. Pair this with Olivia’s ghost dropping major truth bombs that she never told her best friends in life, and we have a whirlwind first book, packed with danger, fun, and a splash of romance.
Some of my favorite aspects of Spell Booked are the mundane elements. Witches have real jobs in this world, and have to maintain a real cover. In this case, Molly and the gang own an apothecary/New Age shop that is also a safe haven for witches and other supernaturals, their friend Brian is a college student, and Dorothy is a librarian. They are not allowed to tell the non-magical people in their lives, even if they are your spouse or children. The punishment for a non-magical person to find out is memory erasure, and the Witches Council is not choosy about what gets erased. This poses such an interesting element in the book because there are a lot of “mundanes,” including Molly’s whole family. The magical gag-order also creates a classist society in that the “better” witches marry other powers and create a sort of witchy dynasty, like with Brian’s family.
My other favorite part was, of course, the cat familiars. Each witch has their own cat who is their other half that they can commune with at all times. The cats are characters in their own right, complete with a past life that gives them a wealth of information and as much sass, if not more, than their witchy counterparts. Who doesn’t love cats?!
The only issue I had with Spell Booked is that sometimes the narrative seems to make Molly and Elsie more ignorant than I would expect a 50+ woman to be just to advance the plot. One of the things I love about this book was the fact that Molly, Elsie, and Olivia are older and presumably wiser. Sometimes UF heroines can be annoying in the pride and ignorance that comes with being in your 20s. Given this fact, when our retiree ladies spoke like they were still young and dumb, it really annoyed me. Maybe it’s a personal problem, though.
All in all, I am biting at the bit to read the next book in the series. Thank you, Lavenes, for a refreshingly light urban fantasy. Four waves!