Reviewed by Scott A. Johnson
Written by Lucy A. Snyder
Published by Del Rey Books
Horror is a huge genre, littered with magic, monsters, and mayhem. On the other side of the spectrum is, one could suppose, romance or comedy. But just off to the side sits its fair-haired cousin, dark fantasy, a world equally full of monsters and mayhem and just a little heavy on the magic. Lucy Snyder's first novel, Spellbent, brings forth a world with lots of magic and enough horrific elements to earn it a spot on any horror lover's shelf.
Spellbent centers around Jesse Shimmer, a novice witch, whose mentor and lover gets sucked into the lowest levels of Hell in a spell gone wrong. In the process she is horrifically maimed, cast out of her own society, and pretty much told that if she ever want to have a life again, she'll just leave him in Hell. Of course, if she did that, there wouldn't be much of a story to tell, now would there? She sets off with her familiar, a know-it-all ferret named Pal, on a terrifying journey of discovery and mayhem.
Snyder's first novel is ambitious but not overly so. Her universe is fully realized, containing elements that show how her world and the real world exist side-by-side with magic in the periphery. Unlike other writers who might use magic as a crutch, Snyder's characters use it more as a tool, creating a working system that has its own rules and consequences. Her characters are engaging and likable, garnering sympathy from the reader in one sentence and belly laughs the next.
Most intriguing is Snyder's description of Hell. Without giving anything away, her version of the underworld is visceral and tailored to every individual, making a real realm of nightmares. What matters here is not the physical tortures heaped upon its victims but the psychological abuse that breaks them down.
Snyder's Spellbent is as impressive a debut as I've ever seen. With lots of action, a plot that twists and turns, and moments of real terror, sadness, and hilarity, it's the kind of novel that anyone who likes dark fantasy would love to read.
4 out of 5
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