Spells Trouble (Sisters of Salem #1) by P.C. Cast & Kristin Cast

I’d never read any books from either of these bestselling authors before I picked up Spells Trouble, but I really love the idea of a mother-daughter duo writing urban fantasies featuring teenage twin sisters who are witches descended from those persecuted at the infamous Salem witch trials.

Hunter and Mercy Goode are on the cusp of their 16th birthdays. They’ve lived in Goodeville all their lives with their Wise Woman, Kitchen Witch mother Abigail. On the night of their 16th birthday Abigail is going to consecrate them to their chosen deities, while reaffirming the protection spell that keeps their town safe from the mythological terrors at their door. You see, Goodeville was founded on a conjunction of five different underworlds, and witch magic is essential to keeping the gateway to each underworld firmly sealed against the monsters that threaten to break loose from their immortal prisons in order to freely prey on mortals.

Trouble is, something goes terribly awry at the consecration ceremony, and Abigail has to sacrifice herself in order to protect her daughters and seal the Norse gate once more. With her dying words, she begs her girls to fortify the gateways, each marked by an unusual tree in a pentagram pattern around the town. Hunter and Mercy must fight through their sorrow, bewilderment and sheer lack of knowledge in order to figure out how to carry out their mother’s wishes, even as a monster lurks, waiting to kill again.

I really dug a lot of the ideas here, and admired how the Casts acknowledge and honor the contributions of Native Americans in/to their magic system. I also liked how the twins were shaped as distinctly different personalities: Hunter is introverted but strong after a young adolescence of being bullied for being a lesbian, while Mercy is light-hearted and kind, if perhaps too enamored of her hot jock boyfriend Kirk. In the face of tragedy, Mercy gets sad while Hunter gets mad, and the friction of their flaws is dealt with a sensitivity that makes for absorbing reading. I also really enjoyed the depictions of their relationships with their best friends and with Kirk, as well as with the delightful Xena.

The only trouble is that I felt the pacing was distinctly off. You’d get pages of wonderfully considered detail and emotion, then rushed bits that could have used so much more attention. Hunter’s rituals, for example, were always beautifully depicted but the aftermath in the grove by the football field, for one, felt rushed and unlived-in. And while I enjoyed the sex positivity, I do admit to being a bit taken aback by the graphic nature of the main sex scene. Maybe I’m just old-fashioned: 16 year-olds are going to have sex, and the scene itself was a great representation of how penises are fascinating and how important female pleasure is. I guess my mixed feelings are more about the Young Adult Discourse, and how books like this are marketed. Do I absolutely think 16 year-olds should read this? Hell yes! Do I think it’s probably too mature for anyone who hasn’t hit puberty? Also a hell yes! And this coming from a girl who read books way too adult for me growing up (think Frank Herbert and Sidney Sheldon as an eight year-old: not a course I’d recommend.)

Due to the uneven writing, I’m in no tearing rush to read the rest of the series, tho I’m still intrigued enough that I won’t say no should I get my hands on at least Book 2. I do really want to get to to the bottom of the whole Amphitrite/Polyphemus thing, as there seems to be an awful lot of subtext going on there. Overall, the experience of reading ST felt a bit like eating cakes baked in an unevenly heated stove: some parts were a bit too crisp, some parts were wildly underbaked, but some parts hit just right. It’ll be fun to see how the Casts keep cooking up this storyline.

Spells Trouble by PC Cast & Kristin Cast was published May 25 2021 by Wednesday Books and is available from all good booksellers, including

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