Love Spells for the End of the World: A Magical Small Town Romance by Alys Murray. 2019.
This is a fun Halloween romp. There are some holiday romances that do a rather light touch with the holiday feels, but this book really leans into the Halloweenness in a way I definitely appreciated. It totally put me in the mood to read more Halloween-themed romances, and to start eating Halloween treats! (I’d pair it with Haribo Switches’ Brew gummies, which are a bunch of fruit flavors, some sweet, some sour.)
This is a neighbors to lovers/enemies to lovers combo, with a witch heroine and a witch hunter hero, where his job is to kill her and has been since he first moved in next door. I generally liked the way these tropes played out in the story. I’d call this a mostly cute romance with a couple darker moments. It’s low heat and doesn’t include sex on the page.
This is a small town romance that definitely has a similar feel to others in the subgenre. It’s done paranormal-style, complete with a cast of quirky characters and a Halloween children’s pageant where one kid pulls a gorgon’s snakes instead of her pigtails. It grapples with town border issues where humans have one town and the paranormal have another town, and given the way the plot leaned towards learning acceptance of others and letting go of negative assumptions, I wondered whether this was intended to be a critique of the whiteness of small town romances, and of sundown towns in the US. If so, it didn’t hit the mark for me as a white reader; these kinds of metaphors don’t generally work for me. Everyone in the universe of the small town was white, and while there are references to a sense of self protection and threats, these are framed as if both groups perceive each other this way and are equally wrong, which is definitely not the way racially segregated small towns work in the US. I did appreciate the casual inclusion of queerness in the small town’s quirky cast, which is not something I generally see in small town romances, especially in m/f romances.
I fell hard for the MCs queer aunts, adored them to pieces. They were so compelling and I really felt how much they loved her, and how important her chosen family was for her. (Which is what made one of the darker moments in the story feel like a gut punch.) I enjoyed many of the secondary characters, and loved the casual inclusion of queerness in the aunts, with the busybody ace vampire and the non-binary half-Giant schoolmaster. I loved the MCs pet teacup dragon so much, and the kids in the Halloween pageant made me grin.
Bel is not a very successful witch, something seems to have been blocking the full manifestation of her powers, but she’s managed to avoid being killed by Eli since they were both teens, and now she’s got another problem. She seems to have inadvertently set off a magical apocalypse and she needs Eli’s help to stop the end of the world.
The premise is that Bel has rather intense anxiety and has been knitting to cope. It’s been helping, but when she monetized this new coping strategy, it backfired and set in motion a series of events that might destroy the world. I loved that she was using knitting to cope, and wished we could have seen that. I wished there wasn’t such a magical cure feeling to how this worked in the story. I also wish that it wasn’t framed as of course there would be doom from it, that was inescapable. I wanted there to be a magical work-around so she could still knit after they saved the world, and I didn’t get that. Overall, I was a bit troubled by the way the anxiety representation worked in the story, and wished for a bit more care around that. As someone who has anxiety, I wasn’t personally hurt by it, I was more disappointed at all the missed opportunities for complexity and care with it. It was a sour note in a mostly sweet reading experience.
This worked pretty well as a novella, it was exactly the right amount of story, had great pacing, started at the right moment. The characterization and chemistry between the MCs were drawn a bit lightly for me–this is not a character driven story–but I didn’t mind that too much. (I think mostly because it felt like such a Halloween romance and I loved that feel.) We do get a sense of how the characters connect over a shared love for Star Wars and a common wound in their backstories, and that was what sold it for me.
- Woman MC with anxiety
- Secondary queer characters
Content Warnings (in white, highlight to read)
MC with anxiety. Parental abandonment. Possession of a loved one by the antagonist, who makes the loved one say emotionally abusive things. Threats of death. Apocalyptic peril. Kidnapping.
- Source of the book: ARC from the author via Booksprout.
- I am friends with the author on Twitter.
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