Spellbinder is written by Helen Stringer. It was published in 2009 by Feiwel and Friends. It is Stringer’s first book. Stringer’s website can be found here.
“Belladonna Johnson can see ghosts. It’s a trait she’s inherited from her mother’s side of the family, like blue eyes or straight hair. And it’s a trait she could do without, because what twelve-year-old wants to be caught talking to someone invisible?
It is convenient, though, after Belladonna’s parents are killed in a car accident. They can live with her the same as always, watching the same old TV shows in their same old house. Nothing has changed…until everything changes.
One night, with no warning, they vanish into thin air—along with every other ghost in the world. It’s what some people think ghosts are supposed to do, but Belladonna knows it’s all wrong. They may not be living, but they’re not supposed to be gone.
With the help of her classmate, Steve, a master of sneaking and spying, Belladonna is left to uncover what’s become of the spirits and to navigate a whole world her parents have kept well-hidden. If she can’t find her way, she’ll lose them again—this time, for good.”
What I Liked:
When I first started reading this book, I thought it was very interesting since the author seemed to be going for a sort of snarky, parody-ish style of writing. I mean, the girl’s name is Belladonna, her aunt’s last name is Nightshade, and their school is named Dullworth’s. I think it was also supposed to give a sort of gothic atmosphere to the whole book. I did get that feeling strongly, in the beginning.
I thought this was actually quite a unique supernatural story, worldbuilding-wise. It was intriguing, for the most part, and mildly entertaining.
What I Didn’t Like:
Unfortunately, this book was a little boring. There were also way too many revelations made at the end of the book with no prior set-up, and Belladonna as the Spellbinder was horribly cliché and obvious. I don’t know what a Paladin is, or why Steve is it, but that was also horribly convenient since he’s literally the only person Belladonna talks with or interacts with during the entire book. Also, what the heck was up with the random Greek mythology? The book has a good premise, and a unique one at that, but the delivery is not very good, the revelations are too abrupt, and the tone of the book just really works against it, I think.
There is a sequel to this book, but I’m not sure if I will read it because this book was a trudge to get through and I don’t feel like trudging my way through the next.
Recommended Age Range: 14+
Genre: Supernatural, Fantasy, Young Adult
“Dad,” she was trying to keep the panic out of her voice. “What is it?”
He looked at her, as if he didn’t know who she was. Then he was himself again.
“Something’s wrong,” he said.
“That’s what Elsie said, but—”
“No, listen, I don’t know how long I’ve got,” he was speaking rapidly, urgently, not the way he usually spoke to his daughter.
Belladonna’s eyes widened. There was a knot in her stomach.
“You’re going to have to call your Aunt Deirdre. She’ll know what to do. Tell her what’s happened. Tell her the doors are closing.”
“But what has happened? What doors?”
“The doors to the Other Side. Tell here there’s only one left. She’ll know which one. And don’t go out. Whatever you do, don’t go out until she gets here.”
She never got any further. The words froze in her throat as she saw her father seem to compress inward and squeeze upward until he became a thin line from floor to ceiling before both ends of the line shot together and he vanished, leaving a small bright spot, which faded to nothing.
The flames in the braziers flared blue, then green, and filled the room with a sweet, acrid smoke that made Belladonna and Steve feel dizzy. Through the light and smoke, Belladonna almost imagined she could see the Sibyl as she once was, sitting in the stone chair, gripping its arms, and throwing her head back to allow the gods entry to her mind.
“Peering proudly through the welkin way,
The radiant raptor rends the ruddy day,
Protecting the paragon in plain sight
Under arches and angles in motley light.”
The flames sank to orange and the Sibyl seemed to sigh.
“Um…is that it?” asked Belladonna.
“Did it make sense?”
“No, it didn’t make sense!’ said Steve. “It was like something from one of those crosswords where the clue is a train and the answer is a caterpillar.”
“Oh, good,” said the Sibyl, “I was afraid I’d lost my touch.”
Spellbinder is a (mostly) unique supernatural book with an interesting style of writing, but, unfortunately, those don’t save it from the fact that it’s a boring read. Steve is too convenient of a plot device, and the revelation about Belladonna is obvious and cliché. Too much happens at the end with too little foreshadowing, and the Greek is just weird.
You can buy this book here: Spellbinder
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