I bought The Sweetest Spell because the sample was promising (I’m a sucker for down and out but plucky heroines), and ended up tossing it aside in disgust when I got three fourths of the way through. The book started strongly, but had several issues that pushed me out of the story or made me actively dislike the characters:
- The central premise is that the heroine is able to create chocolate. Which she does by churning cream, but instead of transforming into butter it transforms into chocolate. Presumably milk chocolate. This bugs the heck out of me; chocolate has a long and interesting history, and most of it has nothing to do with milk. Milk chocolate came around in the late 1800’s in Europe, making it a very recent addition to chocolate products. To have an imaginary European-style medieval kingdom where chocolate is produced solely from milk strains credibility past the breaking point for me, and soured the entire book from the first time the heroine picked up a butter churn through until I stopped reading in disgust.
- Despite being sixteen or older, the characters are without exception entirely juvenile. The level of complexity of thought for everyone, from main characters to secondary characters to villains (including adults), feels like it belongs in middle school. Probably the best example of this is that the main character comes across someone who claims she has studied negotiation, and their advice is “if you have something other people want, make include something you are willing to give up when you make your demands so that they feel in control.” Oookay, well that’s not bad advice, but it’s also a pretty simplistic way to understand negotiation and isn’t going to get you very far in life. Then the main character runs into the main villain, puts forth her demands, and says, “oh, but I’ll give up this one demand (which incidentally is the only one that involves me maintaining my self-respect, cause who needs that?)”. The villain immediately accedes and comments, “my, but you’re good at negotiation.” I would suspect irony, except the villain proves themselves incapable of complex thought through their other actions, leaving me to take them at their word.
- The story is told from two different first-person perspectives (heroine and love interest), and although the author usually signals who is who within the first few sentences of a chapter, there is no explicit marking. Their tone is practically identical, there are no visual indications at the chapter’s start (at least in the Kindle version; I haven’t seen the physical book), and it can be a bit confusing at first just who it is we’re reading about. Since, as I mentioned, neither character really does much thinking beyond “Oh, I should respond to this latest thing that happened with the first thing that crosses my mind!”, there doesn’t seem to be much reason not to have written the thing in close third person and saved readers the trouble.
- Aside from the chocolate thing, there were several other places where I had to pause my reading and say, “Really? How does that make sense?” For instance, the heroine is at one point chained to a rock for an extended length of time. But there’s no explanation of how the person who chains her there (an itinerant who calls no place home) is able to attach a chain to a random rock by the seashore. Perhaps he’s packing around a bunch of blacksmithing tools except, OH WAIT, he abandoned his wagon of goods mere pages earlier. Perhaps he’s just really good at thinking ahead? I might be able to ignore this sort of oversight if the book was able to suspend my disbelief initially, but since I was already pretty skeptical thanks to the whole “chocolate comes from cows” premise, these types of details only served to push me further out of the story.
I will admit, however, that things aren’t all bad. The author does a nice job of keeping things moving, and the characters do occasionally suffer from their idiocy. I also liked that the main character had a physical impediment, but that she a) suffered/worked through it as best she could, and b) didn’t get a magical workaround to turn her into a Real Person (at least not in the first 75%; who knows what the ending might have held?).
Regardless, I cannot in good faith advise anyone to read this book, since I couldn’t even finish it.
The plot summary contains spoilers! Show it anyway.