Caster by Elsie Chapman
Aza Wu knows that real magic is dangerous and illegal. After all, casting killed her sister, Shire. As with all magic, everything comes at a price. For Aza, it feels like everything in her life has some kind of cost attached to it. Her sister had been casting for money to pay off Saint Willow, the gang leader that oversees her sector of Lotusland. If you want to operate a business there, you have to pay your tribute. And now with Shire dead, Aza must step in to save the legacy of Wu Teas, the teahouse that has been in her family for centuries.
When Aza comes across a secret invitation, she decides she doesn’t have much else to lose. She quickly realizes that she’s entered herself into an underground casting tournament, and the stakes couldn’t be higher. Real magic, real consequences. As she competes, Aza fights for her life against some very strong and devious competitors.
When the facts about Shire’s death don’t add up, the police start to investigate. When the tributes to Saint Willow aren’t paid, the gang comes to collect. When Aza is caught sneaking around with fresh casting wounds, her parents are alarmed. As Aza’s dangerous web of lies continues to grow, she is caught between trying to find a way out and trapping herself permanently.
My feelings about Caster are about as mixed as they can get, and due to these conflicted feelings I’ve given a lot of consideration to writing this review. The last thing I want is for people to see my rating – three stars – and believe that Caster is a book they should ignore. That’s not the case so please, do not do that! Ultimately, I am choosing to write this review because I want to give a shout-out to this magical #OwnVoices novel that has a criminally low number of ratings on Goodreads so far.
Before we jump into my thoughts, let me point you to Vicky’s review, which (1) is a damned good review, (2) is written by an actual teen, and (3) is really positive, and was the review that convinced me to buy Caster. Now, without further ado, let’s jump into my thoughts!
The most important thing you need to know about Caster is that I flew through it incredibly fast – it’s an action-packed, entertaining novel that always keeps just enough details out of your reach that you feel like you need to continue reading it. Chapman clearly knows how to write and how to draw her readers in, and she effortlessly does both in Caster.
I was also engrossed by the magic system and the characters, and couldn’t wait to learn more of the world, and to see how everyone would develop during the novel. The idea of having to pay a price for magic isn’t new, but Chapman took it to a whole other level; not only do full casters suffer from using their magic, but magic is also damaging the world.
So, what was my problem, you may ask. Despite all these good things, I couldn’t help but feel that everything could have been more fleshed out and more developed. For instance, the world building is intriguing and complex, but it leaves a lot to the readers’ imagination and many questions are left unanswered.
The characters are so fascinating and I loved their relationships and conflicts with each other, but here too, we got too little; I needed more info, more heart to make me love them and care about them. So while I genuinely enjoyed Caster, particularly its first half, I also felt like it didn’t live up to its potential, and left a lot to be desired.
Undead Girl Gang by Lily Anderson
Mila Flores and her best friend Riley have always been inseparable. There’s not much excitement in their small town of Cross Creek, so Mila and Riley make their own fun, devoting most of their time to Riley’s favorite activity: amateur witchcraft.
So when Riley and two Fairmont Academy mean girls die under suspicious circumstances, Mila refuses to believe everyone’s explanation that her BFF was involved in a suicide pact. Instead, armed with a tube of lip gloss and an ancient grimoire, Mila does the unthinkable to uncover the truth: she brings the girls back to life.
Unfortunately, Riley, June, and Dayton have no recollection of their murders, but they do have unfinished business to attend to. Now, with only seven days until the spell wears off and the girls return to their graves, Mila must wrangle the distracted group of undead teens and work fast to discover their murderer… before the killer strikes again.
Undead Girl Gang is one of the most delightful novels I’ve read this year, and I cannot recommend it enough for the Halloween-season. It’s light and fun, and even though it’s a tad-predictable it’s nonetheless enjoyable and engrossing all the way through.
There’s a huge emphasis on growth and friendship, which are two of the best things a novel can offer, in my opinion. Wanting to solve what happened to her best friend, Mila attempts to resurrect Riley… but accidentally brings back two recently deceased ‘mean’ girls, Dayton and June, as well.
Given that Dayton and June have been known to do and say hurtful things to Riley and Mila, none of the girls is pleased about having to work together, but that’s exactly what they need to do if they want to solve their murders. As the days go by, the four girls are forced to rely on and get to know each other- they grow, evolve and become friends in the process, and I loved every moment of reading about their relationship.
“And, for fuck’s sake, stop using ‘normal’ as code for ‘white’,” I snap. “Your life isn’t the ruler that the rest of the world gets measured against.”
Despite finding the mystery predictable, I was really into the plot – the magic, the girls, the supporting cast (including the older wicca ladies) were so fascinating and fun to read about. I could barely put the book down, I needed to know what happened next. This is one of those books where the journey is more significant than the destination, so ultimately, I didn’t mind that I figured out the identity of the killer early one.
It’s important to highlight how diverse Undead Girl Gang is, most notably it has latinx and fat representation – both #OwnVoices – and it also has strong feminist undertones. Overall, this was a marvelous experience, and I can’t recommend it enough.
Do you like witchy books or books with a focus on magic? Do you have any favorites? Have you read either of the novels I reviewed?