Adrienne Young’s Spells For Forgetting feels a bit like Practical Magic meets Veronica Mars (the dead best friend is even named Lily), which sounds very intriguing in theory, but was a little lacking in execution. The story was very intriguing and the atmosphere was great, but it was such a slow burn the tension just couldn’t hold up.
The story begins with August Salt’s return to Saoirse Island, a tight-knit community a ferry ride away from the Seattle coast, where the “old ways” are still in use, every woman has magic in her blood, and life revolves around the apple orchard the town’s economy is founded on. August returns to bury his mother’s ashes, but even after fourteen years away, a cloud of suspicion still hangs over him regarding the death of classmate Lily Morgan, and nobody is happy to have him back—nobody except for maybe Emery Blackwood, his former love and Lily’s best friend.
The hurt and the loss the two have suffered is apparent, but unfortunately that seems to be their primary characteristic. It wasn’t that I didn’t care about their romance at all, it just seemed to be all heartache and little passion or spark, which kept me from investing too much in it. They were both too passive about every aspect of their lives; it was believable after all they’d been through, but it didn’t make for the most compelling protagonists. This is one of the rare instances in which I feel a movie version might do better than the book, because the right actors might be able to demonstrate the intensity these characters need the way words on a page couldn’t.
The mystery, on the other hand, had lots of intrigue, as we get hints throughout the story about various lies or secrets different characters have told or kept in the years leading up to and following Lily’s death, and that in conjunction with the obvious strangeness of her death—drowning on dry land—the same night as a fire that nearly destroyed the apple orchard, certainly leads you to start spinning theories. I just have to say though, on an island where witchcraft is accepted as not only possible but part of life, why in fourteen years did no one raise that as an explanation for a drowning on dry land? I get why the Seattle Police might’ve gotten stuck on there being a physical cause and murderer, but not one of the islanders ever pushed that as a possibility? I was really struggling to suspend my disbelief on that one. Unfortunately, the entire scheme isn’t really “solved” by any of the characters, but revealed to the reader in snippets through various POV changes near the end, which kept the suspense and tension from ratcheting up very high.
What this book does really well, though, is atmosphere. Saoirse Island has a very tangible feel, very earthy and hushed, bordering on foreboding, taking that small-town idea of everybody knowing everybody’s business to the extreme, where you feel at any moment that somebody else might be watching or listening, and even the trees seem to whisper secrets.
All in all, I’m going to give Spells For Forgetting 2.75 stars out of 5, for a great premise and atmosphere, I just wish it could have followed through as strongly on characterization and suspense.