Book review: Harley Merlin and the Secret Coven by Bella Forrest

3/5 stars.

OK, firstly, for the love of all that is good and holy – enough with the smirking! Surely there are other expressions your characters can have? I’ll get to the actual review part shortly, but this bothered me so much that I just have to get it out of my system.. There were apparently other verbs that were used even more (73 chuckles vs 17 smirks), but once I started noticing it it just seemed like all any of the characters were doing was smirking and it got really distracting. Also any time someone grins, the grin slits their face.

So, anyway… This is the story of Harley, a 19 year old orphan girl with magical abilities. After she witnesses a monster attack and aids another Magical in stopping said attack and capturing the monster, she learns that there’s a whole secret magical community out there, and she is not alone. Harley is introduced to the San Diego coven, and starts to learn how to properly channel her abilities. And maybe she can discover what happened to her parents in the process. There’s also the problem of the coven being sabotaged and monsters escaping from the bestiary.

I did enjoy how the coven was structured, and the idea of magicals striving for an overall positive balance in the world (though I feel that wasn’t really followed up). There were other interesting elements as well, like the idea of purges and the bestiary.

And I’ll admit that at 36 years of age I’m probably not the target audience for YA fantasy, but I do keep trying once in a while, simply because I love magic and fantasy and I do enjoy the discovery/coming of age aspect that’s usually prevalent in the YA category. And I did find this book entertaining. But overall it was quite predictable and the writing was not great (“my heart fluttered like an obese butterfly” was probably my favourite, though I don’t think it was intended to be funny.. also see above re. smirking).

In the reviews there were quite a few comparisons to Harry Potter, and while I can see there are structural similarities (protagonist is an orphan, the covens can be seen in a similar light as magical schools, an Esprit is basically a wand and then there’s the whole points award system – which frankly seems like a juvenile way of distributing wealth – why would adults care about scoring “house” points?), there’s simply no comparing the two when it comes to plot, writing, warmth and wit.

I do admire the writer for being extremely prolific, and I have no doubt that she has a good imagination and great work ethic. And if you’re looking for easy to consume fantasy with some fun and interesting bits and are not too concerned with how it is written and originality, then this is definitely a good book to read. For me however, the search for a fantasy series that well and truly hooks me continues.

 

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