As a longtime fan of the Raine Benares series, I was excited when I learned that Lisa Shearin was self-publishing a seventh book. Although All Spell Breaks Loose was a satisfying conclusion to the Saghred saga, there seems like plenty of story left to tell about Raine and this world. Sure enough, Wedding Bells, Magic Spells begins just before Raine’s wedding to Mychael. At the same time, the Isle of Mid is playing host to the equivalent of nuclear non-proliferation peace talks among the major nations. Oh, and someone is trying to kill everyone, and make it look like the goblins are doing it. This is the perfect set up for some intense, thrilling intrigue—but to be honest, for most of the book I wasn’t feeling it.
This is a difficult review, just because the amount of time that has passed since I last read this series makes it hard for me to trust how much of this is the book’s influence and how much is just the way I’ve changed since I read All Spell Breaks Loose. While I’ve always delivered honest critiques of this series in the past, I’ve also always genuinely enjoyed every single book, despite any bumps or flaws. Wedding Bells, Magic Spells is different in that it’s the first Raine Benares book I didn’t enjoy that much. Whereas previous books had great pacing and fantastical action scenes, this book largely feels like a series of recaps.
The story opens with a great deal of exposition on Raine’s background, and in particular what happened at the end of the last book. Fair enough, I thought—there was a lengthy gap between the two books, so much so that even regular readers like me would have trouble recalling the details. So I gave that one a free pass. But then it happens again. And again. And before you know it, the book feels more like “Raine explains…” than “Raine does….” There is so much more telling than showing—or, to be more accurate, Shearin shows and tells, which might be even more annoying. A character can barely sneeze without Raine analyzing the action, then explaining how it relates to that character’s culture or position or what happened three books ago. One reason I love series with rich backgrounds and mythologies is because longtime readers will understand callbacks and allusions that newcomers just won’t. We don’t need every allusion explained to us, unless it is crucial to understanding the present situation.
Shearin clearly has a very complex world (or multiverse, more like) thought out here, too. Previous books featured travels to Hell, and The SPI Files and this book have both confirmed that Shearin’s two series take place within a larger multiverse. Wedding Bells, Magic Spells also feature portals to another world, being used as a staging ground by extradimensional invaders. I love all of this so much. Firstly, there is so much more happening in this series than the Saghred, and it’s clear that there is plenty more story left to tell about Raine, Tam, Mychael, et al. Secondly, unlike her penchant for explaining what happened previously, Shearin is happy not to delve too deeply into how Raine’s world or magic works. As a result, we’ve had to wait seven books to see things like portals to other worlds and extradimensional invaders—but it’s obvious that Shearin has been planning these plot points for a while now.
Now, objectively, a lot happens in this book. In addition to the much-hyped wedding, there are assassination attempts to foil, shapeshifters, monsters infesting the Void used for mirror travel, and all sorts of mysteries and shenanigans that Raine must deal with during the peace talks. It should make for an intense story. So I was just so surprised that I dawdled with this short book. The heavy exposition really breaks the pacing, and despite all these events, it feels overwhelmingly as if Raine doesn’t do much at all.
I did enjoy getting to meet some of the new characters, particularly Mychael’s parents. Raine’s mother-in-law is great during the shapeshifter scene, and I loved their bonding afterwards. That being said, it might have been nice if not everyone had fallen head-over-heels for Raine. Shearin has a great flare for the dramatic, but she can also write really nuanced characters—Tam and his addiction to dark magic is a prime example. Unfortunately, that kind of nuance and depth seemed to be missing from most of the characters, who seemed to fall into fairly stock descriptions.
While it has its moments, Wedding Bells, Magic Spells might be my least favourite Raine Benares book yet. Diehard fans will love the ending and its resolution of what has been—for us if not for Raine and Mychael—such a long arc. That alone is definitely worth reading this book, which is not so much bad as it is just disappointingly banal. The sequel is supposedly from Tam’s point of view, and I’m hopeful this will inject some freshness into the series—I’m sad to say goodbye to Raine, even temporarily, but it might be interesting to see her through someone else’s eyes!