Sweet & Bitter Magic

S. & S./Margaret K. McElderry. Mar. 2021. 368p. Tr $19.99. ISBN 9781534453852.
Gr 7 Up–Tooley’s debut is a slow burn, enemies-to-lovers romance between heroines as they embark on a quest to find the source of the dark magic destroying the world. Seventeen-year-old Wren has sacrificed her entire life to keeping her bedridden father alive. When she learns the local witch, Tamsin, has paid her in fake coins, she is furious. Wren’s avoided Tamsin to keep her own powerful connection to magic hidden, but when a plague of dark magic strikes her father and he loses his memories, Wren makes a bargain with Tamsin to go after the dark witch together. Tamsin is hesitant to return to the world of her fellow witches after her own brush with dark magic cost Tamsin her twin sister and resulted in her banishment. Though well written and paced, this novel turns stilted as it reaches the climax and falls on expository dialogue to tie up plot threads. Many well-read fantasy readers may feel that it ends too easily despite the deft twists in the plot. Tooley tackles topics like self-worth, sacrifice, and forgiveness from multiple angles with her characters, and brings those arcs to satisfactory conclusions. With high stakes and a wonderfully developed romance, Tooley’s characters carry the adventure to its rather anticlimactic ending. Wren and Tamsin have pale skin.
VERDICT A secondary purchase, this novel will appeal to younger readers who have tired of fantasies built on warfare. A good choice for fans looking for readalikes to Melissa Bashardoust’s Girl, Serpent, Thorn.

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