Last year, Waverly met the stunning Camille Stockton at a summer retreat. Camille made no secret about being a married mother of two teenagers, but for a short while at least, she and Waverly shared an amazing connection. When they parted ways, Camille returned to Seattle with her family and Waverly was left with a note and a literal book of spells. Waverly has spent her days pining for the woman whom she believes to be the love of her life, even after all this time. She’s still not over Camille, but Waverly is discovering she might not be able to cut it as a professional writer and resigns herself to going back to her job in real estate. No sooner does she return to the office than none other than a Mr. Stockton rolls into town looking to relocate…with his wife, Camille, and their family. As old emotions come surging forward, Waverly struggles to remain professional while still trying to find a way to reach Camille and see if their connection was real.
At Waverly’s side through this whole drama is her neighbor and friend, Jewel. Like Waverly, Jewel has a terrible unrequited love. Except Jewel gets to see, talk to, and proposition her love just about every day because Jewel loves Waverly. No amount of advice from Jewel has swayed Waverly’s determination to be miserable. And when Jewel and Waverly discover a magical secret about Waverly’s spell book, all Waverly can think of is how to use it to get back to Camille. Time and again, Jewel helps Waverly with all her plans to get Camille because Jewel knows true love is about wanting the other person to be happy no matter what. But will Waverly ever realize who it is that makes her really happy? Or will Jewel find a way to use the spell book to put an end to her own heartache first?
The Spell is a contemporary friends-to-lovers story from author Nancy J. Hedin. It’s set in Minneapolis and stars a pair of hot-mess MCs. The action unfolds through third-person narration, but we switch back and forth from Waverly to Jewel often. The chapters are also generally very short, which sometimes helps build some anticipation and other times feels tedious. Towards the end, most chapters were just a page or two at most as we volley from Waverly and Jewel while they volley from the real world to the magical ones they access thanks to the spell book.
The overarching theme of the book feels a bit blocky. It felt like the first half of the story was a series of slice-of-life scenes that detail Waverly’s desperate pining compared to Jewel’s brash presence. I didn’t really like Jewel, but I liked that she has this delightfully distinct, unapologetic attitude towards things. She’s portrayed as an unrepentant go-getter. Jewel will invite herself into your space, eat your food, offer you unvarnished opinions and advice, and proposition you seven ways from Sunday. Waverly…felt like mere container for unrequited love.
The second half of the story was consumed with what the spell book could do. Namely, the spell that lets the owner of the book literally enter into a painting and interact with it as though it were the real world. This device was the whole reason I wanted to read this book. It sounded like an intriguing idea. And paired with layers of unrequited love, I thought it would be really fun to see how it would play out. Of course, Waverly would own the book and Jewel would be an artist who could literally paint anything. The characters spend a lot of time exploring the logistics of this magic spell, which was interesting. I liked that there were limits to what was and wasn’t possible. Waverly and Jewel literally had to just fuck around to find out what was and wasn’t possible. During this chunk of the book, it’s increasingly apparent how deeply Jewel is in love with Waverly and how oblivious Waverly is to Jewel’s feelings.
Of course, we get to a point where Waverly wants a painting of Camille. This is sort of a big pivot where Waverly finally sees Camille not as a perfect woman on a pedestal and that maybe Jewel means more to her than someone to walk her dog. This wind up kicks off a whole big string of events that, honestly, just felt like a tragicomedy of errors. All of which raised the important question of whether or not what happens in the painting is real. Rather than “live a life of make believe in the painting,” it seemed like Waverly was using the paintings as a litmus test. Specifically, Waverly was going to use painting-Camille to judge how real-Camille actually felt about their love affair. That really rubbed me the wrong way, especially once the specter of the painter’s intention influencing how the painted world worked was raised. What started as a tantalizing promise of dreams coming true or hard truths being revealed sort of fizzled in a confusion of ambiguity and opacity.
Overall, I was a bit disappointed with these characters. Jewel’s annoying fun felt like a second fiddle to Waverly’s miserable pining. By the time Jewel starts pushing for what she wants, we’re well into the magical painting element. At the same time, fun, IDGAF Jewel has been reduced to the same “my life isn’t worth living if it’s not with Waverly” state. Desperate times, desperate actions, and at the end of it…somehow Waverly and Jewel end up together, though I felt like neither one of them ever actually admitted their feelings and had a clear “we are together now” moment. Still, if you’re a fan of unrequited love themes, friends to lovers, erratic girlfriend material characters, you may enjoy this story.