Narrated by Sophie Eastlake
Ever since I listened to Moonshadow, I have been looking forward to Spellbinder. Sophie Eastlake is one of my favourite narrators so I knew it would be a great listening experience and I have enjoyed all of the previous Elder Races books by Thea Harrison, either in print or on audio.
In Moonshadow, Morgan Le Fay was clearly a bad guy. He is the captain of Isabeau’s hounds and a powerful sorcerer. Isabeau is the queen of the European Light Fae. The Light and Dark Fae have been at war for centuries and Morgan is Isabeau’s most powerful weapon. During the course of Moonshadow it was obvious that Morgan was not acting of his own free will – it is clear that Isabeau is somehow compelling him to act. In Spellbinder, the listener finds out that Isabeau has trapped Morgan under a magical geas which compels him to obey her orders. The only saving grace to this horror is that Isabeau is impetuous and often doesn’t take the time to word her orders clearly enough and Morgan is sometimes able to skate by her intention.
At the start of the story, Morgan is injured and reports to Isabeau who is angry about the events which occurred in the final battle in Moonshadow. (Side note: Moonshadow is a good entry point into the Elder Races books but I don’t think Spellbinder works well as a stand-alone.) Morgan is a lycanthrope and his wound was caused by a silver weapon – he is therefore unable to heal as quickly as usual and must wait what would be considered normal healing in human terms. When Isabeau orders him from her sight and not to return until he is completely healed, he takes his chance for a few weeks’ respite and leaves before she can countermand her order. At last he will have weeks of freedom during which he will research how to break the geas. If he’s clever, he may even be able to extend that time, possibly indefinitely.
He travels from Avalon to Scotland and there, he chances across beautiful musician Sidonie Martel, a New York-based Vietnamese-Canadian woman who is a violin virtuoso and is currently touring across Europe. To his amazement, he is captivated by her music and attends as many of her concerts as he can.
Because of his interest in her, Sidonie rises to the notice of someone desperate to drive a wedge between Morgan and Isabeau. Sidonie is kidnapped and taken to Avalon where she is tortured. While the torture occurs off page, the effects of it are obvious and graphic and upsetting. My breath caught at the viciousness of the (non-sexual) violence done to her and the casual way Isabeau ordered it to be done. Listeners, be warned.
Because Morgan is not in fact evil, no matter what anyone else believes, he returns secretly to Avalon to help Sidonie as he can. He is bound by the geas so he can’t help her escape but he can help her in other ways.
The story went in a number of different directions I wasn’t expecting. Apart from that it took Morgan and Sidonie so long to actually meet (and therefore for the romance to start – sadness!) all of those different directions worked for me. I was surprised a number of times at the various twists and turns of the novel.
I appreciated that it was specifically addressed in the story that when Morgan and Sidonie first meet she is a captive and he is helping her. That power differential is acknowledged and it is not until the pair are on much more balanced ground (all things considered) that anything romantic happens and even then, Morgan hesitates for fear of taking advantage. I was never in any doubt about what was motivating Sidonie; she was not attracted to him out of gratitude. Of course his character and behaviour to her had a large part to play in why she fell in love with him but their relationship was not some variation of Stockholm syndrome.
Their HEA is hard fought and hard won and creates some unique problems for the future. I was, again, surprised by where things went but I can’t say I was unhappy about it.
There was one issue which felt like too much of a dangling thread, relating to the Dark Fae court and a spell Morgan had long ago cast on Oberon. I’m am hoping it will be addressed in book three of the Moonshadow series.
The narration was very good. I always like Sophie Eastlake’s performances. She is excellent with her characterisations, tone and pacing. The emotion she can inject into her voice is something I have always appreciated. In Spellbinder she has the opportunity to demonstrate a number of accents and portray characters of various social classes and ages.
I do have one quibble however. Morgan Le Fay is based on the Merlin character from the Arthurian legends. I expected him to have a Welsh accent. At the start of the book his accent is most definitely Irish. That was okay, I could roll with it. However, that Irish accent dropped in and out, sometimes having Welsh musicality to it instead but most often becoming upper crust English. By the end of the book, Morgan was all English all the time. While I never confused Morgan with anyone else in the story the changing accent were a distraction and something of a disappointment. Ms. Eastlake does a great Irish, Welsh and English accent. I just wish she would’ve picked only one of them for Morgan and stuck to it.
Apart from that one thing however, the narration was excellent and I still recommend the audiobook to any listeners keen to find out about Morgan and Sidonie.
The Moonshadow series (which forms a separate story arc within the broader Elder Races series) is excellent PNR and I’m excited to see what Ms. Harrison comes up with next. I don’t read or listen to very much PNR these days but Ms. Harrison’s Elder Races world remains a compelling fascination to me and the romance is always swoonworthy. Add to that such a high standard of narration, it’s always going to be a win for me.
Book Content: B+
Steam Factor: Glad I had my earbuds in
Violence Rating: Graphic
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Publisher: Thea Harrison
Spellbinder was provided to AudioGals for a review.