by Barbara Ashford

Reviewed by Donna Glee Williams

When I was in junior high school, I was a mad passionate Trekkie. My measly allowance hemorrhaged to pay for the paperback Star Trek novels that I lived on, back in those Paleolithic pre-Netflicking times when TV series came with a whole week between episodes.

I remember reading one of those “the Captain gets duplicated” stories that included some fabulously intricate world-building around the notion that things that are mirror-images are not the same. Like, if your image were to step out of your bathroom mirror into three-dimensional space, it would be like you, but opposite—left-handed, so to speak, to your right, heart on the wrong side, brain all backward. In this transporter-goes-haywire book, that was true right down to the molecular level: Organic compounds had a sort of handedness, too, which had all kinds of implications for the plot. (How did they come up with this stuff?) They even gave it an extra blush of realism by distinguishing the two forms of molecules with by scientific-sounding l- and d- prefixes, l- for levo and d- for dextro. Cool, huh?

It wasn’t until my ill-fated rendezvous with organic chemistry in college that I learned that I’d absorbed the basics of stereochemistry back in seventh grade, thinking it was science fiction. That cheap little Star Trek paperback had given me a double bang for my buck; I got to go where no me had gone before, not once, but twice, visiting not just the fictional world of the United Federation of Planets but also the factual (but weird) world of chirality and enantiomers.

Barbara Ashford’s new Spellcrossed gave me that same kind of double-dipping pleasure. In this sequel to her well-received Spellcast, not only did I get to visit her fictional world where the Fae sojourn in this reality and humans wander lost in the Borderlands, but also to set foot behind the curtains that veil the real world of summer stock theater, as elaborate and weird in its own way as stereochemistry. Escorting me all the way was a cheerful, competent, observant author whose presentation of life in community theater is solidly grounded on personal experience. One of the pleasures of this book is learning about the details of directing, the jargon of the stage, and the almost-mystical power of theater. Of course, in a fantasy, the almost-mystical can easily be kicked up to mystical with no trouble at all, with wise faery casting ensuring that each actor gets the role they need to help them heal their wounds and psychic faery powers smoothing out the rough edges and nudging the conflicts along towards a happy ending.

The conflicts and suspense in this book happen mostly on the inner landscape: Will things work out between artistic director Maggie and her returned-from-the-lost faery lover? Will Maggie’s father be able to re-adapt to living in ordinary reality after his passage through the Borderlands? Will Maggie’s mother be able to forgive and find happiness after being abandoned by her husband? Will Maggie herself be able to make some kind of peace with the father who left her for the magical allure of Faery? And will her father stay or go? The author’s exploration of the painful desertions by a parent that follows the siren song of “magic” resonates with the experience of real-world children whose parents are seduced by real-world addictions to substances, obsessions, or the high side of mood disorders. Maggie is a full-bodied, thirty-something protagonist; her emotional and erotic adventures take place in the context of a busy, complex, creative life filled with friends, family, cooking, and clothes.

Readers who have read and enjoyed Spellcast are pretty much doomed; they will have to buy this book to learn the fates of Maggie and Rowan and their theater. Readers new to Barbara Ashford who know they enjoy light paranormal romance spiced with comedy and who don’t need flashy action every few pages—Don’t buy this book. Instead, ask for Spellcast for Christmas so that you can take a running leap into Spellcrossed and double your pleasure in every way. (And be on the lookout for a sequel.)