A Spoonful of Magic by Irene Radford

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Trigger warnings for rape, gaslighting, infidelity, and discussions of Joss Whedon.

I  DNF’d this book so hard I’m a little surprised my Kindle isn’t embedded in the drywall.

First, a few points.

  1. I am aware (and was aware when I started this book) that this is Not a Romance. I am not carrying into this review my romance-reader expectations on happy or optimistic endings.
  2. I started this book while the coverage of Kai Cole’s essay on Joss Whedon’s infidelity and gaslighting was everywhere, which was a weird parallel that accentuated my revulsion.
  3. This book does not come out until November 7, which is a good ways off. Usually I don’t post reviews so far in advance, but I’ll probably complain about this book more than once before pub date.

I picked up this book because the NetGalley description sounded really intriguing:

A delightful new urban fantasy about a kitchen witch and her magical family

Daphne “Daffy” Rose Wallace Deschants has an ideal suburban life—three wonderful and talented children; a coffee shop and bakery, owned and run with her best friend; a nearly perfect husband, Gabriel, or “G” to his friends and family. Life could hardly be better.

But G’s perfection hides dangerous secrets. When Daffy uncovers evidence of his infidelity, her perfect life seems to be in ruins. On their wedding anniversary, Daffy prepares to confront him, only to be stopped in her tracks when he foils a mugging attempt using wizard-level magic. 

Suddenly, Daphne is part of a world she never imagined–where her husband is not a traveling troubleshooter for a software company, but the sheriff of the International Guild of Wizards, and her brilliant children are also budding magicians. Even she herself is not just a great baker and barista—she’s actually a kitchen witch. And her discovery of her powers is only just beginnning [sic]. 

But even the midst of her chaotic new life, another problem is brewing. G’s ex-wife, a dangerous witch, has escaped from her magical prison. Revenge-bent and blind, she needs the eyes of her son to restore her sight—the son Daffy has raised as her own since he was a year old. Now Daphne must find a way to harness her new powers and protect her family—or risk losing everything she holds dear.

As I said, I didn’t go into this book expecting a romance at all, but what I got made me SO angry.

The book opens with Daffy at a 13th anniversary dinner with her husband, and she’s pissed. Someone has emailed her pictures of him having wild sex with another woman, just after the people of their small (and of course sort of weird) town saw him around when he said he was overseas. When she confronts him with the pictures and then leaves the restaurant, three dudes attempt to mug her, but he stops them with his wooden fountain pen which is actually his magic wand.

She thought he was a low-level “parlor trick” magician, similar to some of the semi-magical people around their town. Turns out he has serious magical abilities, but he only tells her that much because she saw them. He won’t answer her questions about his having sex with someone else, and keeps insisting that she not kick him out because he has to keep her and their three children safe.

I was thinking maybe at some point she’d realize her kitchen witch powers and set him on fire, but that didn’t happen. Instead, the story follows Daffy ( she’s a magical baker in a magical coffee shop in a magical small town) and her children, who are beginning to manifest their powers.

I liked that not everything is explained up front. There’s no infodumpy reverie from the protagonists – not even when G should have been explaining things because clearly Daffy is devastated and betrayed by his infidelity –  and there isn’t much random “As you know,” from ancillary characters. The world is built in small doses, and while some of it is cliched (magical small town coffeeshop bakery because of course magical small town coffeeshop bakery), it made me curious enough to keep going.

I was confused by the fact that there are dual points of view, with Daffy’s narration in first person, and G’s perspective in third person, but I figured that was a choice that would make sense later.

Unfortunately, I have no interest in getting to later. I stopped and I will not be moved.

Let me back up and explain some of the setup here. G doesn’t acknowledge how those pictures happened, except to say (of course) that it’s not what she thinks. He says that cameras can’t capture illusions, and that someone had to have hacked his email account because he didn’t send the pictures.

So he did have sex with someone but he didn’t mean to send his wife evidence?

Huh.

This is 2% in to the story so I was willing to keep going.

Then G explains that the world is really dangerous and she and their children need him around to protect them.

But he won’t say from what, and he won’t talk about whether he did cheat on her, despite visible evidence.

Then he says they’ve had “thirteen wonderful years together” and that he needs her “now more than ever.”

Daffy calls him on his bullshit:

“You need me to babysit your children. Thirteen years when I’ve raised your son as my own. I adopted him on our wedding day, so he’d never need to ask about the mother who died giving birth to him. I’ve given you two wonderful daughters, kept house, cooked, and picked up after you.”

And here is G’s sensitive, thoughtful reply:

“And I love you for that. I do truly love you despite the temptations I face every day. I built you a wrought iron-and-glass greenhouse that fills a quarter of the backyard where the stables used to be. That should prove something of my devotion to you.”

You. Have Got. To be. Fucking. Kidding. Me.

He built a greenhouse where the stables used to be so obviously she’s not focusing on the right details.

And while I’m looking at this paragraph, “The temptations I face every day?

Are you SERIOUS?!

His argument reminded me with a sick feeling of the coverage of Kai Cole’s account of her marriage wherein Whedon was cheating on her for 15+ years. That whole “temptation” whine sounded nauseatingly familiar. It was kind of eerie that this was the book I picked up immediately after I read her essay.

I mean, gosh, it’s so difficult to not stick your dick in other people.

Such a burden to be basically decent when you’re a successful, powerful dude.

I just strained every one of my ocular muscles.

Anyway, Daffy kicks his ass out of their home, and the story continues as their divorce gets closer to being finalized. The kids, it turns out, know about the cheating because one of them is drawn to locks, puzzles, and things she shouldn’t be looking at. She clicked her way into her mother’s hard drive and saw the images, which she promptly shared with her siblings.

(Yeesh.)

(And as an aside: Daffy blames herself for not doing a better job of protecting her files, since she knew her daughter was drawn to all puzzles, locks, and passwords. Do people with magical abilities have a free pass to be completely crappy humans in this world?? I cannot with that part.)

Daffy is determined that she be able to at least cordially co-parent with G, and tries to work out ways for him to be part of their lives. This becomes more complicated when each child begins manifesting signs of their own magical ability, some far earlier than normal, and all with considerable amounts of power.

Plus, G’s narration reveals that Daffy was raised in a fundamentalist household, and that her grandmother had been a magical practitioner. To get his daughter away from the “evil influence,” Daffy’s father had his mother committed and subjected to electric shock treatments. Daffy never saw her again. As a result of her own parents’ indoctrination and the absence of her grandmother, Daffy’s own magic is severely suppressed. But no doubt her own talents combined with G’s mean that their children are like a Semi-Nuclear Pre-Teen Magical Titan Fantastic Squad.

The Kids are All Magical was a really tempting element to this story for me. Each one is compelled to find their personal wand, which can take the shape of a mundane item, usually an antique that “calls” to them. One has two sticks that she wears in her hair with ornaments on them which transform her from awkward teen to beautiful siren, and another, the lock-breaking boundary-obliterating one, is later drawn to an item that’s connected with her talents.

G’s son, Daffy’s adopted son, is a talented ballet dancer, and they figure out pretty early in the story what his “wand” is, and how it accentuates and focuses his power. And his dedication to dance and to practice and training make it pretty clear he’ll be very powerful the more time he spends dancing. He was one of my favorite characters in the parts that I read. I’d read a whole book about him.

For the next few chapters, Daffy and G are separated, and she slowly learns more about who he really is (very little of that information is provided by G himself) while trying to set up new boundaries for his involvement in her life, and trying to understand what her powers are or might be.

Then there are two major revelations, one of which I will hide behind spoiler tags:

Spoiler and Trigger Warning: Rape

It seems that G’s ex is not dead, but is in magic prison for killing a bunch of people, including his parents. Except she’s escaped from magic prison, and has been killing people all over the world.

AND she used her magic to make herself look like Daffy, so that when G was having sex with her, he thought he was with his wife. Evil Ex-Wife took the pictures, hacked his email, and sent them to Daffy, knowing she’d kick her husband out, leaving her and her children – specifically her son – vulnerable.

So effectively, she raped her ex-husband and framed him for cheating on his wife.

I read that part, and said, “WHOA.” Out loud. But quietly because people were sleeping.

And I was waiting for G to sit Daffy down and explain the whole thing, about the danger to the children, about the circumstances for the pictures, all of it.

But he doesn’t.

He doesn’t seem upset about what happened to him except that his ex-wife is dangerous (and also not dead but everyone thinks that she is). He doesn’t explain what’s happening, he doesn’t reveal how he’s lied and concealed information about Daffy, about their kids, about anything. He knows best – for himself.

And I grew increasingly angry at him for it. He’s wrapped up in some willful deceit and manipluation to not tell Daffy the truth about her own life, about the children she’s raising, about her own marriage, and their collective vulnerability.

He’s supposed to be able to protect them? From what, his own dickbaggery?

Then I completely lost my shit.

G. brings pizza and wine to the bakery, where Daffy is setting up the dough on a Sunday night for the Monday morning baking. He mentions that he’ll be heading out of the country on some big case, and she reacts with some asperity (completely justified, to my thinking):

“Have fun,” I said with more than a bit of contempt.

G didn’t need to read my mind to know where my thoughts led me. He reached over and rested his big hand atop mine. I looked small and frail in comparison to his strength.

“It’s not always like that, Daffy.”

“Like what?” I fixed him with a determined glare.

“Look, I have, upon occasion, found release with another woman when I was far away from you and the amount of magic I had to case in order to close a case was too much to contain. Not often. Not habitually. There is always a woman of age I can pick up in a bar who is very willing to share a one-night stand. And I always use a condom.”

He paused long enough to chew a bit of pizza and swallow it. “Normally I hop the first flight home and return to you, my love.”

Aaaand that would be where I stopped reading.

Because are you KIDDING ME? 

Seriously.

At the foundation level of this story, I believe I am supposed to witness G redeeming himself or something. Maybe Daffy needs to show him how not to be a terrible person (which he should have figured out on his own) or maybe he is going to wake his own sorry ass up and realize what a shit he’s been, but I am not here for any of it.

G is the gatekeeper of information Daffy needs and should have, and lies to her every time they talk. And based on the direction of the plot so far, eventually they will probably go fight evil together or something.

I don’t know, and I don’t care.

I can’t invest myself in wanting any part of his involvement in her life, or in this book. I won’t be convinced, ever, that he is a person Daffy should have in her life. I won’t be convinced to read about him, either.

His inability to acknowledge his actions, and the way in which the world of the book seems to condone the fact that he lies to Daffy, misleads her, and banged people behind her back without telling her made me feel ill, similar to how I felt when I read Kai Cole’s essay. “I did something wrong over and over but it wasn’t my fault because magic/patriarchy/both” is not heroic, not in real life, and not in a book.

(And how exactly does using a condom makes it ok, you magical dipshit? Come on.)

The longer he deceives Daffy and hides the truth from her about her life, her marriage, his past, her children, her latent powers, and her future, the more he strips her of any agency in a story that is ostensibly about her. Life is way too short to spend my reading time with a character like that, and, as Amanda pointed out to me as we discussed this book, it’s very easy for me to put down the book and walk away – far easier than it may be for a person in a marriage as damaging as this one.

Daffy can’t get away from G, and he’s orchestrated everything so that she won’t be able to extricate herself from any involvement with him. He hasn’t told her anything resembling the truth, and the ethical systems and morality of the magical world seem to condone his decisions and the harm he does to Daffy and their family.

To hell with him, and people like him. I’m out.

ETA: Out of morbid curiosity, I flipped to the last chapter to read how it ends. So while I did not finish the book, I did read the end.

Show Spoiler

Daffy, G, and the kids defeat the Evil Ex Wife, and G and Daffy have outstanding sex, but then she tells him to leave. She’s going to date other people, and he can as well, but they should start over. She married him too young, and needs a chance to know herself before she commits to him again. So I’m guessing there will be another book at some point.

Good going, Daffy. Way to toss him out.

But the door is still open for him to come back in, and so I’m not interested in reading the rest.

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