Sorcery and the Single Girl, by Mindy Klasky (Red Dress Ink, 2007)

When Jane Madison, a librarian working at the historic Peabridge Library in Georgetown, Washington D.C ., discovered a secret cache of magical books, crystals and other paraphernalia, she was catapulted into a world of witchcraft and magic. Now she has a cat familiar, Neko, who chooses to appear as a rather flamboyantly gay human, and a sexy warder named David, whose job it is to teach her about her powers. Because, it turns out, if she can’t convince the local Coven that she’s responsible enough to control her abilities, they’ll take it all back: familiar, warder, books, crystals and magic.

After a somewhat rocky start to this arrangement (as detailed in A Girl’s Guide to Witchcraft), Jane’s been trying her best to learn everything she needs to know. But the first meeting with the Coven saddles her with a frighteningly important project, one she’s not convinced she can succeed at. So now she’s juggling the obligations of her day job (playing tour guide and mocha-maker to the Peabridge’s visitors) and the requirements of the Coven, and trying to get in something resembling a social life. Because there’s this rather nice British guy, Graeme, who seems to really like her, but for some reason, Jane just can’t bring herself to talk about him to those people closest to her. As the night for fulfilling the Coven’s task draws closer, it becomes clear someone doesn’t want her to succeed, leaving threatening messages and images for her to find. Can Jane unravel whatever’s going on, and prove herself to the Coven, or are her days as a witch numbered?

Sorcery and the Single Girl is a rather pleasant, fun book that combines elements of “chick-lit” and urban fantasy into what I’m thinking should be called “witch-lit”. Jane Madison is a likable heroine, memorable and sympathetic, and her familiar, Neko, pretty much steals the show whenever he’s around. The setting is authentic; having spent some time in Georgetown, I can recognize some of the local landmarks in passing. Unfortunately, the book lacks a certain ‘oomph’ that I thought was very much present in Klasky’s earlier works (the Glasswright Series).

How do I mean that? Well, the book just doesn’t seem to commit to any particular feel. Despite Jane’s romance with Graeme, and flirtatious dealings with David, it doesn’t strike me as a romance; the sparks occasionally appear, but they fail to fan into anything greater, as if Jane just can’t quite get into any of the men in her life. Despite the clear presence of magic and the paranormal, there’s not even that profound of a fantasy atmosphere to the story, as though the witchcraft just happens to be there, and in an understated manner. There’s certainly no real danger, no epic struggle for life and limb, or climatic resolution against an enemy. No, this story is all about Jane and her personal growth and attempt to overcome internal challenges. Klasky describes this series as “urban fantasy with a healthy splash of chick-lit sensibility”, but I fear it’s more like chick-lit wrapped around an urban fantasy core. And even though I’m not ashamed to read romance books, I, like most other men, fail to find an emotional resonance with the hallmarks of the chick-lit genre, which is probably why this book falls a little flat for me.

However, I’d like to note that, even though chick-lit isn’t one of my stronger points, Klasky is an excellent writer, with a pleasant, engaging voice and a knack for fleshing out her characters, and it’s actually because of her that I’d even have picked up this book in the first place. I think that Sorcery and the Single Girl is, at worst, a slight misfire, and it’s still bound to appeal to fans of A Girl’s Guide to Witchcraft. I’ll definitely be picking up the next in the series. Nonetheless. I’m still crossing my fingers that Klasky will return to her fantasy roots one of these days, and allow herself to cut loose.

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