{audiobook} Subversive (2020)

by Colleen Cowley
ASIN/ISBN: B08GYLTKNZ
Publication: September 27, 2020
Series: Clandestine Magic Trilogy #1

Book review

Narrated by: Leanne Woodward
Release date: June 23, 2021
Length: 11 hrs and 57 mins

**I was provided access to the audiobook through the author. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.**

Peter Blackwell returns to his former hometown Ellicott Mills to serve as the town’s resident wizard, an omnimancer to help with illnesses or other problems that may arise in the town. Requiring an assistant, he manages to steal Beatrix Harper from her current place of employment (against her wishes). Although initially adverse to the idea, Beatrix agrees to help him, not realizing that helping Peter will require her to break the law because he didn’t exactly return home to just be an omnimancer.

I’ve gushed about the Clandestine Magic Trilogy as being one of my favorite trilogies in 2020. It was about time for a reread it when I found out about the audiobook. I don’t typically listen to audiobooks because I’m picky about narrators, and audiobooks take longer than if I read the book myself. I don’t mind audiobooks as rereads though. I immensely enjoyed the audiobook Subversive.

Subversive is the perfect blend of everything I love: historical fiction, fantasy, and romance. As a student of political science, I thought Cowley captured perfectly the distribution of power as it relates to women’s rights and those without magic, or typics. Those with magic hold an inordinate amount of authority as compared to those without magic and women have fewer rights compared to men. Wizards and men try to maintain their power by ensuring women remain without it. This serves as the backdrop to Peter’s return to his hometown and his employment of Beatrix. The reread reminded me why Beatrix and Peter make the perfect duo and remain one of my favorite couples.

While I initially listened to the audiobook at its normal speed, I eventually increased it to 1.1x its normal speed. Because I usually talk fast, this was a perfect speed and sounded more natural to me in both pace and tone. Once I got comfortable with the speed, it was easy enough to enjoy the narration. Through Leanne Woodward’s narration, Cowley’s magnetic storytelling comes to life. Woodward is the perfect narrator, and I don’t think I would have been able to finish the audiobook had I not liked her narration. Her enunciation is perfect, and her voice is clear. Characters are distinguished through different voices, which I liked a lot. Even with multiple female characters, each voice is distinct from the other so it’s easy to tell the individuals apart. For instance, Beatrix’s voice sounds closer to the narrator whereas Beatrix’s sister Lydia has a softer voice and is higher in pitch. Aside from the voices, I especially enjoyed the variation in intonation to exhibit an array of emotions. One of my favorite displays of this is when Beatrix first realizes what Peter has planned for her.  Woodward’s anguish as Beatrix called to me and broke my heart just like when I first read it.

I hope Leanne Woodward remains the narrator for the rest of the books. I already have Radical, book two in the trilogy, lined up as my next listen.

{book birthday} Revolutionary (2020)

Colleen Cowley’s Revolutionary is out today!

Revolutionary is the final installment of The Clandestine Magic Trilogy.

Amazon | Goodreads

In this final book of the Clandestine Magic trilogy, Beatrix Harper is poised to help her sister accomplish an audacious goal. They’re on the brink of winning back a key right for typics that wizards took away—and maybe, just maybe, getting women more rights in the bargain.

But first she has to rescue Peter Blackwell, trapped in a dark-magic coma. And figure out what a former friend is plotting after nearly killing Peter and disappearing. And stay one step ahead of the vice president’s men.

What her enemies have planned is worse than she realizes. Far worse. (from Goodreads)

You can read my review here.

Revolutionary (2020)

by Colleen Cowley
ASN: B08KNPY365
Publication: November 29, 2020
Series: Clandestine Magic Trilogy #3


Get it here: Amazon
For more details (like content warnings), click here.

**I was provided a copy of the book from the author. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own.**

**Additionally, be forewarned the following may contain spoilers for Subversive and Radical.**

While Peter’s life hangs in the balance, Beatrix is faced with the responsibilities of keeping him safe as well as ensuring Lydia can continue going to school…not to mention ensuring all the bills are still being paid despite her job being on (possibly indefinite) hiatus. Despite this, enemies are still lurking everywhere, prepared to explore any weakness they can find. However, allies can be found in unexpected places.

The distribution of power has clear consequences especially when we understand that those in power have no reason to want to share it.  If you have power, why would you give it up?  Through Subversive and Radical, we learn that wizards sit at the top of the social strata while men without magical ability occupy everything else except the bottom rung, which is set aside for women.  Women have no magical abilities (or were at least told they didn’t) and are expected to marry to fulfill societal expectations. Not only are women up against males who want them to remain in their subservient roles but wizards who would like to maintain the status quo.  The growing number of women trying to dismantle the patriarchy pose a threat to those in power, and those in power will do anything to keep it. In Revolutionary, we find out what anything means.

Cowley once again shows how she can manipulate me into believing that I know what she’s getting me into, that I know what is going on. Then, of course, she throws something into the mix that surprises me. I was her puppet, and she continually pulled my (heart) strings. (I am just too gullible.) I thought I learned my lesson from the first two books but my guesses as to what would happen next only multiplied.  Cowley had me suspicious of everyone and made me doubt my hunches multiple times. I was proud to say there was at least one thing I suspected that I was right about, and it made me feel like I finally won the magic lotto.

Of course, I cannot close this review without mentioning Beatrix and Peter. This was a relationship I rooted for since the beginning. I’m a sucker for enemies-to-lovers but Cowley brought so much complexity to this trope. Beatrix and Peter went through so much with and for each other. The ending was one they deserved. Throughout the trilogy, there has always been a question of whether what they felt for one another was genuine. Is there an answer? Yes. Is it the one you’re looking for? I can’t say. (commence evil laughter: MUAH HAHAHA.)

It is bittersweet to have The Clandestine Trilogy come to an end. I always feel this way when I finish reading books I love, and I definitely loved this trilogy. It feels more like I’m closing a chapter on my life, as though I’m saying goodbye to friends, and less like I’m simply closing a book. The trilogy is a highlight of my very bookish year.

The trilogy brought me joy in multiple ways. I greatly enjoyed the political intrigue and how it reflected real past and present political struggles. The fight for equal rights, the strategic behavior in framing the fight, and the distribution of power were all very entertaining from an analytical perspective. Pairing these with romance between two characters I grew to care about made it all the more interesting and a worthwhile read. While nothing will beat the first time reading it, I already know I will be rereading this trilogy soon.

Radical (2020)

by Colleen Cowley
ASN: B08J83X9CD
Publication date: October 25, 2020
Series: Clandestine Magic Trilogy #2


Get it here: Amazon
For more details (like content warnings), click here.

**The following contains spoilers for book 1, Subversive.**

Beatrix’s desire to protect her sister against those trying to dismantle the women’s movement compels Beatrix and her best friend Ella to move forward with their plans to secretly provide magic lessons to other women. Their actions, however, may have consequences neither completely thought through.

The political intrigue continues in Radical as it becomes clear that those running the government see Lydia Harper and the women’s movement as a threat to their power. Beatrix now understands that the danger to her sister is very real. Being in this position reinforces the importance of family to Beatrix but also highlights her tunnel vision when things relate to her sister. She may often act hastily without thoroughly understanding the consequences for those around her. When magic is concerned, the resident wizard is bound to become entangled, leading to the question of how much of her relationship with Peter is Beatrix willing to jeopardize? It’s a difficult decision when they’re both people she loves (or one of them is at least).

The plot device used to connect our leads was ingenious. It was complex and constantly evolving. It put me on an emotional rollercoaster. And yet, I still loved it. I’ve been committed to Beatrice and Peter’s relationship since the beginning, and Radical wore me down emotionally. I was struggling nearly as much as Peter and Beatrix struggled with their feelings for one another, questioning if their feelings were genuine or a manifestation of their connection. One thing is for certain though, whether it is love or not, the pain from betrayal still cuts deeply.

There were moments when it felt like the magic rules kept changing. It could be construed that the rules were being made up as the story went…as if there weren’t rules to begin with. However, I think it fits well into the overall story because not much research has been done on the magical abilities of women. Anything can nearly go because no one knows much about what women can do. (Now for my PSA…) This is what can happen when knowledge is purposely withheld. If knowledge is truly power, those who get to control the narrative and determine what information is released may go a long way to protect what they do not want to be disclosed. This is why the dissemination of information is so important.

While I didn’t enjoy this quite as much as Subversive, it is still a good read–great when compared to other books I’ve read this year. It’s just that Subversive was extra good (unfair, I know). I felt like Radical taunted me, lulling me into believing I knew what was going to happen when I actually didn’t know much at all. Like its predecessor, it kept me on my toes. It also reinforced what I learned from reading Subversive: Cowley has an uncanny ability for writing endings, the rip your heart out kind (cue: Lifehouse’s “Whatever It Takes”)

Subversive (2020)

by Colleen Cowley
ASN: B08GYLTKNZ
Publication date: September 27, 2020
Series: Clandestine Magic Trilogy #1


Get it here: Amazon
For more details (like content warnings), click here.

**I was provided a copy of the book by the author. I voluntarily read and reviewed it. All opinions are my own. (If you’re wondering, the book is superb!)**

Peter Blackwell returns to his former hometown Ellicott Mills to serve as the town’s resident wizard, an omnimancer to help with illnesses or other problems that may arise in the town.  Requiring an assistant, he manages to steal Beatrix Harper from her current place of employment (against her wishes).  Although initially adverse to the idea, Beatrix agrees to help him, not realizing that helping Peter will require her to break the law because he didn’t exactly return home to just be an omnimancer.

There’s something to be said about reading a book you hope is going to be good and have it meet your expectations, possibly even exceed them. Reading Subversive was one of the best experiences I had all year. It felt like all my favorite genres—fantasy, romance, regency (not a real genre I know…but it’s historical but yet not and I get regency vibes from it )–melded into one.  I had a difficult time trying to figure out that something to say, how I might capture how wonderful it is in a blog post—the answer is that I couldn’t but still tried.

Cowley’s magnetic storytelling and distinct magic system had me enamored with the book and its characters. The social system and the political system are reflective of the present United States but this somewhat dystopian U.S. lags in women’s rights—women don’t have any.  Okay, they have limited rights but it feels more like no rights at all. For instance, women have a curfew, and single women are not allowed to be alone with single men or else their reputations will be tarnished. The lack of women’s rights and the privilege that comes from having magical abilities serves as a compelling backdrop to the events that unfold. The book poses multiple questions, and among them is the question of what those in power will do to stay in power. 

I immediately liked Beatrix upon meeting her.  Family is everything to her, and she is determined that her sister has opportunities she never had, even though it can lead to resentment and go unappreciated at times. She isn’t infallible.  She can be stubborn and doesn’t have a problem speaking her mind or apologizing when she has erred.

Peter is a bit harder to figure out because it isn’t immediately clear what his motivations are. What is clear, though, is that he knows exactly what he is doing when he hires Beatrix, and it isn’t because he is just a nice wizard trying to help her out.  The relationship that blossoms from their work arrangement is a complicated one and kept me turning the pages.

I cannot emphasize how much I enjoyed it!  It felt like stepping into a Jane Austen novel in an alternate 21st century made extra complicated by the presence of magic. I wasn’t always able to predict what was going to happen next. I both loved and hated how it kept me on my toes just as I thought I had it figured out. I kept wanting to skip to the end so I wouldn’t be so anxious about what was going to happen next. I didn’t but I really wanted to. It’s perfect for fans of romantic fantasy with strong, capable women fighting for what they believe in.