The Spellbinder/Scotland Hard (Tom & Laura books one and two) by John Booth. Book review

THE SPELLBINDER (Tom & Laura book one) by John Booth, Pfoxmoor, Kindle,£3.30

SCOTLAND HARD (Tom & Laura book two) by John Booth, John Booth, Kindle, £3.30

Reviewed by David Brzeski

The second book in this series was published just weeks after the first, while I was in the middle of reading book one for this review, so I decided I may as well pick it up & write a combined review for both.

‘The Spellbinder’ introduces us to Tom & Laura, students in an alternate history 1860s, where magic exists. Laura, the spellbinder of the title, is more powerful than she realises, until an assassination attempt drags her & her new friend Tom, a healer, into the dark & murky world of Military Magic.

This is an adventure very much reminiscent of the story papers of the late 19th century, with a dash of Wodehousian humour, which makes for a rollicking good read.

John Booth’s take on magic & how it works is highly original & brilliantly worked out & the background is explored in various excerpts from ‘A Short History Of Military Magics’ by Sir Anthony Barrett at the beginning of several chapters.

A particularly nice touch is the way Booth cleverly underscores the youth & inexperience of his characters by having older, but much less powerful characters occasionally suggest better ways of using their abilities than the heroes can immediately think of themselves.

The first book ends with the villains routed, but there’s still a traitor at MM3 (Military Magic 3) & Tom & Laura are missing in London.

‘Scotland Hard’ picks up the story, with Tom & Laura reported dead, but Ernest Trelawney, head of MM3 is not so sure, so he sets a trio of promising students from the spy school at Hobsgate on their trail, just to be certain.

Booth doesn’t just give us two opposing sides here. There are at least three, or four separate agendas at work at all times in these books & this leads to some very complex plotting which Booth handles very well.

Along the way, the two sets of heroes, Tom & Laura & the three students sent to track them down, pick up a collection of magically talented younger children, who provide a lot of the humour in the books. The older female characters are especially well-rounded & they seem to be the natural leaders in their teams, which makes for much amusing interplay with the males, who are out of their depth fairly often, especially poor Tom.

Throw in a mad Scottish laird, who wants revenge against the English, a murderous Viennese lady spy & a classic Victorian villain, complete with handlebar moustache & you have a pair of very fun books.

If John Booth has a weak point, it’s in his attempts at writing dialogue in foreign, or regional accents, which gets a little stereotypical at times. Having said that, it’s very much in keeping with the style of the Victorian story papers which are an obvious influence here & so easy to forgive.