Disclaimer: The author sent me a copy of the book in exchange for a fair and honest review. We are GR friends, though I didn't realize she had published until the offer.
Spells, Swords, and Storms is a three-story collection, one story for each word in the title. The first story, “Spellbound” is a pretty story about a love spell. Sainsbury plays with the idea of what happens after the love spell works and love is gained. It’s a delicate balancing job to write a story like this, especially when a reader factors in the questions of will. It is to Sainsbury’s credit that she handles the balancing act just fine. The sense of guilt, love, and shame that Jenna feels are palatable.
“Aislinn’s Raven” is the second story, and draws on the knights surrounding King Arthur. In fact, this story has been on my TBR shelf. While it is a good story, it is the weakest of the three. The story centers around Gareth, filling in his backstory, in particular where he would learn such skill at arms if his mother kept him tied to her skirts (as the story goes). While the central protagonists are well drawn (Gareth and his teachers), their opposites are not, at least not in the same way. The theme of a class of culture and powers is interesting and the description of time and setting is well done. However, one villain’s behavior doesn’t fully make sense. Perhaps this is all to do with bullies being “piss and wind”, but something more is hinted at, making the ending a bit too open ended. The reader wants a sequel and a bit more answers.
The best story is the last, “Winter Flood” which isn’t so much a fantasy, as a study of growing up and grief. Rachel, a college student, suffers a break up with her long-term boyfriend, and meets someone who is strangely familiar. While not, technically, the fantasy that the other stories are, it contains, at its heart, a quiet and beautiful magic. In some ways, it reminded me of Jim C Hines’ Goldfish Dreams – a more quiet, real story that is fantastic in tone and deals with real life and serious real-life problems directly.
All three stories deal with the theme of friendship, loyalty, and love. All feature strong women, though strong in different ways. Each story also focuses on questions of love and loyalty. They are not overly sentimental and quite magical.