Raine Benares – Book List

Raine Benares is a Seeker, which means she uses her minimal magical talents to find lost items. She's also a kickass heroine. When she gets bonded to a soul-sucking stone, the Saghred, that amplifies her powers even as it whispers to her heart, Raine knows she's in trouble. It doesn't help that anyone who knows of the Saghred wants either to possess it or destroy it, leaving Raine in the middle.

What follows are Raine's adventures in trying to keep the Saghred—and herself—out of the wrong hands, even as she searches for a way to separate herself from the stone. Lisa Shearin's writing is fun and funny. Raine's voice comes through in the first-person narration, and Shearin's unique world is a bit sword-and-sorcery, a bit Dungeons-and-Dragons, and very much enjoyable.

Reviews

1. Magic Lost, Trouble Found

by Lisa Shearin

Magic Lost, Trouble Found cover image
ISBN:
9780441015054
Format:
Mass Market Paperback, 345 pages
Published:
Ace, 2007

Spoiler Alert! This review contains crucial details about the plot of this book.

The word for Lisa Shearin's new fantasy series is "delightful."

Raine Benares' characterization presents a magical world through the eyes of a down-to-earth, capable woman. The passing way in which she remarks, "Oh, by the way ... I've got an amulet that links me to a stone known as the 'Soul Thief' and want it gone" is a typical example of the tongue-in-cheek tone of Shearin's writing--a tone that suits this story.

The way the action progresses, it is hard to imagine that so much can happen in so short a time (a couple of days). I am used to epic fantasy stories that take months, years, generations to complete. Neither approach is necessarily bad; they are just different, and each has its advantages. Shearin handles her pacing well. She packs quite a bit of action into the book, but somehow manages to squeeze enough exposition in there so as to inform us about numerous aspects of her magical world without completely drowning us in an infodump. As someone who also enjoys continent (or world) spanning adventures (cough Mr. Raymond E. Feist anyone? cough)

Fantasy is as susceptible as any genre to its clichés, and magical stones of power are one of those. However, Lisa Shearin cleverly doesn't tackle this particular stone head-on. Instead, she uses it to give us plenty of time with her main character, who is a delightful, spunky heroine. In that respect, I would think that women can fully appreciate Raine and enjoy her, more so than many books dominated by heavily masculine heroes. That said, I'm male and enjoyed it thoroughly.

The only criticism I could offer is that parts of it seemed rushed or forced. The ending comes very fast after what seems like a very long time, and there are certain scenes where I remember going, "Hmm ... is this really necessary? Couldn't this have been cut?" There are a couple of times where there is a large build-up to danger and tension, only for it to dissipate (such as just after the climax of the book, during the last flight from The Ruins). It doesn't ruin the book, but it makes me feel fidgety while I'm reading it.

That's the great thing about books though. If you get fidgety, you can just put it down, go do something, and come back later.

2. Armed & Magical

by Lisa Shearin

Armed & Magical cover image
ISBN:
9780441015870
Format:
Mass Market Paperback, 293 pages
Published:
Ace, 2008

Spoiler Alert! This review contains crucial details about the plot of this book.

I started Armed & Magical immediately after finishing Magic Lost, Trouble Found, and it was a good decision. Armed & Magical picks up right where the first book ends. Raine is still burdened with the Saghred, which continually flexes its psychic muscle. Sarad Nukpana lurks on the edge of her awareness. There's elves and goblins after her, not to mention any number of mages who might want her power for their own.

I love how Raine explains the Saghred, calling it her "psychic roommate." Lisa Shearin's easygoing, matter-of-fact characterization of Raine makes the book extremely fun. If you enjoyed Magic Lost, Trouble Found, then you will enjoy this book. If you didn't, then I don't see why you'd be reading the second one just to see if it "gets better." The plot certainly thickens, but it follows the same general formula that the first book did, incorporating some new twists to keep it interesting.

If you haven't read Magic Lost, Trouble Found first, don't even think about skipping it and reading this one. You probably won't get lost. Shearin does a good job adding exposition that catches readers up to Raine's life, some of which is targeted at people who may not have read the first book (or read the first book long enough ago to forget it). Actually, this is something with which I have an issue: reading the books back to back, I noticed that some of those snippets were reused verbatim from the first book. While I suppose that it's hard to improve on nice, tight prose, what's the harm in trying?

I liked the ending to this book much better than the first one. The climax was paced better, wasn't too drawn out, and the ending wrapped up enough loose ends while still leaving me hungry for book 3.

I guess the highest praise I could give this book would be: I read it as quickly as possible because I couldn't wait to find out what happened next, so quickly that sometimes I had to go back to double check something.

3. The Trouble with Demons

by Lisa Shearin

The Trouble with Demons cover image
ISBN:
9780441017126
Format:
Mass Market Paperback, 370 pages
Published:
Ace, 2009

Spoiler Alert! This review contains crucial details about the plot of this book.

It's always a pleasure to sit down and begin a book you know you'll enjoy. It takes a lot of the pressure off, as a reader. You don't have to worry that if you take the book out with you somewhere you'll end up wanting to dump it after five pages and find yourself with nothing to read. Although I read The Trouble with Demons on my day off in a chair outside my house, the point stands: I've looked forward to this book for some time now.

My reviews of Magic Lost, Trouble Found and Armed and Magical are, upon a second reading, far too vague and cursory to do justice to Lisa Shearin's inventive fantasy series (and oddly incoherent at times, which rather disconcerts me—what was I on?). I will try to rectify this shortcoming with this review, so bear with me.

In The Trouble with Demons, we see the Raine Benares series reach maturity. Its first two books were good, but there's a certain confidence in The Trouble with Demons that sets it apart from its two predecessors. From the start, Shearin reminds us that it has only been two weeks since Raine Benares, an elven seeker (of lost things) from a disreputable family (pirates, no less), became psychically bonded to the Saghred, a semi-sentient stone of near-limitless power. At the rate of a week per book, this series is advancing time only slightly faster than 24—not that I'm complaining. The short time frame means that the label "action-packed thrill ride" works fine for The Trouble with Demons; other labels need not apply.

It's been more than a year since I read Armed & Magical (and as much as I would like to have re-read that first, I don't have the time right now). Shearin does a good job at recapping the events of past books without slowing down the actual adventure to a crawl. New readers can jump into the series with this book, but I would advise against it, because that would mean denying oneself the pleasure of the two books prior to this one! Also, this book has almost zero fat content. For a magically-dense world, it is remarkably terse on magical matters. There are a few exposition-heavy conversations, but for the most part The Trouble with Demons is a full of streamlined action with the occasional pause for breath and a paragraph of explanation. I get a sense of how the magic works, but Shearin spares us a three-page lecture on the need for balance and willpower; for that alone she deserves a medal. I especially enjoyed the opening, which reacquainted me with Raine and her cousin Phaelan as demons unleash havoc on the Isle of Mid. Good times.

Some of the best things about this book are also the things I disliked the most. Raine is, as usually, sassy and strong; she's a model kickass heroine and probably the best reason to read this series. Still, I could have done with her constant observations of how attractive Tam and Mychael are; certainly she could have refrained from describing the latter man as "yummy." I have nothing against sticking Raine in a love triangle though, and at this point, I'm kind of hoping she will get laid just so she stops mentioning her lack of a love life so frequently. In action if not in observation, however, Raine is second to none. She's capable, always ready to lead a charge and safeguard her friends, but she isn't the stoic sort of hero who rushes off on her own to do battle because she doesn't want to endanger anyone else. She does her best to ensure her friends' safety, but she can't help it if everyone she knows is eager for action and payback.

Speaking of which, did I mention this book has pirates? And past books have had something that approximates ninjas. Studies have shown that including pirates in a book automatically makes it awesome, and The Trouble with Demons is no exception to that rule, embodied by Raine's cousin Phaelan. He's sort of a less scrupulous male version of Raine, and it shows. Phaelan even gets his own crowning moment of awesome against an antagonist who needs to be conveniently disabled for a little while.

Some of the characters weren't as impressive. I didn't grow very fond of the new chair of demonology (the old chair got eaten, of course), Sora Niabi. I'm just starting to tire of the fact that all the protagonists are so darn awesome—and everyone on the side of good seems to think Raine is the greatest thing since sliced bread. I like Raine too, but that doesn't mean I believe all the protagonists should like her—rivalry can be fun! As much as I enjoyed the story, the characters in The Trouble with Demons are pretty shallow and tend toward those extremes: good, awesome, and friends of Raine; and evil, incompetent (or arrogant), and foes of Raine.

One of the challenges of writing a series is upping the ante with each book, of course. And Shearin set the bar high for herself when she bonded Raine to a soul-eating stone. . . . She manages to pull it off in this book, and from the hints left at the end, the fourth book will have even higher stakes. In this one it's demons and a Hellgate, and in the next book, Raine's world is moving closer toward an all-out goblin-elf war, with the Saghred (and thus her) in the middle of it. Only two weeks have passed, but Raine has attracted the attention of very powerful people, some of whom we've met in previous books and others whom we know only by name and reputation. Shearin's world-building is top-notch, and she's obviously laying the ground for the upcoming trials Raine will face as those who seek to acquire the Saghred become even more desperate.

Meanwhile, Raine herself wants to unload the Saghred as soon as possible. She can't, and even if she could, there still remains the question of what to do with it (assuming they don't find a way to just destroy it). Shearin, to her credit, provides no easy answers and places her protagonist in a truly dangerous predicament: now Raine's bonded not only to the Saghred but to her two potential lovers, Tam and Mychael, and if the Saghred consumes her, they'll be next. Raine's problems aren't just personal or political but a painful melange of both, and it shows. This, of course, just motivates her to go out and beat up as many bad guys as possible. . . .

That's really the strength of The Trouble with Demons: it's fun. There were a couple of moments where I laughed out loud (not all that common when I'm reading) and a few where I pumped my hand in the air as I cheered on the characters (I almost never do that). It's action-packed, yes, but it's also got charming characters, witty dialogue, and genuine high-stakes tension. This is a book a finely-tuned instrument of entertainment, and it doesn't miss the high note. I can't call it perfect, but it's a definite pleasure to read.

4. Bewitched & Betrayed

by Lisa Shearin

Bewitched & Betrayed cover image
ISBN:
9780441018727
Format:
Mass Market Paperback, 366 pages
Published:
Ace, 2010

Spoiler Alert! This review contains crucial details about the plot of this book.

There are many ways to make it easier on oneself when constructing a protagonist. For example, a kickass, wise-cracking female heroine with magic and not one but two interested men is a good start. Couple that to a magical soul-sucking stone coveted by a mighty and nefarious goblin sorcerer on the lam, and you have both character and plot.

Not that I'm trying to suggest that these books are formulaic. Lisa Shearin, like all good authors, borrows from the fantasy tropes, but the Raine Benares series is creative and complex. Bewitched & Betrayed is no exception. Nevertheless, as much as I admire this series, I have to admit that this book didn't fulfil my high expectations.

My main problem with Bewitched & Betrayed is that it does very little in the way of advancing the main story arc. Yes, there was lots of character development, and the plot did move forward somewhat. It's for these reasons, especially for the character development, that I still enjoyed the book and think it's a good one, if not as good as The Trouble with Demons, which is now my "Raine Benares gold standard."

A lot has happened to Raine in the past three books, which span weeks. We learned about the Saghred, we learned that it could be opened with the right dagger, we saw Raine reunited with her father (who has a fancy new meat suit), and doubt on Raine's ability to resist the temptation of the Saghred remains a running theme. Bewitched & Betrayed gives us deception, body-switching, and explosions (from the bad guys), and scheming, erect nipples, and explosions (from the good guys).

What we don't get is a lot of time with the Saghred. With no one specific inside clamouring to get out, it's been reduced from setting to plot device. Sarad Nukpana once again takes centre stage as the Big Bad. While he's an OK villain as far as they go, his threat-level is still predicated on what he could do instead of what he has done. We've yet to see Nukpana do something that makes us go, "Oh shit" and realize that this guy is bad news. Yes, he kills people and sucks out their souls. Forgive me for having high standards when it comes to sinister fantasy villains.

Still, Nukpana is a credible villain if not a satisfying one. Soul-sucking really is impressive. Bureaucratic whining, on the other hand, not so much. Carnades Silvanus' role in Bewitched & Betrayed is much reduced from his role in the previous book, his threat level having been downgraded from, "jockeying for position of archmagus" to "being a nuisance while Raine & co. try to hunt down body-hopping sorcerers." The Trouble with Demons proved that Silvanus can be a great antagonist, but he didn't get the chapters needed to show us that potential again. I'm sure, however, this will be rectified in future books. Annoying mages on the Seat of Twelve don't go away, especially not after the Paladin of the Conclave Guardians steals their coach from them. . . .

With the two major antagonists more distant than present for most of the book, Bewitched & Betrayed's story becomes very linear. Reduced to a series of events punctuated by explosions (of various kinds) and plenty of quips from all parties involved, the best parts of the book come from the dialogue and the characters speaking it. Raine learns more about Mychael's past (as well as his present), and they learn to work together on a new level, as partners, instead of protector and protected. Similarly, Tam trains Raine to fight goblin-style—i.e., dirty. There are great bits of foreshadowing here that become important during the climax.

As far as the writing goes, Bewitched & Betrayed retains the consistent style of the Raine Benares series that made me a fan. Raine's voice is snarky without being too smug, confident yet vulnerable—in other words, she's a heroine, but she's well aware of her flaws. She's surrounded by people who care about her. And the people who don't care about her mostly don't want her dead or in goblin custody. In having Raine stumble into her role as bond servant to the soul-sucking Saghred, Shearin manages to avert the Chosen One trope even as she plays true to some of its consequences.

It's on this strength, and on the strength of its characters, that the Raine Benares series continues to entertain. I just wish this particular instalment had a more profound sense of progress. Although not everything is status quo at the end—far from it—and the stage is set for yet more awesomeness, the game itself remains the same: find Sarad Nukpana, kill him, and then find a way to destroy the Saghred or unlink Raine from it. After four books (really after only three), Shearin has sold me on the concept. It's time to go further, beyond goblin-hunting and soul-sucking, and take the next step.

5. Con & Conjure

by Lisa Shearin

Con & Conjure cover image
ISBN:
9780441020188
Format:
Paperback, 323 pages
Published:
Ace, 2011

Spoiler Alert! This review contains crucial details about the plot of this book.

I have been reading a lot of heavy, "serious" works lately, works that employ a large cast of characters to deal with issues on a big, even epic scale. And while many of these works have been upbeat, some of them have also been "downers." So I thought it was time to read something lighter. Coincidentally, a new Raine Benares book came out in April, and it happened to be sitting on my shelf.

The levity of Lisa Shearin's writing is exactly what I wanted. Con & Conjure definitely has high stakes and serious issues: the narrator, Raine, is psychically-bonded to a rock called the Saghred. The Saghred feeds on souls, and in return it grants its wielders immense magical power. Unfortunately it also drives people insane. Raine, as the only link to the Saghred, is a tempting target for several powerful factions. In particular, a goblin sorcerer who was once trapped inside the Saghred wants it back, and a faction of elves led by Taltek Balmorlan want to use Raine as an excuse to start a goblin-elf war. The situation is tense, and assassination attempts on a rogue goblin prince who wants peace don't make it any better.

Despite the gravity of the situation, however, Raine's narration is delightfully flip. Shearin's world is full of epic fantasy tropes: sorcerers, soul-stealing rocks, goblins, elves, etc. Yet the novels take place in urban fantasy environments. (Sometimes this lead to use of language I might consider questionable—is "green" really an appropriate metonym for money if everyone still uses gold as currency?) The Isle of Mid, the setting since the second book, resembles a city-state of Renaissance Italy, if Florence or Venice were controlled by a conclave of elven mages. Shearin sends Raine ducking down alleys, weaving through crowds along the docks, hiding in brothels, and getting into barfights. All the while, Raine is describing the action with her characteristic wit and sarcasm. In short, Con & Conjure, like all of the Raine Benares books, is fun. In fact, while it's not the best book I've read all year, this is probably the most fun I've had reading a book so far this year. I suspected that would be the case when I started reading it, and Shearin has not disappointed me.

I love stories with con games and heist movies. These fall into a category of deception that appeals to me because they, especially con games, are very cerebral efforts. One defeats one's enemy, the mark, by winning a battle of wits, by utterly devastating him or her but leaving him or her alive to suffer the humiliation. Then there is the adrenaline of not knowing if or when the con will fall apart and leave the characters in danger. This combination of deception and suspense is attractive, dare I say even sexy. Hence my love for The Lies of Locke Lamora and movies like Ocean's Eleven and Foolproof.

So I was excited by the prospect of watching Raine pull off a con with the help of her cousin Mago. Unfortunately, Shearin pulls a Scott Lynch on us. Like Red Seas Under Red Skies, the promised con soon gets sublimated beneath ancillary action, fading into the gentle night to become a secondary plot. Though there is still plenty of deception, with Raine and her enemies both using glamours to assume various identities, the intricate test of wits that I had been anticipating was, alas, not to be.

Still, there was going to be a con, and I guess that's what matters. It just fell apart much earlier than most con games do. Instead, Raine finds herself in a series of increasingly untenable positions, at one point having several warrants out for her apprehension. And she can't just lie low, because she has to find out who is trying to kill Prince Chigaru and steal the Saghred. Raine has never, ever been the kind of person to sit on the sidelines—and the other characters are finally starting to figure this out! There is a lot less, "No, you aren't coming with us," in Con & Conjure, especially from Mychael. I find this absence most gratifying, because in the previous books it killed the pacing unnecessarily: it is pretty obvious that Raine is going to come along. She is, after all, our narrator and kickass heroine. Similarly, I appreciate that Shearin did not inject some simmering jealousy or resentment between Mychael and Raine after the former learns that one of the assassins gunning for Prince Chigaru is Raine's ex-fiancée.

The stakes for Raine have seldom been higher. Well, OK, that's not strictly true … I guess attempting to prevent the release of a demon king and trying to stop an evil goblin sorcerer from regenerating are pretty high stakes. But now we're talking war, racial war between the goblins and the elves. And both sides wouldn't mind getting their hands on the Saghred. The easiest way to do that is to get their hands on Raine, through whom they can sacrifice souls to the Saghred. Yes, through her.

Since Balmorlan revealed that plan, complete with magic-sapping manacles, to a glamour-disguised Raine, I kept having these flashes—the kind you get teased with during trailers for "next week's episode"—of Raine on a cell wall, defeated. (Of course, with most such episode trailers, what they don't show you is the immediately subsequent triumphant escape.) I won't reveal whether Balmorlan actually makes good on his threat to imprison Raine, but there are several times when she is in imminent danger of losing control, either over herself or over the Saghred. There is a very chilling scene where Raine lets loose and lets the Saghred mete out some well-deserved destruction on people we consider bad guys. And the climax of Con & Conjure might be my favourite; I like it even better than The Trouble with Demons, which up to this point has been my favourite Raine Benares book. While the climax is both much faster and on a smaller scale in this book—no epic demon battles—it's a lot more emotionally poignant. We get a guest appearance from Sarad Nukpana, and Shearin expertly manoeuvres Raine into a position where, despite her best efforts, she is on the cusp of losing everything. More impressively, Shearin goes ahead and deals Raine and our protagonists a setback that, while not wholly surprising, definitely alters the balance of power in favour of the bad guys. And it sets up the next book.

So Con & Conjure is a satisfying story filled with action, even if it doesn't quite deliver the confidence game I was expecting from the title. Shearin knows how to pace her scenes—trite phrases like "action-packed thrill ride" and "never a dull moment" come to mind, and they would be accurate. Unfortunately, Con & Conjure, like the other books in the series, share with thrillers a dearth of strong characterization. Though all of Shearin's characters are delightfully depicted and very amusing, they are, with the exception of Raine herself, rather two-dimensional. And again, we have the dichotomy where the protagonists universally love Raine and the antagonists consist of snivelling bad guys who whine when they don't get their way. Judging from the setup for the next book, this will not always be the case, as Raine and company will get a reluctant ally to help them take on Sarad Nukpana once and for all.

But that flaw is just so minor compared to the heart of the book—indeed, of the series: Raine herself. She is one of my favourite protagonists and favourite first-person narrators I've ever encountered. It's not just her voice; it's the way she has changed over the past five books, and the way she bears her singular burden. She is the only one bonded to the Saghred; she can feel the enmity radiating off the stone. She feels its desire to consume souls and escape its prison. And always there is the threat looming over her that she will cross the line, succumb to the lure of the Saghred's power, and essentially go insane and give herself up to it. Then there would be no Raine, just the Saghred and a nice, mobile bond servant to go procure soul snacks. That would be bad for everyone.

Though the threat has been real and present in all of the previous books, it's especially palpable here. Raine keeps running into scenarios where she has no good choices: if she doesn't use the Saghred, everyone dies; if she uses the Saghred, she gets one step closer to losing herself. And when she puts it that way, the choice seems rather obvious, but it's still a little heartbreaking. Once again, Shearin uses the magic of literature to distort our sense of time: Raine has grown so much since we first met her in Magic Lost, Trouble Found, even though only a month or two has passed since she bonded with the Saghred.

I wish I could say the other characters were half as interesting as Raine. As in the previous books, while they are amusing, the rest of the cast is rather two-dimensional—and we again have all the protagonists loving Raine and all the antagonists consisting of snivelling bad guys who whine when they don't get their way. Judging from the setup for the next book, this will not always be the case, as Raine and company will get a reluctant ally to help them take on Sarad Nukpana once and for all.

Con & Conjure, while an improvement over the previous book, Bewitched & Betrayed, hasn't really altered my opinion of this series. But that is fine, because my opinion thus far has been pretty damn high: I like this series, and while it has its faults, Shearin's books have always been fun and satisfying to read. That level of consistency is difficult to maintain and deserves a great deal of admiration. And if you like witty fantasy adventures, soul-stealing rocks, or kickass female heroines, then you should read these books.

6. All Spell Breaks Loose

by Lisa Shearin

All Spell Breaks Loose cover image
ISBN:
9781937007713
Format:
Mass Market Paperback, 290 pages
Published:
Ace, 2012

Spoiler Alert! This review contains crucial details about the plot of this book.

A few years ago I discovered a neat little book called Magic Lost, Trouble Found , about an elf named Raine who inadvertently becomes linked to a soul-sucking magical rock called the Saghred. Lisa Shearin provided a kickass protagonist with the kind of witty voice I love, particularly in my urban fantasy. Here we are, five more books later, and the story of the Saghred has finally reached its conclusion.

Raine, Mychael, and Tam are following Sarad Nukpana and the Saghred to Regor, the goblin capital. Nukpana, Raine’s occasional nemesis and a mad sorcerer, plans to use the Saghred’s magic-amplifying abilities to take over the world. Raine would like to stop him, as well as destroy the Saghred in the process. But it won’t be easy, because their resources are limited and time grows short.

This definitely isn’t the kind of book where a reader new to the series can jump in and hope to follow along. All Spell Breaks Loose is the culmination of the previous books’ plot and character development. Granted, a lot of the characters we’ve come to know and love don’t get much (if any) page time in this book—no Phaelan, and not much in the way of Justinian or even Piaras and Talon, though they have minor roles. And in that sense, it’s kind of disappointing as the concluding book to the series (sort of like Mass Effect 3’s ending), because Shearin wraps up the plot but leaves a lot about the characters dangling. Yet I still think this is an effective conclusion for fans, because it delivers what we—and Raine—need most: emotional closure.

Being the Saghred’s bond slave has changed Raine’s life in so many ways. It’s easy to forget that, for her, less than a year has passed since she first encountered that awful rock. In that time she has fought Sarad Nukpana and imprisoned him in the Saghred—only to see him escape—fought demons and their queen, and saved the Isle of Mid from the escaped souls of evil sorcerers. Along the way, the Saghred has amplified her magical abilities—but at the price of chipping away at her soul, sinking its tendrils into her, making her enjoy the power she can now wield. Raine recognizes that the Saghred is not a neutral tool, not something she could ever continue using without repercussions. She wants it gone.

This immense burden is evident in All Spell Breaks Loose from the very beginning. As they gear up to go through the mirror to Regor, Raine and her comrades get caught in an attack on Mid itself. Raine reflects on her relative uselessness—her last use of the Saghred left her without access to her magic, so she can do little to defend against the Khrynsani goblins coming for them. This recurs throughout the first half of the book, until Tam’s (and Sarad Nukpana’s) former teacher takes Raine aside and tells her to buck up.

The secret, you see, is that it’s never been about the magic. It’s never been about who can hit harder, cast spells better, or more effectively wield the Saghred. Raine has never triumphed because she’s a stronger mage; she wins because she’s smart, careful, and compassionate. And when she’s captured and it seems all is lost, that reliance on planning and execution instead of sorcery and deception is what saves her.

All Spell Breaks Loose is almost a recantation of the transformation Raine has undergone in the past five books. As she looks to heal herself of the psychological scarring the Saghred has caused, Raine has to come to terms with being of nominal magical ability again, and the implications this would have for her relationship with Mychael and the Guardians. In a way, I think the worst thing the Saghred has done to her hasn’t been using her as a conduit for souls or stealing her father—no, the worst thing about Raine’s association with the Saghred has been the extent to which she has become codependent on it. She gradually began to believe that, in order to win against the impossible odds set before her, she needed to draw upon the power of the Saghred. Now, with that power cut off and the Saghred in Nukpana’s hands, Raine has to rediscover who she was and use that person to save the day.

Like its predecessors, this book is fast paced and tightly written. I have little more to say about it than that—anyone familiar with this series and Shearin’s writing will feel right at home here. As I mentioned above, the tight timeline and economy of characters makes this feel like a much sparser experience than the one I’ve become accustomed to with these books. Shearin could have taken more time to build up toward the expedition’s departure, I think, so that we could have one last goodbye with Mid and the characters on it.

Sarad Nukpana’s role as the Big Bad leaves a lot to be desired. He is essentially a cartoon character of a villain, all gloating and cackling and evil, his motivation that of a psychopath rather than anything more interesting. It works, and there are some points where he can be terrifying in his cruelty, but he never really has me quaking in my boots. He’s just so over-the-top, as a villain, that it’s obvious Raine has to win, and her victory is a little less satisfying as a result. Carnades, Raine’s on-again/off-again/on-again enemy, suffers from similarly shallow characterization.

I guess part of my disappointment is that the series has come so far, and I was expecting more from its final book. As just another book in the series, it’s good (though still not great). And Raine’s personal catharsis is excellent. As a conclusion to the series, however, I’m less satisfied. I wanted to see a little more growth, a few more risks, and didn’t quite get it.

I’m really looking forward to Shearin’s new forthcoming urban fantasy series. As far as the Raine Benares series goes, it has sometimes been bumpy, and the books have not always made me swoon—but even the roughest ones managed to entertain. I can’t wait to see what Shearin has planned next. All Spell Breaks Loose is Raine Benares through and through: bumpy but brilliant, and usually good times.