A series that has gone on as long as the Harley Merlin series can be at risk of running into derivative plots and character arcs. As someone whose working on their own lengthy book series, the idea of keeping everything fresh and interesting by book #5 seems like a daunting task. However Harley Merlin and the Broken Spell by Bella Forrest still introduces new and interesting moments grounded in what has already been built up within the series.
Harley’s character development continues in a positive and encouraging direction. Her actions reflect the growth she’s shown in the previous books and continues to build upon everything she’s learned. But more interesting is seeing the dynamic of her drastic changes throughout the story. Without spoiling anything, significant changes to her occur and it’s noticeable just how much of an impact those moments have on her personality. But throughout it all she continues to drive the story forward through her own actions, decisions and realizations.
The side character of focus in this book is good ol’ Wade Crowley. A fear that I had with Wade was one that is seen in many stories where there is a romantic subplot going on. It’s no secret this far into the series that there is chemistry between Harley and Wade and there was some concern to be had. Often with romantic subplots, the love interest character can just be relegated to only emotional support and seemingly exist solely for the romance. But thankfully Wade proves time and time again to be his own character while also being supportive and helpful to Harley. Their chemistry serves to better each of them as characters and doesn’t get in the way of their development as people.
However, while the protagonists and the heroes continue to improve, it’s hard to say the same for Harley Merlin’s antagonists. It seems almost as though they can only be relegated to cartoonishly evil or incompetent rather than show the same level as nuance as the protagonists are allowed. It’s difficult when there’s not enough time to showcase that, but it makes it all the more important that what little appearance they have is used to heighten them as antagonists rather than stereotypical villains. Five books into the series it doesn’t feel right to have a major antagonist show up so little and barely have a character built up.
Reflecting back on the events of Harley Merlin #5, it’s clear that the pace of the story is blisteringly fast yet not too fast as to be confusing. Everything progresses in a logical manner based on the character’s knowledge and reasoning. But despite the rapid pace and the sheer amount of events that occur, it never felt too predictable as to what will happen next. Somehow there’s a balance of surprise yet still character driven plot progression that blends quite nicely and never feels forced.
That is until a particular moment that does feel rushed when it should have been given more time to breathe essentially. The speed of it led to what felt like a confusing moment which was followed up with a more bizarre explanation. It felt out of character and a strange way to manage such a pivotal moment in the story. While the brevity of it doesn’t necessarily take away from the story as a whole, it feels like a missed opportunity to flesh out a character and a moment that is important to the series.
The mention of New Orleans and the idea of exploring Voodoo as a magic system was hinted at by the end of the 4th book and explored a fair bit in book 5. Similar to previous books in the series, the story touches on different cultural influences of Voodoo and New Orleans. The exploration is kept to a minimum which makes sense as the pacing of the story doesn’t leave much room for exposition. Still what was written and explored was still pretty interesting and adds upon the worldbuilding of Harley Merlin.
The worldbuilding continues to explore the world of magic and Chaos as a magic system. Considering how the suppressor is killing Harley it makes sense to focus on what Chaos is and build upon it as a concept. It’s clear that it’s a soft magic system with some guidelines rather than hard rules, but it serves its purpose in the story. It could have a bit more depth of explanation to prevent any Deus Ex Machina moments, but that could be saved as something to explain throughout the series considering how vital it is to the core of the Harley Merlin.
With a story that has incredibly fast pacing, it can be easy to ruin the flow to speed along through the narrative beats. But Harley Merlin #5 does a good job in it’s pacing by keeping it’s chapters focused on only what needs to be discussed rather than tossing in new tangents. There’s not too much exposition so as to be bogged down by explanation but also just enough to understand what is happening and why it’s happening. In modern stories, focusing on action-oriented character driven storytelling is usually a safer bet though it means that what little time for exposition there is needs to be used very carefully. Thankfully that is the case here and it never resorts to a lengthy exposition dump that bogs down the pace.