In Victorian England, magic leaves traces: runes, smells, and even sounds, and Elsie Camden has the rare ability to not only perceive these vestiges of magic but to undo the magic behind them, though she cannot perform any magic herself. Elsie is employed by two people: a stonemason who can perform only the most basic spells and a mysterious cadre of people trying to equalize the world. It is with this group, The Cowls, that Elsie uses her unregistered and illegal skills to undo unjust spells that keep the wealthy wealthy and the poor poor. All is well until she is caught by Bacchus, a near master-level magician, while undoing one of his spells. Elsie must pay off her debt to Bacchus and in doing so unearths a mystery that threatens to undo everything that she has built up for herself.
The not so great: there are a few jumps in narrator that seem out of place and jarring. The majority of the book is told in third person around Elsie, but occasionally the narration jumps to Bacchus. This doesn’t happen frequently enough for there to be in great insights to either character or their interpretation of events. It was simply to establish plot points with a later pay off.
The great: First, the relationship between Elsie and Bacchus is well paced. There is no head over heels falling in love in first introductions. The development between the two of them is balanced with all the normal highs and lows of a budding romance. Second, Holmberg has also created yet another magic system that is innovative and interesting. There are well established rules with just enough explanation to make the system understandable without ruining the mystery of the magic.