Review: Subversive by Colleen Cowley

Posted September 27, 2020 by Sophia Rose in Reviews / 14 Comments

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Review: Subversive by Colleen Cowley

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Series: Clandestine Magic #1
Genres: Fantasy Romance
Published by Slender Sky Books
Released on September 27, 2020
Pages: 322
Format: eARC
Source: Author
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The Delight

An alternate history world where magic exists, but only the elite wizards may cast it and women are second class citizens.  This intolerable way is about to be challenged by some unlikely champions and of course, I was all in for the ride.


Subversive introduces an America that is modern in some respects like tech and geo-political lines, but backward in others.  Women have it the worst because their rights are stuck firmly in the nineteenth century.  This is why Beatrix Harper and other women have formed leagues to challenge the establishment.  Beatrix has known hardship and loss since her wealthy family lost all the wealth in the last Great Depression, her parents passed away, and she gave up a chance of her own college education and dreams to raise her younger sister and see her go onto college and her dreams.  They are getting by with Beatrix working at the general store in their small town when a wizard arrives and strong hands her into becoming his assistant as the town’s Omnimancer (jack of all magical trades town help).  His method of co-opting her was the worst and something she will never forgive or forget no matter what even if he turns out to be her savior more than once.

Peter Blackwell is on a mission to keep a powerful magical weapon that he invented out of government hands and he knows it won’t be long before they catch on to what he has done.  He doesn’t have the time to gain Beatrix Harper’s help voluntarily and he can’t trust her with his secrets since she has admitted to opposing wizards with her league activities so he does the unthinkable.  Only, Beatrix isn’t who and what he thought she was and he is pulled into her world as much as she is pulled into his dark, magical world of secrets.  He set things in motion that he wish he could undo because he has come to care for Beatrix’s respect and more.

Subversive takes the reader into a curious and fascinating magical world.  It’s not a place that is pretty and clean just because there is magic, but flawed because there are humans.  Nonetheless, it pulls one in with Beatrix’s vibrant personality, Peter surrounded by mystery, and the pair of them carrying secrets and plans of their own while stuck together in an antagonistic relationship by the force of magic.

I enjoyed how the author revealed this curious world as she went without huge info dumps so that the plot, the characters, the relationships, and the settings were not drowned in details.  And, it would have been easy to do with all that needed to be explained and set up to show how the world around the characters worked.  Instead, there was a good balance of forward action and explanation, character and relationship development.  It also did a good job of setting up for a grander story that would continue beyond Subversive into further installments.

I liked both Beatrix and Peter.  He does something harsh right at the beginning and it sets the tone for the rest of their story.  They have a complicated relationship that spans the spectrum of feeling from hate to love.  By the end, when she knew all, Beatrix still couldn’t forgive or forget.  I thought this was harsh since she found herself doing the same thing to someone else and for a similar reason.  But, she has baggage.  They both do.  Subversive is only the introduction to their story and there is more to come.  I will be curious to see where Beatrix’s impulsive, stubborn decision not to listen to Peter’s cautions in the end will take things.

As to the suspense and action side of the plot, it was riveting.  There was fabulous rising and falling action throughout the story whether it was government agents trying to sniff out Peter’s secrets or a saboteur trying to set up the women’s league to fail and even get lethal to make them stop.  It was exciting to see how the magic was used as weapon, defense, and investigation, but also daily life help.  It got exciting several times in the book and I have a feeling that now that Beatrix is ready to take what she knows and go on the offensive that the action will just get more intense.

So, there is an enemies to lovers attraction, plots from a few directions, friendships, and secrets revealed and the book leaves things at a ‘to be continued’ spot.  I was enchanted by this alternate history magic-laiden word, the characters, and the action.  I can definitely recommend it to those who enjoy suffragette-style stories, magic and suspense, and a long, slow build story stretching over several books.

My thanks to the author for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Challenges Met

New Release #145
Romanceopoly #70 Journey’s End FR

About the Book
Subversive by Colleen CrowlySUBVERSIVE BY COLLEEN COWLEY

A wizard. An unwilling assistant. An explosive secret.

In an America controlled by wizards and 100 years behind on women’s rights, Beatrix Harper counts herself among the resistance–the Women’s League for the Prohibition of Magic. Then Peter Blackwell, the only wizard her town has ever produced, unexpectedly returns home and presses her into service as his assistant.

Beatrix fears he wants to undermine the League. His real purpose is far more dangerous for them both.

Subversive is the first novel in the Clandestine Magic trilogy, set in a warped 21st century that will appeal to fans of gaslamp fantasy. All three books will be released in the fall of 2020.

If you’re a reader who prefers to know upfront whether a story has a happy ending, what the level of violence or trauma is, whether there are sex scenes and how substantial a part romance plays in the plot, scroll down to the author biography for a link to those details.

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I was born and raised near Sacramento, CA. I have read since I was four years old and developed tastes that run the gamut of literature. I went away to college and have a degree in education, a certificate in family history research, and a certificate in social work. I worked for a non-profit agency with low income families for 20 years which included being responsible for the children’s library and promoting/teaching adult literacy. I have lived in Southeast Michigan for the last 18 years and I am currently a book addicted homemaker with a cat and husband who keep me grounded. Recently, I made it a challenge to review each book that I have read as a favor to author friends who said reviews are important. I have done reviews for Good Reads, Amazon, eBay, and Smashwords, but mostly at Goodreads and Amazon.

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Mary Kirkland
1 year ago

Probably not a book for me but I’m glad you enjoyed it.

Sophia Rose
1 year ago
Reply to  Mary Kirkland

No worries, Mary! I loved it so much and the author took pity and sent me book two so I can see what happens next. 🙂

Christina Morland
1 year ago

You know I’m a fan of this book. 😉 Thanks so much for your review, Sophia Rose! Hope you’re doing well.

Sophia Rose
1 year ago

New fan here, Christina! I was trying hard not to give anything away or start gushing. 🙂
Not bad, and hope you’re doing well, too.

Carole Rae
1 year ago

Humans always dirty stuff up. LOL

Sophia Rose
1 year ago
Reply to  Carole Rae

We sure do. 🙂

1 year ago

Interesting combo, suffragette-style stories, magic and suspense

Sophia Rose
1 year ago
Reply to  vvb

I thought so, too, Velvet!

1 year ago

Oh my this sounds fabulous and right up my alley. I’ve never heard of the book or author. I’ll have to keep an eye out. Thanks Sophia!

Sophia Rose
1 year ago
Reply to  Jen

I’m glad the author approached me or I’d have missed out on one that was my type of thing, too. 🙂

1 year ago

This sounds like a fantastic story. I do hope Beatrice lightens up, though. I don’t like it when the heroine is too stubborn with no good cause.

Sophia Rose
1 year ago
Reply to  Rachel

I wanted her to lighten up, too, especially since things are more complicated than she realizes. We’ll see what happens in book two. 🙂

Kimberly @ Caffeinated Reviewer

This wasn’t on my radar.. but Sophia it looks and sounds delightful!

Sophia Rose
1 year ago

The author looked me up or I would have missed it, too. It was a gem. 🙂