A Bad Spell in Yurt by C. Dale Brittain
After reading too many lackluster (or, in my opinion, straight up bad) novels in a row, I needed a win. So instead of blindly reaching into my book closet and grabbing a new book, as is my normal strategy, I decided to finally read a book long recommended to me: The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin.
The Fifth Season, I am well aware, is not written by an unfairly forgotten female fantasy author. Still, I wanted something good, and as I was going on vacation soon, it seemed poetic to take a vacation from my normal reading while taking a vacation from my normal life.
Then I read a few super bleak pages about the end of the world where the author so helpfully explains that she means it, literally. Not the end of civilization as the characters know it, but the literal end of the world. As in, absolutely everything will die because the world will die.
It was about 12:30 am on a Tuesday, and I started to hyperventilate a bit. Being raised evangelical, I spent way too many dinners listening to the adults talk about signs and portents that proved we lived during the end times. Then I freaking grew up, got out of that shit, and spent precious few years peacefully not thinking the world was ending before climate change fatalism has me considering turning in my sensible stand-alone home for some sort of bunker. I mean, I work 100% remote. I can make it work as long as the bunker has adequate wifi…
Anyway, I noped out of The Fifth Season. It might be the best book ever written, but I sure as shit am not going to read it.
Enter: a memory of my husband reading a book he described as “light” and “fun” and “something [I’d] enjoy.” Pausing my hyperventilating for a moment, I asked him for this “fun” book, and he came back with A Bad Spell in Yurt.
From the cover I knew that I was safe, but even a paragraph in I felt the cool comfort of an indulgently frivolous novel settle in around me.
Daimbert, a fresh-faced magician straight out of training, is hired on to be the royal wizard of the charming kingdom of Yurt. The castle is quintessential and picturesque. The people are friendly and welcoming. Everything seems perfect, except—some sort of rogue evil is killing the king, and only Daimbert can stop it.
A Bad Spell in Yurt is, essentially, a cozy-mystery set in a fantasy world.
I’m no connoisseur of cozy mysteries, but I found it to be a good book in a way that I suspect coincides with what makes a good cozy mystery:
The writing is simple and easy to read, but not insipid.
Most everything in the book matters, and while it might take a while to get an explanation for something, the explanation is eventually made known.
It’s fun, and everyone is light and lovable in their own way, but at no point is this absurd or a straight-up comedy. It’s just a light-hearted story wrapped around a mystery.
The mystery takes a back-seat to the setting, the characters, the fun-and-games, but when it kicks in, it’s quite addictive and even, at times, a bit eerie.
Now, I’ve read reviews harping on A Bad Spell in Yurt for not involving much magic in the mystery-solving. That is technically correct. Daimbert isn’t running around throwing spells left and right and concocting crafty witchcraft to unearth the great evil. Magic factors little into solving the mystery, though the mystery itself is, by its very nature, magical. But, this is a cozy mystery. It’s not supposed to be deep. If you want someone going all-in on magic to solve the problem, I think you’d need a hardboiled-mystery-fantasy.
Which could be totally awesome, now that I’m thinking about it.
Regardless, that wasn’t the point of A Bad Spell in Yurt, and I don’t think it’s fair to hold that expectation against it.
This is one of those unusual fantasy books that still include Christianity, as we know it, in the world. Often times this either confuses or bores me, but I think C. Dale Brittain did a wonderful job making it feel natural. More than that, I think the relationship between wizardry and Christianity help lend A Bad Spell in Yurt juuust the right amount of depth. I also adore the relationship between the dour castle chaplain and the bumbling Daimbert.
So, if you’re in the mood for a light, feel-good romp through a charming world, I’m not sure you could do better than A Bad Spell in Yurt. While it seems weird to put it up there with more intellectual and technical books I’ve enjoyed, like An Alien Light or The Seven Citadels series, A Bad Spell in Yurt is among the better books I’ve read for ForFemFan.
(Aside: A Bad Spell in Yurt, like all good cozy mysteries, is part of a series. If you end up loving this book, there could be plenty more Daimbert stories in your future. I know I’m going to track down book #2)
Cover art by Tom Kidd: