ARC Review: Subversive by Colleen Cowley

Title: Subversive

Author: Colleen Cowley

Series: Clandestine Magic Trilogy (Book 1)

Publication Date: Sept. 27, 2020

Synopsis: In an America controlled by wizards, 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.

LINKS: Goodreads     |      Amazon

My Review:

The first book in the Clandestine Magic Trilogy, Subversive focuses on a woman and a man who find themselves on opposite sides of a resistance. Beatrix is a member of the Women’s League for the Prohibition of Magic, and Peter is a powerful wizard who has returned home to serve as the town’s omnimancer.

Beatrix is miffed when Peter manipulates her into serving as his assistant and worries that he hired her to spy on the League. With the encouragement of her sister, who is a leader in the women’s movement, and other members of the League, Beatrix determines to reveal Peter’s sinister intentions. However, the longer Beatrix works with Peter, and the more she learns about her old school peer, the more she realizes that Peter’s reasons for returning are far more dangerous than she ever expected.

What a captivating story! From the very first line, “Wizards never came to Ellicott Mills anymore,” I was intrigued. The characters, the complex and immersive plot, the unique magical world, the great use of symbols, the poignant themes, the references to mythology, the love story – I couldn’t get enough of it!

I think what I love the most is the way that the story unfolds. The story is beautifully layered, and the author’s skill in unraveling all of those layers is masterful. From the love story to the dystopic, male-dominated society to the political intrigue to the problems in Ellicott Mills, everything is woven together seamlessly and in a way that highlights the other elements of the story. The author’s use of atmospheric and sensory language further strengthens the novel.

The world in Subversive is immersive and fascinating. It made me think of what our world would be like today if, a hundred years ago, men discovered that they, and not women, had magical abilities. Women are subordinate to men, have few rights or opportunities, and are continually discriminated against. Their progression as a gender has been halted while men and society have progressed.

Men with magical powers dominate politics and the major roles in society, efficiently and legally placing themselves in positions of power with no chance of retaliation. Beatrix, her sister, and their friends are fighting for equality, which means banning magic. This, they believe, will give everyone a fair shot.

I love that the women in the story are depicted as strong, independent thinkers even though they are often dismissed as less than. They possess so many outstanding qualities that many of the men in the story lack. Intellect, passion, and determination abound in Beatrix’s core group of friends despite the barriers and struggles they face, and though their cause is a bit misguided, their intentions for equal rights is not.

Beatrix and Peter, the main characters in the novel, are fantastically developed characters. I love Beatrix’s strength and determination, as well as her selflessness. From a young age, she is dissatisfied with the inequities between the sexes and tries to affect change. Then, she puts her own ambitions aside to care for family. Beatrix has suffered many disappointments in life, yet she never gives up her pursuit of equality and women’s rights.

I also like that Beatrix struggles with feelings of jealousy, self-consciousness, and tentativeness. She becomes torn between meeting the needs of others and pursuing her own desires. Her character is so dynamically developed and likable, that I sympathized with her conflicted feelings about life and love.

Much like Beatrix, Peter is conflicted as well. He is a mysterious man who is clearly hiding something from Beatrix and the people of Ellicott Mills. He seems tormented by the past and must face his inner demons. In addition to some questionable actions he committed in the past, he does a few things in the novel that are pretty unsavory. There is a moral greyness to Peter that is prevalent in some of his actions and words, and it is fabulous.

He’d cast himself as the evil wizard and would never be allowed to play a different role.

Peter sees himself as a villain, as do many of the people in the story. Even though he helps people free of charge, devotes time to aiding women who want to ban magic, teaches Beatrix the craft she desperately wants to learn, and worries about the future of their world, he still only considers the bad things he’s done. I was fascinated by his complexities and how he struggles with his conflicted feelings, especially where Beatrix is concerned.

Speaking of the relationship between Beatrix and Peter, I love their slow-building, enemies-to-lovers romance! From the beginning, even during the awkward interactions, their connection is clear. They have a complicated past and present, but I’m still hopeful for their future!

Beatrix and Peter are tethered together because of their magical contracts, and their bond allows them to feel each others strong emotions. It also affects their dreams and allows them uncensored views into each other’s minds. Neither wants to have feelings for the other, but they can’t resist the connection that they share. Their time together only strengthens this bond, and I loved every reluctant second of it! I enjoyed their personal journeys as well as their journey as a couple. Even though Beatrix and Peter have some serious issues that they need to address, I’m so rooting for them! They have tremendous chemistry, and several of their tender moments together are completely swoon-worthy!

Now, I absolutely adored the romance, but Subversive is about so much more than that. Poignant messages about family, love, the importance of personal and political ethics, societal inequities and prejudice, conformity, and staying true to one’s values are powerful and thought-provoking. This is a story that you think about long after you finished reading because it addresses so many relevant and poignant issues.

Subversive is a richly developed and fascinating story that I very much enjoyed. I can’t recommend it enough! Thanks so much to Colleen Cowley for a copy of the book in exchange for my honest review.


Favorite Parts:

  • The unique and immersive world.
  • The dynamically developed main characters.
  • The romance, of course!

Favorite Lines:

Odd how her childhood had faded to a half-remembered, impressionistic muddle, as if it were someone else’s past, while everything after her mother’s death was as crisp as a newly developed photograph. Happiness oughtn’t to be so easy to forget.

Ella had always struck her as the most honest person she knew, charging in with the truth like a well-meaning rhinoceros when a pleasant fib would be easier.


Readers who enjoy fantasy stories with strong female protagonists, magical powers, intriguing political plots, and a great love story will love Subversive!

20 thoughts on “ARC Review: Subversive by Colleen Cowley

  1. Oooh! I was lucky to be able to receive ARC copies of the whole series last year!It was soooo good. Easily my best-read series for 2020 🙂 Will be reading more books from the author. SO glad you enjoyed it too..

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