7 Rated Books Book Reviews

Book Review: Nightspell by Leah Cypess

Title: Nightspell

Author: Leah Cypess

Genre: Fantasy, YA

Publisher: Greenwillow Books (HarperCollins)
Publication Date: May 2011
Hardcover: 336 pages

Here be ghosts, the maps said, and that was all.

In this haunted kingdom, ghosts linger—not just in the deepest forests or the darkest caverns, but alongside the living, as part of a twisted palace court that revels all night and sleeps through the daylight hours.

Darri’s sister was trapped in this place of fear and shadows as a child. And now Darri has a chance to save her sister . . . if she agrees to a betrothal with the prince of the dead. But nothing is simple in this eerie kingdom—not her sister, who has changed beyond recognition; not her plan, which will be thrown off track almost at once; and not the undead prince, who seems more alive than anyone else.

In a court seething with the desire for vengeance, Darri holds the key to the balance between life and death. Can her warrior heart withstand the most wrenching choice of all?

Stand alone or series: Can be read as a stand alone novel, but is the companion book to Mistwood

How did I get this book: Bought

Why did I read this book: I loved Leah Cypess’s first book, Mistwood and have been meaning to read Nightspell for a very long time.


The warlike people of the plains who embrace life, sunlight, and the unbridled freedom of open space have never understood the unnatural magic that cloaks the shadowy kingdom of Ghostland. A spectral realm where the dead and the living coexist, all of Ghostland’s inhabitants are bound by a powerful enchantment – all those murdered in Ghostland return as ghosts to remain on the earthly realm until they have avenged their wrongful deaths by killing their murderer. Though corporeal, because of the enchantment these ghosts can assume solidity of flesh just as easily as they can disappear, and are powerfully strong and can remake their appearance into however they so desire. The only way for a ghost to otherwise end their spectral existence is to step into full sunlight or piercing their own ethereal bodies with silver.

Four years ago, Darri’s ten-year-old sister Callie was offered as a bride to the Ghostland prince as a token of good faith – a sentence worse than death as far as Darri is concerned. After four years of begging, bad behavior, and unsuccessful escape attempts to leave the plains behind and rescue her sister, Darri’s father strikes a new bargain with the Ghostlanders. As Callie was too young for marriage and the peace treaty between the two kingdoms must be sealed, Darri is sent to marry the prince in her sister’s stead. The prospect of being trapped forever in Ghostland terrifies the now twenty-year-old warrior princess, but she is finally riding to Callie’s rescue and will do anything, even give up her own life to a court of abominations, for her sister.

With her elder brother Varis (who did nothing to stop Callie’s betrothal and despises Darri just as much as she does him) leading the way, Darri is fearful but excited to be reunited with her beloved sister…but when she and Varis arrive at the palace, it is hardly a joyful reunion. The prince Darri is to marry has been murdered and now inhabits the palace as a ghost – no longer eligible to rule or to seal the peace treaty between the kingdoms of the Plains and Ghostland. Even more shocking for Darri, however, is Callie’s bitterness and refusal to see her siblings. As Darri, Callie and Varis struggle to reconnect, tensions mount between the living and the dead – and the fate of Ghostland and all the kingdoms surrounding it hang in the balance.

The sophomore effort from Leah Cypess, Nightspell is the highly anticipated companion novel to Mistwood – and I think has been received a little less favorably than its predecessor. I actually prefer Nightspell to Mistwood because it is so much more complicated in terms of relationships and character. Unlike the first novel in this duology, Nightspell is also refreshingly free of a stifling romantic subplot, choosing instead to focus on the relationship between sisters Darri and Callie.1

The concept of Nightspell is lushly imaginative and darkly enticing, juxtaposing the living against a kingdom of the murdered dead, in a centuries-old balance imposed by a powerful enchantment. The concept of a court in which the dead delight in tricking the living courtiers and heathen visitors is ingenious, and Ms. Cypess beautifully details the tension between the living and the dead as well as the divide between foreigner and Ghostlander, all viewed through the eyes of the three siblings. I also loved the history of Ghostland and the mystery surrounding the Prince’s murder and the spell that animates the spectral kingdom – though one of the plot developments was expected, the worldbuilding is so rich and well executed, it hardly matters.

Of course, I can sing the praises of Leah Cypess’s worldbuilding and writing (which as anyone that’s read Mistwood knows is exquisite), but the reason why Nightspell stands out so much and surpasses its predecessor lies with the characters at the heart of the novel. We have three protagonists here in Darri, Callie and Varis, each deeply hurt and vulnerable, each flawed and wonderfully strong in their own distinct way. Darri is our warrior princess, proud, fierce, hotheaded and as subtle as a sledgehammer in the court of ghosts, ruled by strict and intricate rules of etiquette. In contrast, Callie is quiet, observant and adaptive, naive but cunning as everyone – her siblings included – underestimate her. Varis is one of the most interesting and conflicted characters of the book, with his loyalty to his father and conflicting emotions of hostility and grudging love for his younger sisters. As the narrative shifts perspectives we get a different view of each sibling, creating a balanced, omniscient approach to the novel. The tense relationship between this family is a complicated, multi-layered thing, and I love the different dimensions that Ms. Cypess explores with her protagonists.

A mystery, a complex fantasy novel, and a story of the strength of family ties above all, I loved this quiet novel. This duology is fantastic, and I cannot wait for more from the exceptionally talented storyteller Leah Cypess.

Notable Quotes/Parts: You can read the first 67 pages of the novel online using HarperCollins’s Browse Inside widget below (or you can access the browser version HERE):

Rating: 7 – Very Good

Reading Next: Nightspell by Leah Cypess

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  1. Do you see that in the air? That is my fistpump of JOY.


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