The Big Idea: Charlie N. Holmberg

The cover to

The genesis of Spellbreaker is a short but critical line in a beloved story. What’s the line and why does it matter? Author Charlie N. Holmberg is here to reveal all.


I am not exaggerating when I say nearly every single novel I’ve written has been inspired, in some way, by Studio Ghibli, especially their adaptation of Dianna Wynne Jones’s Howl’s Moving Castle. There’s something so whimsical, so quirky, in their films, that I can’t help but be enlightened. Usually it’s the way the studio’s founder, Hayao Miyazaki, thinks outside the box, reimagining settings, characters, and magic. But for my most recent novel, Spellbreaker, the “big idea” came straight from the dialogue.

In the film Howl’s Moving Castle, Sophie, the protagonist, is cursed to be an old woman by the Witch of the Waste. Later, these two reunite and have a brief exchange, which I’ll quote from the English dub version of the film:

Sophie: If you’re so great, why don’t you break the spell you put on me?

Witch: I’m sorry, dear. My talent lies in casting spells, not breaking them.

Now, I’ve watched this film more times than I can count. Unsurprisingly, it’s my favorite movie. But during this rewatch, those lines really took hold of me. How interesting would it be to have a world where wizards exist, but they can only create or break spells, never both?

The story unfolded from there. I didn’t want an open-ended read-the-spellbook-and-cast magic system, so I looked around at what makes up our world and decided to place spells in four categories: physical, temporal, spiritual, and rational (essentially magic that affects the physical world, time, human nature, and human minds). The fifth category was already set: the ability to break the spells cast in those four. I gave this ability to Elsie, my main character. And for icing on the cake, I made it illegal.

I tend to bounce back and forth between high fantasy and historical fantasy, and it being the latter’s turn, I set this story in my favorite time period and place: Victorian England. Specifically the year 1895, since I’d been watching Lark Rise to Candleford at the time, and I quite liked the setting. From there, I added a wizard, or a “spellmaker,” in my favorite discipline—physical—dusted in some romance (as per my MO), and bam, I had the first book of a duology.

So, next time you find yourself with some free time, I might suggest an activity? Read my novel, Spellbreaker. And if that doesn’t float your boat, I highly recommend Howl’s Moving Castle, both in written and animated form.


Spellbreaker: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Bookshop

Visit the author’s website. Follow her on Twitter.

3 Comments on “The Big Idea: Charlie N. Holmberg”

  1. I just read this on a recent plane flight (semi-terrified, attempted to social distance by requesting the last row).

    As a long-time dungeon master, I loved the magic system and the spell breaking mechanic, as it simply explained the complexity of more powerful spells.

    Definitely a worthwhile read, and I look forward to the sequel.