Friday, August 9, 2013

Book Review: Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer

     What happens when you mix Regency romance, mystery, the epistolary novel format, and an alternate history timeline?
     Something really cool, that’s for sure.
     I was looking for something fairly lighthearted to read, but finding actual Regency romances to be wanting (I’ve ranted on this before) I decided to give this a try. Sorcery and Cecelia is a collection of letters between Cecelia and her cousin Kate, who is in London for the Season. This takes place in a Regency world where magic is a well-known and acceptable part of society. The novel kicks off with two different storylines. Kate is in London, technically for her own coming out into society, but really so her beautiful younger sister can have her coming out. One day, Cecelia’s brother and Kate attend a neighbor’s acceptance into the Royal College of Wizards. While there, Kate slips through a door and finds herself in a garden with a strange old woman. The old woman seems to think she is someone else, asks her where the chocolate pot is, and tries to force her to drink a cup of hot chocolate. When Kate manages to break away from the spell and throws the chocolate down, it burns an actual hole in her dress. Kate discovers it is the “odious Marquis”, a mysterious landowner near her country home, that was the intended victim. She unwillingly allies with him to retrieve the chocolate pot.
     Meanwhile, back in the country Cecelia is lamenting that she was not allowed to go to London as well (their relatives insist the pair of them in the city together would cause too much mayhem). However, a mystery crops up when a neighbor’s beautiful young niece Dorothea moves in. She is extremely shy yet seems to exert a mystical fascination over the young men of the area. Cecelia suspects the girl’s mother has put some sort of spell over her and tries to help the sweet young woman, but constantly runs into the girl’s cousin, the stubborn Mr. Tarleton, who appears to be spying on Dorothea for reasons unknown.
     As you can see by the characters, this is a romance as well. It has been described as “Jane Austen with magic”, but it reads more like one of Georgette Heyer’s novels (except entertaining-Heyer’s novels run together after you read a couple). It is lighthearted, with just the right amount of drama and action to keep it interesting.
     The most interesting aspect of the book, however, is that the authors wrote it using a letter game. They didn’t discuss the plot except at the very end, to make sure the climaxes of the two storylines converged properly. One would write a letter, and the other would answer it. Obviously they revised afterward, but it is this method that gives the epistolary format an air of authenticity.

     This is a definite recommendation to anyone wanting a different sort of novel. It’s a fun read that’s hard to put down.

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