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Sorcery and Cecelia
Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer
Harcourt, 336 pages

Sorcery and Cecelia
Patricia C. Wrede
Patricia Wrede is the author of more than twelve books for young readers, including the Lyra and The Enchanted Forest series.

Patricia Wrede's Worldbuilder Questions
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Magician's Ward
Patricia Wrede Tribute Site
Stevermer/Wrede Tribute Site

Caroline Stevermer
Caroline Stevermer grew up in Minnesota and graduated from Bryn Mawr College.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: When The King Comes Home

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Margo MacDonald

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One of the sweetest fall-outs of the amazing and unsinkable popularity of the Harry Potter books is that the demand for well-written and magical works of fiction for young readers is on the increase. Publishers, very wisely, have jumped at this opportunity to re-publish some of the best of these books, out of print for some time and all but forgotten. We've seen such works as Prince Ombra by Roderick MacLeish, Dogland by Will Shetterley, and A College of Magics by Caroline Stevermer reprinted and marketed for young readers and now we may add to this prestigious list Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer.

Like all of the best writing for young adults, this book can just as easily be enjoyed by adult readers. In fact, in this case, I think it may be better enjoyed by some adult readers. Certainly, it would take a very precocious and well-read young woman (for this is very much a 'girls' book) to catch all the historic and literary references (to "Monk" Lewis, Wellington, Lord Byron & Lady Caroline Lamb, for example), much less revel in the playfulness of the authors' charming homage to Jane Austen. That being said, there is more than enough fun and romance in this story to keep any good reader entertained.

The book is written in the form of correspondence between two cousins, Kate and Cecelia, one of whom has gone away for her first London season and the other who remains at home in the country. The time period is the one which Jane Austen made famous, the exact year 1817. It is the England of that time as we know it, with one major difference -- magic is an accepted reality (though there are still some who oppose it) with a prestigious Royal College of Wizards, where acceptance is by invitation only. People are either born with a talent for magic or they are not, and folk magic exists alongside the higher practice of wizards. As the two heroines embark on their voyage of discovery about the arts of wooing and of being women out in society, they get embroiled in a magical plot to destroy a powerful wizard -- but how much can they help each other out of being destroyed by magic when in different towns, by letters which are delayed for days before reaching each other? Even more pressing -- how can they keep from being matched with 'the wrong man' and convince their guardians to buy them fashionable gowns for the next ball?

I think it a fair assessment to say that Sorcery and Cecelia is utterly charming and, reading it in your favourite chair perhaps with a cup of tea by your side, leaves you feeling delightfully giddy and cozy. For those of us who love both Jane Austen and fantasy, this book is a match made in literary heaven.

True, the book is not "perfect", some of the plot falls short, and attempts to incorporate the slang and expressions of the era do not always succeed -- but, in my mind, any shortcomings are overcome by the authors' sheer joy in writing it, which is apparent in every paragraph. In the afterword, the authors explain how they initially wrote the book simply as a writing game played between the two of them. They each invented a character and began writing letters back and forth, inventing the world and plot-line of the story as they went. It was only afterwards that they thought it might be good enough to publish. They touched up the story a bit and it soon found its way into publication. For this new edition, the authors have written approximately 15 percent new material. There are also plans, you'll be pleased to hear, for a sequel in the not too distant future.

Perhaps the fact that it was written as a game is what gives Sorcery and Cecelia such a rich playful feeling. And the satisfaction one gets upon reading it is similar to how one feels upon finally winning all the marbles.

Copyright © 2003 by Margo MacDonald

Margo has always been drawn toward fantasy and, at the age of 5, decided to fill her life with it by pursuing a career as a professional actress. Aside from theatre (and her husband), Margo's passion has been for books. Her interests are diverse and eclectic, but the bulk fall within the realm of speculative fiction. She tells us that her backlog has reached 200 books and she's ready to win the lottery and retire.


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