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The Mislaid Magician or Ten Years After:
Being the Private Correspondence Between Two Prominent Families Regarding a Scandal Touching the Highest Levels of Government and the Security of the Realm

Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer
Harcourt, 336 pages

The Mislaid Magician or Ten Years After: Being the Private Correspondence Between Two Prominent Families Regarding a Scandal Touching the Highest Levels of Government and the Security of the Realm
Patricia 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: The Grand Tour
SF Site Review: Sorcery and Cecelia
SF Site Review: Magician's Ward

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

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: When The King Comes Home
SF Site Review: River Rats

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Sherwood Smith

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"You must form your own fashions in a way which demonstrates that you flout the standards from knowledge, not from ignorance," Dame Brachet tells Faris at the beginning of Caroline Stevermer's A College of Magics.

This rubric serves to describe what Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer are doing in this, the third adventure in the alternate England inhabited by Kate and Cecelia. They know their history well, they know the visible and invisible social rules of the time, they know how to form a secondary universe -- they know pacing, and tone, and above all, character.

The time is no longer the English Regency. The Mislaid Magician is set in the late 1820s, when it is apparent that there is no direct heir to the throne. George III's many sons haven't managed to produce a legitimate male heir. Steam engines have been making a cautious appearance between town and country, to the distress of horses, dogs, and people living within range of the vast clouds of smoke. Things have been relatively quiet... until a foreign magician goes missing. The Duke of Wellington sends James to Leeds to investigate. He and Cecelia send their children to stay with Kate and Thomas in order to speed along what promises to be a dull assignment, just to find themselves inveigled into a thoroughly unpleasant house party by an enterprising brother and sister, and the mystery is off and running.

Sorcery and Cecelia was published in 1988, after the authors, just for fun, took a semblance of Georgette Heyer's Regency England (already a distinctive subcreation) and added magic. They each took a young society girl as a character and wrote letters to one another; the plot racketed along at a breakneck pace as the girls discovered magic, romance, and Evil Relatives in great houses. The result, Sorcery and Cecelia, has sustained its popularity for years -- it's as delightful to read as it must have been to write.

The Grand Tour, the sequel, came out in 2004, taking place a couple of years after Waterloo. In this novel, the focus is less on the young ladies -- who are now married women on their honeymoons -- than on history; instead of letters we have a deposition and a diary providing the story. The authors were broadening not only their world, but the consequences of magic in that world.

In this third tale, we are back to letters, not only between Kate and Cecelia, but between their husbands as they all get involved in a mystery that touches on very high places in the government. The magic has kingdom-wide importance, and its intricacies are wonderfully inventive. The story is tremendous fun; the authors manage a light yet tight balance between history, the effects of magic, and the inner lives of their characters. One could argue that they could take the magical effects and the changes that would be rung a level or two deeper (there's a reference to "the stews" making me wonder briefly why, given the existence of magic, wouldn't one of the first goals be to get rid of such places as "the stews"?) but the reference is fast, posed as a threat and not an issue and then the pace wings promptly away. The novel is aimed at the younger reader who doesn't know much history as well as at the older reader who knows her history but is looking for comedy of manners and not the grim realism of "hard fantasy." So when a character is suddenly transformed into a dog, and later back again, it's irrelevant whether clothing vanished and then conveniently reappeared. In a hard fantasy, we would have all the details of chilled flesh, shame, the scramble for the decency of clothing. Here, decency is a given, and our eyes are on the battle of wits between magicians, and not on the victim's sorry shanks.

The focus is on the characters, well supported by the sheer fun of the plot. Wrede and Stevermer are both superlative character writers. Poised in the middle of frenetic magical action is a letter describing a domestic scene -- the deft conveying of character, the vivid details of the schoolroom evoke Keats's pleasure in describing his immediate surroundings in his letters, and Agnes Porter's crystalline snaps of domestic coziness.

Though the authors borrowed happily from Heyer's universe in their first book, this world of theirs, in spite of all the dukes and duchesses and references to the Ton, is by no means mere Heyer pastiche. Masterly as a storyteller as Heyer was, one senses the iron keel shaping her particular boat was the conviction that "Blood will always tell." The Wrede/Stevermer flagship is shaped by grace, a clear appreciation for wit -- regardless of gender or class -- as well as for work. I really hope the authors are busy with a fourth. There is much to explore in this world they've made, and the characters' gain in years and experience adds to their interest. Most of all, I really want to see what happens when the offspring first set out on their own...

Copyright © 2006 Sherwood Smith

Sherwood Smith is a writer by vocation and reader by avocation. Her webpage is at www.sff.net/people/sherwood/.


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