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The Magicians and Mrs. Quent
Galen M. Beckett
Bantam Spectra, 499 pages

The Magicians and Mrs. Quent
Galen M. Beckett
What if there was a fantastical cause underlying the social constraints and limited choices confronting a heroine in a novel by Jane Austen or Charlotte Brontë? Galen Beckett began writing The Magicians and Mrs. Quent to answer that question. He lives in Colorado and is currently at work on the next chapter in this fabulous tale of witches, magicians, and revolution, The House on Durrow Street.

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A review by Tammy Moore

Author Galen Beckett had a question when he sat down to write The Magicians and Mrs. Quent: "What if there was a fantastical cause underlying the social constraints and limited choices confronting a heroine in a novel by Jane Austen or Charlotte Brontë?" The answer is a gently mannered fantasy romp with a generous dose of fantasy, magic and intrigue thrown into the mix.

Ivy Lockwell is the eldest daughter of Mr Lockwell, a magician whose sanity has been shattered in a mysterious magickal accident that has left his family impoverished and socially isolated.

Dashton Rafferdy is the wastrel son of one of Altania's great magnates who views claims that he is descended from one of the great magical families as a potentially dangerous distraction from his pursuit of shallow enjoyment.

Eldyn Garrick is poor as a church mouse despite being descended from a family once just as great as his boyhood friend Rafferdy's and dreams of re-establishing his family fortunes, securing his and his sister's futures. A future that does not include the dangerously charming highwayman who has been wooing Eldyn's sister.

It's hard to imagine three people whose paths are less likely to cross in the rigidly structured society of Altania, but their fates, both past and present, are entwined. More so than even they know. If one of them should fall, then everything could come crumbling down around their ears.

The Magicians and Mrs. Quent has an interesting premise, a promising plot and enjoyable characters. Galen Beckett is clearly a very talented writer with a knack for world-building and leavening the tension in the plot with a carefully measured seasoning of humour. I expected to love this book when I picked it up -- it seemed to have every element that I require to love a book -- but I didn't. I liked it well enough -- Beckett really is a very good writer -- but it never truly engaged or excited me. I was never really worried that the author would do something dreadful to the characters nor would I have really cared if he had. I felt that we never got to see below the surface of the characters.

None of Beckett's main characters seem to have any serious character flaws or make any serious misjudgements during the course of the book. Ivy in particular was frustratingly perfect -- always fair, kind and sweet. Even when she discovered a particularly dark secret about her past that her husband had kept from her, she was angry for less than a paragraph before apparently putting the whole thing out of her mind completely. Like a swan, she just glided placidly along and we never saw much sign of her paddling madly under the surface.

Which is a shame, because there were glimpses of a much better book hidden under the carefully constructed framework of Austenian tropes. Ivy is an extremely promising character -- one of the reasons why I felt frustrated at the fact I never felt I got to know her -- the student political insurgents we glimpsed in a coffee shop, the fact that the villains of the piece were actually those working towards democracy and equality in their society and the world itself. Altania is a complex, fully realised and enormously promising world with a huge amount of potential -- their magick, the brooding threat of the Wyrdwood and the beautifully presented glimpses of their history and mythology that Beckett weaves into the text.

The Magicians and Mrs. Quent is a good book if you're a fan of Austen, Brontë and magic. Beckett has a clear respect for the source material that inspired him, combined with a knack for coming up with an intriguing fantasy world. Which is the reason I have hopes that the second book in the series will surpass this one. With any luck, Beckett will have gained the confidence to let his own style dominate in the sequel. If he does, I think this series could still have the potential to be very good.

Copyright © 2008 Tammy Moore

Tammy Moore is a speculative fiction writer based in Belfast. She writes reviews for Verbal Magazine, Crime Scene NI and Green Man Review. Her first book The Even -- written by Tammy Moore and illustrated by Stephanie Law -- is to be published by Morrigan Books September 2008.

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