Monday, May 10, 2010

magicians, sheepdogs, and ley lines

two short book reviews for you this monday morning. think kind thoughts for me, please; i'm off to go get a CAT scan done. joy of joys.

first off, the last volume of the kate and cecilia series of young adult fantasy novels, the mislaid magician. i won't add the whole subtitle, save to say that it goes on for quite a while. i've got short reviews of the first two volumes in the series, the enchanted chocolate pot and the grand tour.

the mislaid magician takes place ten years after the events of the grand tour. kate and cecy are happily married to their respective thomas and james (i finally succeeded in remembering who was married to which!) and have produced between them quite a staggering brood of children. those i did not sort out, but it didn't really matter who was whose since, for most of the book, they were all staying in a gang with kate.

the major plot of this entry in the series concerns the development of the railways in the north of england -- it isn't quite like cranford-with-magicians, but the parallels are tempting. a foreign magician, brought in to do some surveying, has gone missing; kate's annoying cousin, georgina, has descended upon her for a visit which shows no sign of ending; bizarre prowlers are wandering about kate and thomas' estate; and the duke of wellington wants james and cecy to locate the missing herr magus somewhere around leeds -- the back of beyond, as we are frequently reminded.

magician was nearly as much fun to read as the first two books, but it did get a bit longwinded in the middle. there are letters not only from kate and cecy but also from thomas and james, which adds a bit of novelty to the epistolary format, but thomas and james's letters often start with something like "you'll have gotten the overly dramatic version via my wife..." or "of course, as cecy likes to exaggerate, i thought i'd better send you the real version..." which gets very old very quickly. and for the sheer number of children there were around, i wish they had had more distinct characters or purpose or something. given that, really, only two or three of them -- out of what seemed like at least a dozen -- had anything direct to do with the main plot or any of the subsidiary plots, it was a little hard to care very much about them or understand what they were doing there.

still, magician was a fun way of passing a rainy saturday afternoon.

the second entry in this omnibus post is caroline stevermer's a college of magics. this is a standalone, but it feels a lot like a kate and cecy novel. it has the same alternate history setting; the same touch of magic over real politics and events; and, obviously, a fairly similar authorial voice given that stevermer is one of the authors of the kate and cecy series.

magics, though, is a little more meaty. there's more character development as well as (occasionally) frantic plot development; there's a larger framework for the events of the story; and there's sex (not much, but it's there), blood, violence, betrayal, money, and revenge. so, really, all the requirements!

the story opens with our heroine, faris nallaneen, being sent off by her "wicked uncle" ("yup -- standard issue!") to a magicians' school somewhere between france and england. whether she's being sent there really to learn or simply to be gotten out of the way while her uncle usurps her political power in her home country of galazon is something of a mystery that isn't ever really cleared up. the story focuses pretty tightly on faris and her struggle to get back what she feels is her rightful place as ruler of galazon.

faris can be an annoying protagonist, but she's never uninteresting and stevermer writes some fantastic dialogue for faris and her group as they assemble at greenlaw -- the college -- and then have to travel back towards galazon, outwitting the usual hazards of the journey: late trains, hired assassins, and parisian dressmakers. i can't say there's anything terribly serious in here -- but there are some startlingly moving moments in the last few chapters as the final confrontation goes through its paces.

so, yes, pick up magician for the afternoon when you have nothing particularly better to do and magics for a nice sunny afternoon when you have some lemonade on hand and maybe a nice tree to sit under.

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