- Paperback: 704 pages
- Publisher: Spectra Books (28 Sept. 2010)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0553807595
- ISBN-13: 978-0553807592
- Product Dimensions: 14 x 3.8 x 21 cm
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,081,601 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
The House on Durrow Street (Magicians and Mrs. Quent) Paperback – 28 Sep 2010
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The Magicians and Mrs Quent left off with Ivy triumphant over the order of magicians that had tried to abuse some artifact her locked away by her father in his old house on Durrow St. Now, in the second installment, she is happily married to Mr Quent, and they are in the midst of renovating the same house, which boasts a number of eccentricities and a strange history of its own. Meanwhile, Cerephus, the red planet first mentioned at the end of The Magicians and Mrs Quent, looms ever closer in the sky (a portent of doom -- I am reminded a bit of the moon from Majora's Mask), and with it comes all kinds of disruptions to the peace of Altania. There is a vague feeling of conspiracy and evildoers lurking in the wings, but their existence is never really made explicit until about the last third of the book.
I should say there were things I enjoyed about this book, and about the universe that Beckett has created as a whole. Both novels are set in what might be described as a parallel Great Britain. The setting is well-imagined, and even though for the most part it feels like Jane Austen's England, you never forget that it is a completely different world, one that contains witches and magicians and is ominously shadowed by a strange, almost Lovecraftian mythos. There were portions of The House on Durrow Street that gave me chills.
Unfortunately, what Beckett has written is not a dark fantasy with Austenian elements, but rather the reverse. Every time Ivy, the protagonist, makes a discovery that might help to unravel the strange (and rather vague) mystery concerning the incoming planet and the strange red world she glimpses through the Eye, she ends up setting it aside for later, usually because someone requires her attention or company in some trivial activity. I understand that this is a consequence of the Regency elements of the story that I found so charming in The Magicians and Mrs Quent, but this time I found it really frustrating to have such a fragmented overall plot. I suppose this is because I didn't really care for the interactions between Ivy and the rest of Society this time around; I found those scenes to be rather dull, and punctuated by badly-written dialogue. A lot of people criticized the first book for its reliance on elements from Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre, and Wuthering Heights, but I think that Beckett lost a lot of direction when he moved away from them.
Furthermore, I stopped caring about the majority of the characters. Between the transition of book one to two, they somehow lost their sparkle. My biggest complaint is with Ivy herself; it seems that she has become the paragon of sensibility and can do no wrong, likening her to Fanny Price, another character I just can't stand. I do appreciate that Mr Rafferdy has seemed to grow as a character by the book's end. Eldyn, on the other hand, had very few interactions with either of the other lead characters, making his scenes seemed out of place and almost irrelevant.
Finally, there is the infuriating problem of nothing actually getting resolved in the end. All I can say is, I don't think I can take another 700 pages to find out what eventually happens to these characters and their world. I will try to read the next book, if there is one; only, I hope that Beckett starts to move things along, because I felt as though I were trapped in the doldrums for the entirety of this latest installment.
Ivy is now accepted at the highest levels of society - though few know her powers and even fewer her mysterious background of which one issue is still a mystery with possibly large implications - but she discovers that life at that level can be both interesting and frustrating, while friends and foes are not so easy to discern.
I also liked Mr. Rafferdy's thread since despite his "gentleman wastrel" appearance, Rafferdy is as likable a character as Ivy. He is now in a funk for obvious reasons, though he manages to keep himself busy attending the Assembly in the place of his ailing father. Despite trying to avoid both things, he gets himself sucked back into magic and he returns to Ivy's orbit however emotionally painful that is for him - after all the pair of them: magician and witch is almost unstoppable as we clearly saw in The Magicians and Mrs Quent.
The third thread follows Eldyn and Dercy and it took lots of pages, being developed to a surprising end. This storyline is quite important for "depth reasons" since through the eyes of the two, we see the world of Altania from the viewpoint of the less privileged. Here The House on Durrow Street goes way beyond the classics that inspired it (Pride and Prejudice, Jane Eyre...) into social commentary. Class, "official morality", official belief system are all challenged and dissected. The conflicted Eldyn who must choose between his "beliefs" and his love for Dercy becomes one of the strongest characters of the series.
The House on Durrow Street is a novel of manners, wit, great characters and immersion in a world that is lovingly described. The intrigue and suspense build slowly, but when it is time for action, Ivy and Mr. Rafferdy do not hesitate and they turn their wits and powers once more to protect Altania from occult dangers, while Mr. Quent and the king's secret police led by Lady Shayde protect it from more mundane ones.
Dark times are announced for Altania and the world and while Ivy and Rafferdy may save the day one more time here, the next time the enemy may be just too powerful. Well, we will see that of course. Despite being a middle book in a trilogy, the novel provides a very satisfactory reading experience on its own and ends at a natural stopping point.
The House on Durrow Street (A++) is one of those novels that stay with you for a long time and I plan to reread the whole series across the years. Despite its almost 700 pages bulk, I just hated that it ended and there are few books I feel that strongly about.
A lot of people have complained that Beckett's emulation of Brontë, Austen, Dickens, et. al. marks his work as unoriginal. I might perhaps have had the same reaction, could I recall anything I have read by those authors. Regrettably, I was forced to read them in high school, so I put them through the brain eraser after the end of the semester, along with everything else I was made to "learn". Perhaps if you are a literatus who greatly admires these authors, you will react against this pastiche. For myself, I can't tell whether the author has hewn too close to the source material as to cross into outright plagiarism--or at least unoriginality. I can only say I found all the first book (The Magicians and Mrs. Quent) and most of this one highly entertaining.
There were two things I didn't like about The House on Durrow Street. One was the entire "Illusionist" thread. For some reason, only homosexual men can be "Siltheri" and create illusions (did I just miss that in the first book?). It's not clear whether the Siltheri are frowned upon by polite society because they create illusions, or because they have sex with each other. The whole persecution sub-plot concerning the Evil Cleric, the Siltheri, and the Soul Suckers From The Red Planet is extraneous to the book, heavy-handed and saccharine.
Oh, and the second thing I didn't like was that no one throttled Sashie between the first novel and the second. Inexplicably, dearest Sashie has turned to religion, and spends all her time dusting plaster saints and crawling under pews to sweep out cobwebs for the Verger of Graychurch. There is hope, though, that she will not make the third book--at the end of Durrow Street, she gets herself to a nunnery, so to speak. But might it not be even better if a specially odious and grotesque death at the hands of the Soul Suckers awaits her in the next installment? Yes!
I think that's pretty much it. Oh, did I mention I don't like Sashie?
There are many elements of regency romance in these books and the dialogue is so well done that it adds to the richness of the story. One thing that is not well done is the passing of the responsibilities of the previous generation to the next. It is not very believable that Lord Rafferdy does not explain all to his son. With so much of importance happening and set to happen, his son surely needs to know or have someone to talk to. That the father is the CIA or the kingdom, seems more like a device to keep knowledge the son needs away from him.
That Mrs. Quent can not see the unrequited love of her friend, also is hard to believe. In a society where friendships are pretty well moderated, having a man be the kind of friend that Mrs. Quent now has, should be a clear sign that something is amiss.
The last quibble, and because the book is so rich, they are all quibbles, is that the enemy is fairly obvious by the time we reach him. Perhaps not all of his ties, but one subplot that involves us is very decipherable. Action also is somewhat lacking in this book until the end. A red herring, or just something to remind the heroes that they are heroic and did heroic acts in the previous book, and should not rest on their laurels or be on vacation, would have been nice.
This book definitely ends with plans for the next. One hopes it will arrive much sooner than this sequel did.
All in all, this was disappointing. I don't know if I'll bother to pick up the next one.