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Interesting YA/crossover historical fantasy that doesn't quite come off
on 13 August 2014
It's 1817. Kate and her older sister Georgina have gone to London with their aunt Charlotte for the debutante season. Following a disgraceful incident with a goat, Kate's cousin Cecelia has to stay behind with her aunt Elizabeth but the cousins swap letters setting out their experiences.
When Kate goes to see the installation of her neighbour, Sir Hilary Bedrick at the Royal College of Wizards, she finds her way into a secret garden where a woman tries to kill her with a poisoned chocolate pot after mistaking her for the Marquis of Schofield. Meanwhile Cecelia has met Mr Tarleton, a strange man taken to sneaking about and spying on people while a young woman called Dorothea has arrived who seems to have entranced every man in the village ...
Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer's YA/crossover fantasy epistolary novel is a mix of Georgette Heyer and Diana Wynne Jones. Although the authors clearly have a lot of fun with the story (which developed as a writing game), the pace really sags at times and the plot struggles to come together while the period references are heavy handed at times (particularly the references to Byron and the Prince Regent). I also had a problem in visualising Cecy and Kate as we're not given a lot of information about them and their characters are largely interchangeable (both are sparky, intelligent and forthright and prone to getting into trouble). The romance element is predictable and the male protagonists underdeveloped, while the antagonists are fairly stock characters. That said there are some amusing moments and I enjoyed the fact that the two girls stand up to their love interests and call them on poor behaviour. I'm not sure that I'd rush to read the sequel to this but I'd definitely check out each of the authors' other works.
I enjoyed the love that comes through between the cousins in the letters and the frustration that they have with their respective siblings, Oliver and Georgina (who have formed a regard). I also enjoyed how Wrede and Stevermer weave the fantasy elements into the history (particularly the College of Wizards). However the fact that each cousin is writing after the fact reduces tension and some plot points (e.g. a revelation about Georgina) go nowhere while the pace sags at points. Ultimately I liked the idea more than the execution but may check out the sequel.