Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Galen Beckett's The Magicians and Mrs. Quent

Galen Beckett's The Magicians and Mrs. Quent is the most entertaining fantasy novel I've read this year.  If you admire Jane Austen, delve often into the Brontes' Gothic novels, are charmed by Georgette Heyer's romances, and secretly wish the Harry Potter books were more grown-up, The Magicians and Mrs. Quent is for you. 

I'm gobsmacked by the knowledge that the author, Galen Beckett, is a man. His novel is a hybrid-regency-romance fantasy, both comical and suspenseful.

It begins:

"It was generally held knowledge among the people who lived on Whitward Street that the eldest of the three Miss Lockwells had a peculiar habit of reading while walking."

We are immediately intrigued by the reader, Ivy Lockwell.  The neighbors step out of her way, accustomed to her dangerous absorption in books.  Ivy isn't a dreamer, though.  She is beautiful, blond, brilliant, well-read, practical, the mainstay of her family, and interested in magic.  

But the Lockwells are poor.  Her father, a former magician, has been sick and silent for years; her mother is too class-conscious not to overspend, much to Ivy's chagrin (she is the one who goes over the accounts); her sister, Rose, is painfully shy; and the youngest, Lily, too romantic to be helpful, plays gloomy mood music on the pianoforte.

The Lockwells' Regency-period England-style world is actually an island called Altania; their London-ish city is called Invarel. There have been periodic Risings of the Wyrdwood, a magical primeval forest that originally covered Altania, inhabited by witches.  Ivy becomes involved with magic after she takes a job as a governess at Heathcrest (think Jane Eyre combined with Wuthering Heights combined with The Turn of the Screw) and the children are almost kidnapped by the Wyrdwood.  And, yes, there is romance for Ivy as well as danger.

But the Lockwells aren't the only characters,  In Invarel a witty young man named Rafferdy, an Oscar Wildeian fop with a heart, has fallen in love with Ivy, but is talked out of it by his father.  (Hard to feel sympathetic with THAT.) As magic comes back into fashion in Invarel, Rafferdy, who barely believes in magic, discovers that he has inherited the art.

And then there's Eldyn, who has to drop out of the university after his father's death (and debts).  While looking out for his sister, he is blackmailed by Weston, a rich highwayman, into working intelligence for the revolutionaries, witches. and Wyrdwood.  Will he get out of it?

This charming, well-written novel, the first of three, is a kind of classic which should appeal to people of a variety of interests.  It's not Jane Austen, it's not Jane Eyre, but the gentle satire should make you laugh.  Certainly it's fun to find all the allusions.The second novel, The House on Durrow Street, has also been published.

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