Thursday, April 29, 2010

Sorcery & Cecelia, or, The Enchanted Chocolate Pot by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer

Any book that contains the following quote in the first paragraph is going to get my attention, and most likely, affection:

I wish Aunt Elizabeth were not so set against my having a Season this year. She is still annoyed about the incident with the goat, and says that to let the pair of us loose on London would ruin us both for good, and spoil Georgy's chances into the bargain.

Sorcery and Cecelia, or, The Enchanted Chocolate Pot is just so ... charming, is the best word I find to describe it, but that's not enough. It's charming, it's intelligent, it's funny, it's mysterious, it's clever, it's just so damned delightful I can't quite wrap my head around my enormous, immediate, and unconditional love for this book. I loved this book so much the first time through that I've started it a second time, really-truly, which is the first time that's happened since the advent of this blog. I used to do it a lot more when I wasn't trying to expand my reading horizons as much as I am now. But I just can't get enough of this one.

First thing to note: I am a Patricia C. Wrede fan, and have been since grade seven when I absently picked up a little book called Dealing with Dragons from my homeroom teacher's classroom library. I love her sense of humour. I have not read nearly enough that she has written; The Thirteenth Child is on my list, but I haven't gotten to that yet. I've read the entire Enchanted Forest Chronicles, and a little book called The Raven Ring which I read the first time through and didn't quite like because it was, in many ways, way over my head. I've read it a couple of times since and enjoyed it much more with each reading.

I had never even heard of Caroline Stevermer, but you can be sure I'll be keeping an eye out for her other stuff, too.

This is a) a fantasy novel; b) an epistolary novel, and c) a Regency romance in the style of Jane Austen. That is to say, it was a pretty much guaranteed hit for me, although having had experiences where I should love a book and really didn't, I went into this one with some trepidation. Cecelia (Cecy) and Katherine (Kate) are cousins, living comfortably on an estate in Essex. Kate has been taken to London by their Aunt Charlotte to be presented for her first Season with her younger (and prettier) sister Georgina. Cecy has been kept back at home, ostensibly because of the goat, and is to have her coming out Season the year following. Things start to go a little wonky when a witch attempts to murder Kate and Cecy meets a lovely young woman who seems to attract more than her fair share of suitors. Luckily for these two wonderful young women, they have their wits about them and a speedy post to deliver their detailed and often highly amusing letters to each other.

I think Wrede and Stevermer must have had a riot writing this book. It was great fun to read, and it's the kind of great fun that only happens when the authors themselves have thoroughly enjoyed producing the work. I have only two little quibbles, and both come in towards the end; one is a major spoiler, although you'll likely see it coming somewhere just after the midway mark. It has to do with the villains, and villainous motives, and which villain has which motives, and which villain turns out to be more effective. I think it was a little cliched and that was a bit disappointing. The other was that there is a bit of a deus ex machina that appears close to the end. It's a well-integrated one, but I don't think that lets it entirely off the hook. That said, who cares. There are too many other things to like.

Both Cecy and Kate are lovely characters, similar in the ways that relatives with common experience who are also dear friends may be, but different enough that they each have a distinctive voice and distinctive mode of action and thought. They are supportive of each other, and often encourage each other. They will also discourage actions they consider problematic (but they don't always listen to the other's advice.) They work things out together, and I love that. The secondary characters are each fleshed out quite well, as well, through conversations the two report having, through their observations, and through their occasional funny and Austen-esque gossip. The secondary characters are varied and interesting, though not always fully fleshed out, as one might expect in a novel told in letters.

I am on the lookout for a copy of this book now, and consider it a must-have for my collection. It's been on my radar for a while now, but it was Cecelia's (no relation) blog that finally pushed me over the edge. If you're looking for something light and utterly charming, you cannot go wrong with this book.

12 comments:

Becky said...

I love Patricia C. Wrede too! Great review, I HAVE to pick this one up. Try Thirteenth Child soon, it's really good. =)

Nymeth said...

Dear self: get this! Get this now! I've known about this book for ages (I think Darla D has repteadly recommended it to me), but somehow never quite understood how much I needed it in my life until now :P

PS: Caroline Stevermer wrote one of the books that I added to my wishlist thanks to A Brief History of Fantasy. I can't quite remember what they said about her anymore, but I know it made her sound awesome.

kiirstin said...

Becky - I just got it out of the library. Holiday is next week, planning to get some serious Wrede reading in. :)

Nymeth - Glad I could push you over the edge! It's kind of like dominoes... celi.a did it to me, now it's your turn...

Darla D said...

Yay! I LOVE this book! It is so fun. And yes, a book that opens with that sentence is irresistible to me, too. I have been hounding Nymeth to read this for ages (yes, that was me!), and had I had any idea you were among the poor souls who hadn't read this, I'd have been hounding you, too.

I think I read somewhere a very funny interview or article about how they wrote the book, each writing one character's part, and completely setting the other person up to deal with one disastrous scenario after another. They must have had a blast.

kiirstin said...

Darla - This is one of those books that makes me wonder where the heck it's been all my life. It's just so perfect for me. Did you know there are two more?

Darla D said...

I'm glad you love it so much. The second one is pretty good, too, but I admit I was a bit disappointed in the last one. That may have been because I read it without rereading the other two first, and they were a bit vague in my memory - sometimes that make a difference. It was still good, though, and I love the characters. I should do a reread of all three some time soon.

Jeanne said...

I loved Wrede's dragon series, but had no idea she'd written others!

kiirstin said...

Darla - Forewarned is forearmed, thank you. I'm thoroughly pleased with the way things were left off, but I'll definitely pick up the other two if I have a chance, even if the third isn't quite as good.

Jeanne - For some reason, I don't think her other stuff is quite as well-known. It does seem harder to find. If you find this one, though, it's clearly highly recommended! And I am just about to start Thirteenth Child so I'll let you know. She has incredible range; it's all fantasy, and it's all got her sense of humour, but I don't think I've ever read anything by her that is what I expect given my past reading experiences, if that makes any sense.

Bookwyrme said...

Surely you can risk spoilers in your comments? Because I'm now dying to know what, specifically, you thought about the villains, motivations, and successes thereof.

kiirstin said...

Bookwyrme - Ha! Sure. This comment is definitely going to be rife with spoilers, though!

Of the two villains, Miranda is set up to be the worse from the beginning, I think, and I was pretty disappointed that her motivation in her climactic scene was revealed as youth and beauty, in addition to power. That's a pretty stock motivation for a female villain to have, and I think I would have been happier if she'd been as focused on sheer magical power as Sir Hilary was. Further, to have her beat by Lady Sylvia seemed a little anticlimactic. Lady Sylvia is the deus ex machina I mention above -- she sort of swoops in and saves the day and we had heard nothing of her until the moment she arrives. That said, there was just enough buildup, I thought, to understand that Miranda and Lady Sylvia have a history worthy of Sylvia being the ultimate hero -- Miranda killed her son, after all.

On the other hand, Sir Hilary comes closest to being victorious, and especially towards the end of the book it becomes clear that he's the more clever, subtle, and dangerous of the two. Now, I understand that as a reversal -- we are even lead, at the beginning, to see him as almost a friend of the family. His climactic scene is truly creepy, and though Aunt Elizabeth and Wrexford do arrive to save the day, I was happier there with their part in the story, and it's Cecy and James who save everyone in the end. I just kind of wish that the dynamic -- of Sir Hilary, the male wizard, being the more powerful and dangerous vs. Miranda the female wizard being less powerful and focussed on her youth -- had been something a little more unconventional, as I found the rest of the story so original.

Incidentally, the second time through I didn't find this as glaring. I think because I picked up a little more on Miranda's sheer power-hungry vibe over and above her desire for youth and beauty.

kiirstin said...

Bookwyrme - Ha! Sure. And I have to split it in two to fit everything in!

Of the two villains, Miranda is set up to be the worse from the beginning, and I was pretty disappointed that her motivation in her climactic scene was revealed as youth and beauty, in addition to power. That's a pretty stock motivation for a female villain to have, and I think I would have been happier if she'd been as focussed on sheer magical power as Sir Hilary was. Further, to have her beat by Lady Sylvia seemed a little anticlimactic. Lady Sylvia is the deus ex machina I mention above -- she sort of swoops in and saves the day and we had heard nothing of her until the moment she arrives. That said, there was just enough buildup, I thought, to understand that Miranda and Lady Sylvia have a history worthy of Sylvia being the ultimate hero -- Miranda killed her son, after all.

kiirstin said...

On the other hand, Sir Hilary comes closest to being victorious, and especially towards the end of the book it becomes clear that he's the more dangerous of the two. Now, I understand that as a reversal -- we are even lead, at the beginning, to see him as almost a friend of the family. His climactic scene is truly creepy, and though Aunt Elizabeth and Wrexford do arrive to save the day, I was happier there with their part in the story, and it's Cecy and James who save everyone in the end. I just kind of wish that the dynamic -- of Sir Hilary, the male wizard, being the more powerful and dangerous vs. Miranda the female wizard being less powerful and focussed on her youth -- had been something a little more unconventional, as I found the rest of the story so original.

Incidentally, the second time through I didn't find this as glaring. I think because I picked up a little more on Miranda's sheer power-hungry vibe over and above her desire for youth and beauty.