So, I have been having trouble finding things I want to read. It's been pretty serious; it has been to the point where I feel irritated with books just for sitting there on the desk, accusing me. This happens sometimes with various aspects of my life, but only very rarely with books. So I went back to my old standby: fantasy written by authors I know I like. I settled on Mairelon the Magician because I couldn't believe I hadn't read it yet; I love Wrede's writing, and her stories which are generally gentle on the brain, and her feisty, witty, and intelligent female leads.
Of course, when I picked it up, it turns out... I have read it. I had just forgotten what the title of that particular story I loved was. Also, I am pretty sure I have read the sequel, Magician's Ward, and recall enjoying it if not being quite as enamoured of it as I was the first book.
So anyway, I read Mairelon again, and I think I have enjoyed it even more the second time, because I know what to watch for. And I read it much more as a fantasy with hints of Pygmalion than I had before, too, though not sure why that slipped me by last time as it's really quite blindingly obvious, down to Mairelon teaching the guttersnipe Kim to speak properly so as to be presentable in society. That said, Mairelon is not half the ass Higgins is; this reads like an entertaining rags-to-riches fairytale rather than a prickly lampooning of classism and sexism. And while I appreciate Shaw's brilliance and have always liked Pygmalion (particularly with its unromanticized ending) it's not exactly an easy, fun read. Mairelon is. Where Pygmalion is funny and wince-inducing and occasionally horrifying, Mairelon is funny and sweet.
The premise is that Kim is a street kid in an alternate London, where magic is known and practiced, sometime around the early 1800s. She's managed to disguise herself as a boy so far, though her luck on that is going to run out shortly. So that's why she takes a job snooping for a man she doesn't trust; he's promised her five pounds and that money might just be enough to get her off the street. Unfortunately, the snooping takes place in a wagon that happens to be owned by a real magician, and Kim springs a trap. But rather than turning her over to the authorities, the magician thinks Kim might be somewhat useful to him and offers her a job as his apprentice. She takes it, because it gets her out of London -- and Kim's curious as to what the mysterious Mairelon is truly up to.
I really did enjoy this book, thoroughly, and I've actually ordered A Matter of Magic in for purchase at my favourite local bookstore -- that's the recently released omnibus edition that includes Mairelon the Magician and its sequel, Magician's Ward. It's a good re-read, and has firmly established itself in my list of comfort books. There's something about the Regency time period, magic, Wrede's sense of humour, and romance, that I just cannot get enough of. There's enough action to keep the plot clipping along smoothly, the villains are creepy enough (Laverham, Kim's nemesis, is downright chilling) and the world believable enough to create an excellent whole. This isn't serious, hard, thought-provoking reading. There's no deeper message, no social commentary other than the obvious bits on the surface. It's an absolute riot, though, and exactly my kind of thing.
And I couldn't get enough of it, so I read Sorcery and Cecelia all over again. That re-read review will be coming up.