Friday, September 23, 2011

Sorcery and Cecelia or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot (Patricia C Wrede & Caroline Stevermer)

Fantasy and romance are two of my favorite genres, which find a satisfying balance in the YA title Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia C Wrede & Caroline Stevermer. Taking on the form of an epistolary dialogue between two cousins, the book is a quick and light read that follows cousins Cecelia and Katherine through their many magical and social (mis-)adventures.

In the story, Kate gets to experience her first London season with her sister Georgina, while her cousin and best friend Cecy remains at their home in the country. Though they are apart, the girls' lives still manage to connect: Cecy makes the acquaintance of Dorothea Griscomb, who mysteriously draws men to her like bees to honey, her wizard-mother Miranda, and Dorothea's cousin James, who is quite unsuccessful when it comes to spying. In London, however, Kate is content to follow her prettier sister Georgy around, but unwittingly wanders into a magical trap laid for the Marquis of Schofield. Add to this story a blue chocolate pot, charm-bags, chaperones, falling hairpins, and brothers who get turned into trees and you have a good idea of how much trouble two very stubborn Ladies of Quality can get themselves into.

The book pays homage to Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer, and there's a fair amount of romantic tension mixed in with the fantastical elements of the story. The girls do not concern themselves with finding husbands as they do investigating their mystery, but the ending seems inevitable. Fans of Regency romances will be delighted by the mention of familiar places and terms like Almack's, Vauxhall Gardens, and the Elgin Marbles. Even famous people like Sally Jersey, Lord Byron, and Lady Caroline Lamb walk into the story. For all its twists and turns, the story winds down to a rather predictable conclusion, but I still found it very charming and refreshing. Cecy and Kate are both candid in their observations and are quite insistent on solving their own problems despite the conventions and notions of propriety that their society has set.

Ms Wrede and Ms Stevermer both share snippets of this unique writing journey at the end of the book. According to them, the idea started out as a Letter Game introduced to them by Ellen Kushner, where they wrote to each other as two different personas (with Ms Stevermer writing as Kate and Ms Wrede as Cecy). "But we didn't play the Letter Game to publish it," Ms Stevermer confesses. "We played because it was fun." They admit that they didn't discuss plot between them, only timing, encouraging them to work out the details as they went along. As I read the book, I find this quite commendable because I was struck by how similar Kate and Cecy sounded, too similar I thought, as if they had been written by the same hand. Even the male romantic leads seem cut from the same cloth, but that wasn't a deal-breaker for me. Sorcery and Cecelia remains an appealing, enchanting, and well-written read that makes me wonder why I don't see more wholesome Regency romances for a younger audience.


Chachic said...

I read this a few years ago because it came highly recommended in Sounis (LJ community for Megan Whalen Turner fans) but it didn't make much of an impression on me. I can't even recall the details anymore. Hmm maybe I should try rereading it to see if I'll like it more. Although with the giant TBR pile, I have no idea when I'll be able to reread anything.

Celina said...

I have this book but haven't gotten around to reading it. I think there are two other books with the same characters - The Grand Tour and The Mislaid Magician - do you plan to read those too?

dementedchris said...

@Chachic and Cel
Have you ever gotten together for a book-buying afternoon? :P

I liked it so much that I wished I had gotten the second book as well! Then again, I also liked Summers at Castle Auburn, so it could really be different tastes. Did you ever read Bewitching Season/Betraying Season? This reminded me of that series.

I only saw The Grand Tour at High Street. Glad to know they have a third book -- I really wish I had the foresight to pick up the second book but I had other stuff as well. Aaargh!

Celina said...

I think I have an extra copy of The Grand Tour, which I can give you (if I can find it).:) Are you back in Aklan already? We didn't get to go out for coffee na.:(

I think the only time Chachic and I are able to go book buying is after an FBB meetup.

dementedchris said...

Still in Manila! :P Are you free Tuesday afternoon? I'm going to ask Chiles if he's free then too

Celina said...

Yes, Tuesday is fine.:) Please just text me if we will push through then.:)

Wanda said...

Hi chris, you have a beautiful blog! definitely following :-)

dementedchris said...

Thank you! Following you too! :P

Texted! BTW, Chiles might not make it daw so it'll just be you and me :)

kaoko said...

UY! I was eyeing this online---mostly because I saw my copy of A College of Magics so I looked up more work from Carolyn Stevermer. This was the book I failed to buy with the expired discount coupons you sent me :P So excited to see you review this, nagcomment na ako bago pa basahin yung review. *facepalm*

dementedchris said...


Oh, so she wrote College of Magics! Never knew that, thanks! What's funny is that Oz wanted to lend me Wrede's A Matter of Magic, which I kept confusing with College of Magics until I got a copy of the book. You might like this one, it reminded me of Bewitching Season. Same flavor. :P I can lend it to you when Oz is done.