Friday, September 23, 2011
Sorcery and Cecelia or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot (Patricia C Wrede & Caroline Stevermer)
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.