Review – The Twelfth Enchantment

I kept seeing this book at my bookstore and finally gave in one day when I was feeling a slight reading slump coming on. I’m glad I picked it up that day because when the slump hit, this was a perfect little book to bring me out of it. The characters are sweet, lovingly hateful, and were Austen-esque enough to make me happy.

Lucy Derrick comes from a good family; just a family without money now. She lives with an uncle who would prefer her to disappear and his plan to make this happen is to have her marry a man she doesn’t care for one bit. Her only companion in the house, Mrs. Quince, teases her relentlessly mentally and physically. She begins to accept that her life is going to be full of misery until a man named Lord Byron shows up at her uncle’s home saying she must not marry Mr. Olson. He then vomits pins and passes out. With the help of a new neighbor, Ms. Crawford, who knows something of the magical arts, Lucy helps Lord Byron to recover. Ms. Crawford, seeing a magical spark in Lucy, begins teaching her what she knows and Lucy understands for the first time how her life does not have to be one of misery.

The beginning of this book feels very reminiscent of Mansfield Park. A young woman far from loved ones, harassed and unwanted in the home she lives in, knowing her only way out the house is into another full of the same misery. Mansfield Park is by far not one of my favorite Austen books but this book brought back some lovely memories of it. Mostly of the hateful characters but still good memories.

The magical element is interesting and Lucy’s understanding of it happens quickly. A little too quickly if you ask me and that’s a small quibble I had with this story. She excels; exponentially fast. I’m all for magical education compounding but she’s like the magical god-child. It didn’t ruin the story for me but made me wonder at several points how she became so proficient so quickly.

When I picked this book up I was hoping for a fun and easy read and I got that. It’s entertaining, the characters are fun, some even mean, and you love to see them all make fools of themselves. The setting, England on the cusp of an industrial revolution, is interesting. If you have a thing for Victorian England with a little magic thrown it, take a look at this one.

The Twelfth Enchantment

By David Liss

Random House

ISBN: 978-1-4000-6896-8

4 stars

Re-Read Thoughts: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Since I read the final two books in my Harry Potter Re-Read back to back I thought it would be a good idea to put my thoughts together because the books sort of melded in my head.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

By JK Rowling

Scholastic Inc.

ISBN: 0-439-78454-9

The short re-cap: Harry returns to Hogwarts for his sixth year.  His hopes are high after learning he will be having private lessons with Dumbledore, finds he has feeling for Ginny he never imagined, and realizes his life is about to change forever.

Spoilers below; I’ve warned you so no complaints.

I love how book six begins with a visit to the Muggle Prime Minister.  I don’t know why but the scene where the Muggle Minister gets annoyed by having to wait for the Minister of Magic to appear just makes me laugh.  I love, love, love Fred and George and the new joke shop.  U No Poo!  How can you not chuckle at that?  Also, the Fleur and Mrs. Weasley testing of the waters of the in-law pool is a nice aside in a book that can otherwise be full of tension.  The pensive is probably one of my most favorite of Rowling’s magical inventions and the ways she uses it to tell Voldermort’s story makes it all the more interesting.  And then, there’s the romance.  I don’t care much for teen angst but here it’s not annoying.  Ron and Lavender are amusing but poor Hermione getting stuck with Cormac McLaggen is just mean.  And yes, I know she’s doing it to hurt Ron but she could have picked better.  Harry and Ginny — I love that these two get together but I hate that they break up.  Harry, can you be more stubborn?  Yes, he can but I won’t go there now.

I can’t escape it so I’ll mention it — Dumbledore’s death.  It’s sad and it makes the ending of this book seem so final.  Each time I want it to end differently and it doesn’t but I appreciate that Rowling has people die in this series.  It’s necessary for the story and adds much more weight to it.

The Half-Blood Prince is one of my favorites in the series.  This is probably my second favorite followed by the Prisoner of Azkaban.

 

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

By JK Rowling

Scholastic Inc.

ISBN: 0-545-01022-5

The short re-cap: Harry, Ron, and Hermione leave Hogwarts and their families behind to search for the horcruxes hidden by Voldermort.  Camping ensures, fighting begins, and life as Harry knows it will never be the same.

OK, folks, spoilers drill remains in place.

The Deathly Hallows is a sad book for many reasons but for me it’s sad because it’s the end.  There’s no more to look forward to.  Also, the first time I read this book I didn’t so much mind the epilogue.  This time it didn’t feel necessary for me to know that Ginny and Harry marry and have three children or that Ron and Hermione stay together.  But, that off my chest now, let’s move on.

The camping is slow and the first part of this book does feel like it drags a bit.  While the searching for the horcruxes bit is a necessary part of the plot, it’s slow and the in fighting with Harry, Ron, and Hermione gets tired.  Although, this is the book in which I fall in love with Neville and Luna.  They both shine brightly doing more to help Harry that he could or would have ever asked them to do.  They’re stand up people and I couldn’t be happier that it’s Neville that chops off Nagini’s head!  Luna is still loopy but she gets people so well, that in the end, when she sees Harry sitting on a bench in the Great Hall after the battle, she’s the one that provides him his means of escape.  Ginny is pure fire and the way Harry looks for her dot on the Maurader’s Map is sweet, if still a little creepy.

Snape.  I skipped mentioning him in my thoughts on the Half-Blood Prince even though he plays a large part there because I wanted to talk about him here.  No, I didn’t have a change of heart.  I still dislike him greatly.  He does redeem himself, in Harry’s eyes, but not mine.  My dislike of him has been cultivated for far too long for me to like him now even after knowing what he has done to help Harry.  Snape harbors too much hate for Harry’s father James to really care much about him the end.  Yes, I know he does care but for me it feels forced and I can’t go along.

Earlier I said I found this book sad.  There are a number of reasons but the one that stands out is Dobby’s death.  I got a little teary when reading it.  Dobby has been there for Harry and to have him die now is heartbreaking.  Harry finds resolve in his death but I don’t.  For me, it’s sadder than Dumbledore’s death.

There are some amazing moments:  Mrs. Weasley taking on Bellatrix.  How fabulous is Molly!  Ron finding he cares about house elves, at least for Hermione’s sake.  Hermione’s quick thinking that gets them out of several incidents.  Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s escape from Gringotts on a dragon.  Neville becoming the man!

My re-read may have started on a whim and took a lot longer than I thought it would to finish the seven books but I’m glad I made the time.  These aren’t books I pull off my shelf often, in fact, it’s been years since I’ve read any of them but it was fun to re-live this story.  Even knowing what happens and how it will all end, there were still a few surprises here.

Final thoughts on all the books:

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone — It must have been at least 10 years since I read this one and it was a lovely surprise.  The story is full of wonder at the beginning and I forgot how easily Rowling can pull a reader into her world.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets — I wanted to pace myself for the re-read because I didn’t want to burn out.  I did rush into this one and while I loved it, I was really looking forward to book three.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban — Undoubtedly, my favorite.  I loved it the first time I read it and fell in love all over again on page one.  The story takes a little bit darker turn but it also re-introduced me to characters like Lupin and Sirius that I heart.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire — I have to say that I enjoyed this one more on this reading.  Why, I can’t really say but I discovered many things this time around that I forgot.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix — While I didn’t find as much joy in book five as I did in the previous four, I still liked it.  Harry gets very moody in this one and my tolerance for teen angst is low so I was annoyed a bit but nowhere near enough to stop!  Besides, I get to intense moments of Snape dislike in this one and that’s totally worth it.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince — Again, more Snape disliking and that’s good.  Also, while the teen angst gets to me, the teen romance got me in this one.  I think it’s because I love when Harry and Ginny together.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — It’s sad because so many people die in this one but there’s something so wonderful about seeing it through to the end.  While I can do without the epilogue, the ending seems just right for me.

Well, after several months, my re-read is over and all I have to say is the end.

A College of Magics

A College of Magics

By Caroline Stevermer

Tor

ISBN: 0765342456

4 stars

Faris Nallaneen is heir to the Dukedom of Galazon.  Until that time, her uncle rules in her place.  To get her out of his way, he ships her off to the College of Greenlaw.  Fortunately for Faris, the school’s specialty, magic, is something she will come to be very practiced in.  When she is unexpectedly called home, Faris’s life becomes incredibly complicated, not only will she miss the school which had become home to her, but an incident involving magic will send her on a mission that will prove difficult both emotionally and physically.

This is a beautifully written book.  It’s witty, sarcastic, and there’s enough adventure to give it a fairly wide scope.  The politics are also interesting and become the story rather than the magic even though this is a story about magic — it’s the more the politics of the magical system and how the people and the world function.  It did start off a bit slow but Faris, who does her best to be unlikable, is actually likable and I kept reading to find out what would come out of her mouth next.  She’s stubborn, caustic, but funny and won’t put you off even if seems to be her mission in life.

I was, however, put off slightly by the College of Greenlaw and how they teach magic, which they don’t actually do.  In fact, they ignore it altogether and tell students explicitly if they are caught practicing magic they will be expelled.  It’s all theory but nothing practical and I didn’t understand how the magic worked.  There is almost always a system; here it’s basically if you think it’s so, it’s so.  Which is fine but there’s nothing, well, magical about it.  It feels like it’s missing something.  Faris was frustrated by the system and so was I.  I kept waiting for an explanation but none came.  There is magic performed though and it’s interesting when it happens but it’s theoretical and feels like a mere thought as opposed to something magical.

There is a bit of a love story and it develops nicely without becoming an overwhelming element.  It’s slow and fits with the story; it’s not forced at all.  I don’t want to ruin anything but it doesn’t end on a happy note and I was glad to see that since I feel that authors want to provide that easy ending sometimes.  Faris sticks to her beliefs and it was nice to see a character do that without letting the love story become the reason for change.

I know my library has several of Stevermer’s books and I think I’ll be checking out a few more to see if she lives up to my expectations.

The Magicians & Mrs. Quent

The Magicians & Mrs. Quent

The Magicians & Mrs. Quent

By Galen Beckett

Random House Publishing Group

ISBN: 9780553592559

3.5 stars

The Magicians & Mrs. Quent is a fantasy book with an alternative Regency/Victorian feel to it. There are ladies and lords, hand wringing, and lots of letter writing with some magic thrown in. It’s sort of Pride & Prejudice with a side of Wuthering Heights.

Ivy Lockwell lives with her mother, two sisters, and their ailing father. Their position is precarious but Ivy is determined to keep her small family together. She has a love of books and is constantly reading, especially her father’s magic books, in the hopes of finding a cure for him. She meets and falls for a Mr. Rafferdy and her hope of saving her family seems solid until fate intervenes and Rafferdy is told by his father that he will be marrying someone of his social standing and not a girl like Ivy. When Ivy’s mother suddenly dies, she takes a job as a governess to two small children to support her sisters. The job is in the country far outside the city and her family. It is here that she meets Mr. Quent and, after a short romance, the two marry. On her return to the city, she once again befriends Mr. Rafferdy who has also had a turn of fortunes in his life. Ivy’s life begins colliding with Rafferdy’s and the two find themselves in a showdown with evil that neither expected.

This book is broken up into three sections. The first part has a very Pride & Prejudice feel to it complete with letters and dreary sitting rooms. Part two takes Ivy to Heathcrest a la Wuthering Heights if you will. Part three brings Ivy back to the city to fight the evil she believes to be responsible for her father’s illness.

My problem with the three books was that they felt like three different books and not one cohesive book. Only the characters held the story together and it didn’t feel like that was enough. If felt as if it were missing something. It’s obvious that a second book is in the works as the ending, while satisfactory, leaves a few things open.

I liked Ivy a lot. She’s a strong, interesting character with secrets and a power she doesn’t know she has. Her relationship with Mr. Quent is predictable and slightly unsatisfying as you never really learn much about him. Rafferdy, however, doesn’t become likable until book three and then he still has his moments.

I know this review is starting to sound as if I didn’t like the book and that’s not true. I did like it. I actually found myself thinking about it days after I finished. The world built in this book – day and night shifts, the use of magic, dark and light powers – is interesting but unfortunately it just doesn’t feel cohesive. To me, it felt like there was a disconnect between the characters and the plot. Everything is vaguely related but I didn’t feel like it all went together, somewhat like the title of the book.

It’s Austen and Bronte with some magic thrown in and that was obviously the intent. And I think that’s what drew me in to the story since I love books that have this feel to them. It was an OK read but would have been good if there were more than a few tenuous threads holding it together.

The Magicians

The Magicians

The Magicians

The Magicians

By Lev Grossman

Viking

ISBN: 978-0-670-02055-3

4 stars

Quentin Coldwater is a brilliant high school student who is bored with life. He’s always looking for something in the way of entertainment or satisfaction that seems just out of reach. As a means of escape, he constantly re-reads a fantasy novel set is a mythical world called Fillory. He doesn’t think magic is real but when he finds himself at a school for the magically gifted, he’s forced to change his whole belief system about the world and what he thought it was.

After passing the grueling and somewhat enlightening (for Quentin anyway) entrance exam, he’s admitted to Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy and begins partaking of the college life which according to this book is all about booze, sex, and love. The years fly by and Quentin finds his little niche at the school becoming part of a small, tight-knit group of students deemed the physicals due to the magical discipline they specialize in. When graduation approaches, he finds himself once more bored with the hedonistic life he’s living — that is until a school friend finds a way into Fillory. Quentin doesn’t immediately believe they will be able to get to Fillory but when his debauched life catches up with him, he makes the call and they embark on a journey none expected.

I was so looking forward to this book and while I wasn’t disappointed (in fact I liked the book a lot) I was sort of annoyed. The book was billed as Harry Potter for adults and there are a lot of small jibs at the story and a lot of little similarities that you can’t help but notice even if you’ve only seen the movies. Brakebills is Hogwarts complete with a high astronomy tower, school uniforms, and right at the beginning, Quentin is teamed up with another boy, Penny, and a girl, Alice, in his class. They don’t get along as famously but they do find themselves together for better or worse. Grossman does take a few shots at Rowlings world and the magic. For instance, practicing magic with a wand is looked down upon. He doesn’t stop there — the world of Fillory and the “quest” they set upon is Tolkien and C.S. Lewis inspired, and, wait for it, he also throws in a bit of Star Wars at the end. (That part is a nice bit of irony that’s actually quite amusing though.)

Why mention this? Well, I like my Harry Potter. There I said it. Now, I’m not trying to defend, I’m just pointing out the obvious comparisons in this book to that work and many others. He takes a bit here and there and makes it his own and it works. What annoyed me was the slightly mean-spirited way in which some references were made.

THAT SAID, I thought this book was great fun and even stayed up way too late to finish reading it. I had to know if they would get out of Fillory alive and what would happen if and when Quentin made it back to the real world.

The characters are great and even if you hate what they are sometimes doing and becoming, you still want to be one of them. The magic is thrilling and seems so very real that you too want to find Fillory. It’s a good book, entertaining, amusing and worth the read.