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Caroline Stevermer – A College of Magics

December 31, 2007

127. A College of Magics by Caroline Stevermer (1994)
A College of Magics, Book 1

Length: 380 pages

Genre: Fantasy

Started: 25 December 2007
Finished: 31 December 2007

Summary: Faris Nallaneen, heir to the duchy of Galazon, has been sent away from home to Greenlaw College by her despotic uncle to keep her out of the way. However, Greenlaw is not your average finishing school; it also includes instruction in magic. By the time Faris is summoned to return to Greenlaw, she (and her friends, servants, and bodyguard) are more than capable of causing a little mayhem in their task of setting Galazon – and the world – back to rights.

Review: I thought this book had some interesting potential, but was too choppy to really hold my interest. The best parts are the characters and dialogue – they’re very reminiscent of the lightheartedness and slightly wry humor of Sorcery & Cecelia – but unfortunately, the world the characters move around in is uneven, and the plot is strangely paced. I don’t understand the choice to set this in an alternate 1900, with Paris and motorcars butting strangely against fictional kingdoms and more medieval fantasy elements. It would have worked better either entirely in a fictional kingdom or entirely in an alternate 1900, but the combination of the two doesn’t quite mesh, and as a result is rather distracting. Similarly, the system of magic and the political scheming are not as well-integrated as they could be; the book’s got magic in the title, but so much time is spent on the evil uncle that the magic is not very well explained, and its inclusion seems more like an afterthought. In general, each of the elements of this book is pretty good on its own, but they don’t blend into a coherent novel particularly well. 3 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Reading this wasn’t a waste of time, but there are other books (including some by this author) that are much more successful at accomplishing what this book attempted.

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Vocab:

  • p. 15: “Behind her brougham, hired in Pontorson to bear her on the last stage of her journey, the causeway stretched back to the coast…” – a four-wheeled, boxlike, closed carriage for two or four persons, having the driver’s perch outside.
  • p. 35: “Faris listened attentively to the Dean’s instruction and attempted to sketch the armillary spheres used to model the relation of the world to the celestial order.” – consisting of hoops or rings.
  • p. 45: “Galazon is an independent principality. Aravill claims suzerainty but they are wrong to do so.” – the authority of a sovereign or a state exercising political control over a dependent state.
  • p. 52: “There were Greek hymns sung on Lantern Night and Latin aubades for May Day Morning.” – a piece sung or played outdoors at dawn, usually as a compliment to someone.
  • p. 52: “As a student at Greenlaw, Faris learned melody and harmony, found occasional tunes that suited her limited voice, spend the the rest of her time in descants that let her sing without damaging the music.” – An ornamental melody or counterpoint sung or played above a theme.
  • p. 121: “‘I thought I left you waiting in the tumbrel,’ Faris whispered to Reed.” – one of the carts used during the French Revolution to convey victims to the guillotine.
  • p. 134: “‘Excuse me. I must see to this. Reed has no notion of douceur. He undertips scandalously.'” – a gratuity; tip.
  • p. 136: “‘I think the marocain may do for the dinner gown. That shade gives your eyes some color.'” – a crepe fabric made of silk, wool, or rayon, or a combination of these fibers, and distinguished by a strong rib effect.
  • p. 174: “‘If the diligence isn’t available, we’ll have to try to rent a coach'” – a public stagecoach
  • p. 191: “‘For pancakes at breakfast, galettes at dinner, and crepes at supper.'” – round and flat crusty cakes
  • p. 199: “‘So you could come back a worse hoyden than you left?'” – a boisterous, bold, and carefree girl; a tomboy.
  • p. 224: “Jane was examining the horsehair cantrip she had removed from Haverford’s disguise” – a magic spell; trick by sorcery.
  • p. 224: “It’s a charming little bagatelle.” – something of little value or importance; a trifle.
  • p. 257: “‘Last news I had, you’d finally given Menary her comeuppance and the Dean gave you both your congé.” – permission to depart.
  • p. 271: “The hunt led her along the land and across a field planted to turnips and swedes.” – rutabagas.
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