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Galen Beckett – The Magicians and Mrs. Quent

August 20, 2010

96. The Magicians and Mrs. Quent by Galen Beckett (2008)
Ivy Lockwell, Book 1

Length: 500 pages

Genre: Historical Fantasy

Started: 11 August 2010
Finished: 14 August 2010

Where did it come from? Borders, as a “congrats on finishing your dissertation” present to myself.
Why do I have it? It originally went on my wishlist after spotting it at Fantasy Cafe, but my co-worker’s husband (who is also a huge fantasy fan) spent a few minutes at my dissertation defense party telling me how great it was, and convinced me to buy it.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 05 July 2010.

Ladies must marry
well and not do magic… but
don’t tell Ivy that!

Summary: Ivy Lockwell is the eldest of three sisters in a family that’s falling apart. Her mother is spending money they don’t have in order to keep up appearances, her sisters are too dreamy and too silly to face the practical realities of life, and her father is alternately mute and mad as a result of some terrible magical accident. Ivy is convinced that by studying magick – something that is only done by lords’ sons, and never by a woman – she will find a way to help cure her father. When she meets Rafferdy, a charming but idle young gentleman, she thinks she may have found a way out of her situation, but it is not until she begins working as a governness for Mr. Quent, one of her father’s former associates, that she begins to unravel some of the secrets surrounding her father’s illness – and in doing so uncovers a plot that may threaten the very nation of Altania itself.

Review: This book is divided into three sections, each of which is a unique and delightful pastiche of fantasy and Regency literature. The first part is straight out of Austen: young people falling in love above (and below) their social stations, and alternates between chapters from Ivy’s, Rafferdy’s, and Eldyn’s (a friend of Rafferdy’s) points of view. The second part is told entirely from Ivy’s point of view takes on the Brontë sisters, complete with a large creepy Gothic mansion and plenty of foggy, sweeping moorland. The third part goes back to the format of the first, but veers much more towards the fantasy than the historical. It’s vaguely reminiscent of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, or even better, a grown-up version of Sorcery & Cecelia, although it doesn’t take place in an alternate England.

Instead, Beckett has built his fantasy world in Altania, an island nation which is admittedly socially very England-like, but with its own astronomical, botanical, historical, and political oddities, all of which come to be quite important over the course of the story. Beckett doesn’t provide a lot of exposition about these things, however, but rather drops the reader right into the middle of things and expects them to work it out. This did make the initial parts of the book somewhat slow going, as I had to struggle to figure out the political and social issues that make up the core of the book, but the worldbuilding is rich enough that once I found my footing, I was completely enthralled.

“Enthralled” is actually a pretty good description of how I felt about most of the book: it didn’t suck me in immediately, but once I was hooked, I was hooked for good, and I read the bulk of this book in a single day. The middle section in particular was hugely compelling – it read like a perfect Gothic ghost story, and I was frantically flipping pages to find out what was going to happen next. The characters are also excellently crafted, with the main characters being complex, multi-dimensional, and thoroughly sympathetic, and even the minor characters are wonderfully memorable. So you’ve got great worldbuilding, compelling plot, and fantastic characters, all wrapped up in a clever and charming package. What more can you ask from a book?

My only complaint is that this is a dense book, in the sense that there are a *lot* of elements packed into its 500 pages. You know that old adage about looking in the mirror before leaving the house and removing one accessory? Not that any one piece is bad, but together they’re a little overwhelming? It turns out that that adage could just as easily apply to subplots as well. I think Eldyn’s storyline could have been cut pretty easily – not that it was bad or unenjoyable to read, far from it, but it didn’t tie in to the main plot nearly so well as Ivy’s or Rafferdy’s, and for the sake of streamlining, it probably could have been pared down so as to give the other stories a little more space to breathe.

Regardless, I really enjoyed this novel, and while I didn’t realize that it was the first in a series when I started reading, I am now eagerly awaiting the upcoming release of the second book. 4 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: It’s not quite as newbie-friendly as some other Regency fantasy, just because it’s set in an unfamiliar country with unfamiliar political concerns. Still, I think fans of Austen and particularly of the Brontës would enjoy Beckett’s take on the genres’ conventions, as would fantasy fans who enjoy historical fantasy or fantasy of manners.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Links: Galen Beckett’s website

Other Reviews: Fantasy Book Critic, In Search of Giants, Libri Touches, Medieval Bookworm, Stella Matutina
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: It was generally held knowledge among the people who lived on Whitward Street that the eldest of the three Miss Lockwells had a peculiar habit of reading while walking.

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21 Comments leave one →
  1. August 20, 2010 1:56 am

    Reading while walking is hard!

    • August 25, 2010 9:32 am

      Ladytink – I’ve never been able to master it, that’s for sure!

  2. August 20, 2010 3:22 am

    I think this book and I are going to be very good friends. I love the idea of the three part structure.

    • August 25, 2010 9:33 am

      Nymeth – You are going to love this book into itty bitty pieces, I’m 99.5% sure.

  3. August 20, 2010 7:54 am

    I’m so glad you enjoyed your gift to yourself!!

    • August 25, 2010 9:35 am

      bermudaonion – Indeed! I hate when I pay money for books and they’re not that good… but I get a perverse feeling like I should like them, because I PAID for them, damn it!

  4. August 20, 2010 8:00 am

    Austenesque fantasy delights me, but I think my editing hand is going to be twitching if I read this… hmm…

    • August 25, 2010 9:37 am

      Omni – Maybe? But maybe not. It’s crammed full of stuff, but a lot of it becomes important eventually, and the stuff that doesn’t may very well be leading into the sequel.

  5. August 20, 2010 8:18 am

    I read a few pages of the beginning of this book on Google Books and wasn’t overly impressed, but you’ve given me hope! Especially by calling it a grown-up version of Sorcery and Cecelia. :D

    • August 25, 2010 9:40 am

      Jenny – Maybe see if your library has it and give it another shot. It took me quite a bit more than the first few pages to get into it, and I didn’t start really loving it until the middle section.

      As for the Sorcery and Cecelia reference… I think I stand by that. It’s more serious (I mean… the consequences of everyone’s actions are more serious. It’s still quite slyly funny.) and a bit darker, but at heart it’s still a very similar fantasy of manners.

  6. August 20, 2010 10:38 am

    BIG congratulations to you on finishing your dissertation! This novel sounds delightful.

  7. Shanra permalink
    August 20, 2010 3:06 pm

    Congratulations on finishing your dissertation! *throws confetti* Celebration time!

    And yay for enjoying your present to yourself! ^-^ (I’m pretty certain that the sequel is going to be my birthday present. I’m really, really looking forward to reading the book!)

    I’m curious, though, what you think would happen to the ending if Beckett had cut Eldyn’s story. I agree with you that it’s not tied in tightly to Ivy’s and Rafferdy’s narratives, but I’m not convinced you could cut it without turning the ending into a deus-ex-machina. :/

    I’m tempted to reread the book and skip Eldyn’s sections just to see whether that works now… My memory is, well, abysmal, so I may very well have it in my head all wrong. It’s been a fair few months since I read it.

    • August 25, 2010 9:43 am

      Shanra – I’ve thought about it, and want to revise what I said… I don’t necessarily think that Eldyn’s storyline SHOULD have been cut – you’re right that it becomes important in the end, and I’m trust Beckett that parts of it that seemed disconnected will lead into something worthwhile in the sequel(s). If he had HAD to cut something, though, Eldyn’s storyline should have been the first to go, and the rest of things could have been tweaked to make it work.

  8. August 20, 2010 3:37 pm

    I liked this one too but had a few issues with the 3 sections not meshing very well. In a way it felt like three different books with the same characters instead of one. But in the end, I liked it enough to put the second one on my list to read.

    • August 25, 2010 9:44 am

      Amy – I agree, it was a little disconcerting to shift tone and focus in the middle section, and then abruptly switch back again.

  9. August 21, 2010 7:03 pm

    Horray for Ivy! I’ve got the sequel preordered, and I really, really hope it ships a bit early. I plan to dive in as soon as it arrives.

    • August 25, 2010 9:45 am

      Memory – I, too, preordered the sequel, but I think it’s not going to arrive until after I have already left for vacation, which means I’m not going to be able to actually lay hands on it until the middle of October!

  10. The Book Squirril permalink
    May 18, 2012 6:48 am

    I loved this book and managed to get the first two in the series from The Forbidden Planet in London and the before I had read the first I pre ordered the third! I read it this year and have to admit I loved it! I am now looking forward to reading the next two.


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