Welcome! I hope you were all able to find a copy of our first selection, Mairelon the Magician by Patricia C. Wrede!
This is our first meeting, so we’re trying to figure out what will work best…this time around, I’m going to post some thoughts and talking points that I hope will spur conversation…please feel free to react to those and/or to post your own thoughts. Because this is a teen history blog, my comments are going to focus mostly on the historical aspects of the story…but you are certainly welcome to discuss any aspect of the book you wish. It’s a snowy day here so I’ll be sticking close to the computer today to help keep the conversation flowing well, but comments can continue all week!
So—here we go!
There’s magic in the streets of London,
there’s sorcery in the village lanes;
there’s a plot that has all of Society talking
in an England that never was,
but should have been….
That’s on the back cover of my copy, and in my opinion gives the perfect introduction to the story in Mairelon the Magician. I obviously love stories that combine magic and history. But what I love even more is when the history part is well done. Regina and I haven’t much discussed the underclasses in 19th century society because our books have featured aristocratic characters. MtM explores the underside of society with Kim, an orphaned street-kid doing her best to pass herself off as a boy in order to escape being forced into prostitution. She’s nearly 17, however, and it’s getting harder to keep up the masquerade. She’s a top-notch lock-pick and an accomplished pick-pocket, but a life of crime isn’t what she wants either…so her life is fast approaching a turning point.
It turns in an entirely unexpected direction when she is taken in by Mairelon, a street magician whose wagon she’s been hired to search for a mysterious silver bowl…and so we are launched into a lively, funny combination of mystery and fantasy, with a strong dollop of Georgette Heyer comedy leavening the whole.
Wrede makes good use of the colorful slang of the London poor, weaving it into Kim’s speech in a way that readers unfamiliar with it can still guess at the meanings (if there are any words you aren’t sure about, ask…and if you want to learn more about the language, check out The 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue a portion of which can be viewed for free on Google Books.)
I'm also giving points for Wrede's depiction of travel. There's a lot of it in the story, done both on foot and by carriage--and Wrede makes it clear that getting anywhere takes a while, that horses have to be rested and not abused (note that on their way out of London, Kim and Mairelon and Hutch walk alongside their wagon for most of the trip in order to spare their horses). Yes, this indeed happened--even on stage coaches, where passengers would be asked to get out and walk on steep or deeply muddy roads, to prevent overstraining the horses.
I also deeply enjoy how magic is woven into this Regency setting: magic is an acknowledged, accepted part of the world, there's a Royal College of Wizards, and Mairelon, a.k.a. Richard Merrill, is one of several wizards engaged in spying on the French in the British fight against Napoleon (more recently Susannah Clarke has used a similar theme--magic in the Napoleonic Wars--to hilarious and wonderful effect in one of my favorite books, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell.) I think the combination of magic and the 19th century works so well because to us, the 19th century really is another world, and having magic operate there is easier to imagine than, say, magic in the post-world war era. What do you think?
But what I think I love most about this book is the homage it pays to Georgette Heyer's sparkling Regency novels. Lady Granleigh, Marianne, Freddy and his friends could all have stepped out of one of her books; Renee D'Auber sounds delightfully like Leonie in These Old Shades, and the final chaotic (but beautifully orchestrated) showdown in the Sons of the New Dawn's lodge could stand beside the equally chaotic but perfect ending in The Grand Sophy.
So--good historical detail, a finely crafted mystery with enough clues salted in to make it solveable by a careful reader but not too obvious, and plenty of sheer fun. That's what I think. What about you? What worked for you in this story? Did the 19th century world in MtM draw you in? Would you recommend this book to others, and why?