Some years ago, a very dear friend of mine introduced me to the novels by the combined writing team of Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer. I found myself rather bemused by the story of two young ladies in the Regency period of English history -- about 1810-1820 -- having to not just cope with making their way in high society, but also with the perils of magick. But what I found very interesting was how the authors told the story -- in the style known as 'The Letter Game.'
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For anyone who hasn't encounted the idea before, the Letter Game is this: Person A writes Person B a letter using the voice and time of their character; Person B writes back using the same, but of their own character, and reacts to any questions or actions. Then the other person writes back. And so forth. It can be as serious or as frivolous as the participants wish, and can be expanded to however many people that decide to play. With the advent of email, now response tiimes can go far more quickly.
The year is now 1828, and the heroines from the previous two books, Cecelia and Kate, have married suitable gentlemen and settled down to raising their families, with occansional jaunts to London and visiting one another. Their children are precocious, and several of them are showing the same magical talents as their parents. Unfortunately, they're also fairly adept at getting into scrapes themselves, as the opening letter reveals.
But children's illnesses and misbehaviour soon pale when none other than the mighty Duke of Wellington has Cecy and Kate's husbands go on a mission of great importance. Namely tracking down a missing German scientist/magician who is investigating an odd occurance that manifests between new fangled railroad lines and magical ley lines. Someone is meddling and creating horrible steam engine accidents. Cecy goes along with her James, and their children come to stay with Kate and her brood. If all of that wasn't enough, Georgy, their cousin who's married a duke descends on the household creating all sorts of conflict in her wake.
There's prowlers, a mute girl in need of rescuing, dogs, a house-party of crashing boredom, a gypsy caravan that's really something else, and assorted disasters and pitfalls. Mixed up in all of this are also the beginings of the industrial age, with steam engines, research into electricity and magnitism. Along the way, there's notes about daily living, the joys of having a decent nurserymaid, the antics that tend to make parents cringe or laugh, and so forth.
A nice touch here is that there is humour, but it's of an entirely believable sort, the gentle teasing sort that's everyday and enjoyable. I don't see that much more in fantasy fiction, which tends to be over-the-top and depressing. Here the characters are indeed saving things from dire consequences, but they're not being vainglorious about it either.
This time too, we get to read the rather more somber letters being exchanged between Thomas and James. They provide excellent counterpoint between the letters that Cecy and Kate write to each other.
Together, the letters provide a very engaging story, full of adventure and sheer fun. Those who love history will have fun sorting out the real from the imagined and a few twists along the way. I won't reveal them here because it will give away a few important bits of the plot. The story is tied up neatly at the end, without any dangling ends, and brief entrances and departures from characters in the previous novels.
As with the other two novels in the series, this is suitable for young adult readers as well as adults, especially those who enjoy history. I do hope that Ms. Wrede and Ms. Stevermer will continue their series, as they are a delight to read, and their stories never get dull at all.
Four stars overall, recommended.
Novels in the Letter Game:
Sorcery and Cecelia; or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot
The Grand Tour; or the Purloined Coronation Regalia
The Mislaid Magician; or Ten Years After
The Mislaid Magician; or Ten Years After
Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer
2006; Harcourt, Inc.