Title: The Magicians and Mrs. Quent
Author: Galen Beckett
Genre: Fantasy, Speculative Fiction, Regency & Gothic Romance (yes, it is ALL of these things at once)
Publisher: Bantam Spectra
Publication Date: July 2008
Hardcover: 512 Pages
Stand alone or series: Book 1 in a planned series.
Why did I read this book: I had seen The Magicians and Mrs. Quent in the store for a while, often picking it up and almost purchasing it only to return it to its shelf (the main deterrent? Expensive hardcover). But, a few trips ago I was feeling frisky, so I decided to cough up the dough (ok, my $5 borders bucks helped) and give this book a shot. I mean, it’s blurbed by Robin Hobb, Jacqueline Carey and NPR! They can’t all be wrong…
Summary: (from Amazon.com)
In this enchanting debut novel, Galen Beckett weaves a dazzling spell of adventure and suspense, evoking a world of high magick and genteel society—a world where one young woman discovers that her modest life is far more extraordinary than she ever imagined.
Of the three Lockwell sisters—romantic Lily, prophetic Rose, and studious Ivy—all agree that it’s the eldest, the book-loving Ivy, who has held the family together ever since their father’s retreat into his silent vigil in the library upstairs. Everyone blames Mr. Lockwell’s malady on his magickal studies, but Ivy alone still believes—both in magic and in its power to bring her father back.
But there are others in the world who believe in magick as well. Over the years, Ivy has glimpsed them—the strangers in black topcoats and hats who appear at the door, strangers of whom their mother will never speak. Ivy once thought them secret benefactors, but now she’s not so certain.
After tragedy strikes, Ivy takes a job with the reclusive Mr. Quent in a desperate effort to preserve her family. It’s only then that she discovers the fate she shares with a jaded young nobleman named Dashton Rafferdy, his ambitious friend Eldyn Garritt, and a secret society of highwaymen, revolutionaries, illusionists, and spies who populate the island nation of Altania.
For there is far more to Altania than meets the eye and more to magick than mere fashion. And in the act of saving her father, Ivy will determine whether the world faces a new dawn—or an everlasting night. . . .
Miss Ivoleyn Lockwell, the eldest of three sisters, is a studious, intelligent and altogether lovely girl, dedicated to saving her family. After her father, a low ranking gentleman, lost his mind supposedly due to his use of magick and has been rendered an invalid who refuses to come down from the upper levels of their home, Ivy struggles to keep her two younger sisters and mother optimistic with their future. When two unlikely gentlemen – the rakishly charming but ever self-interested Mr. Rafferdy and genteel but impoverished, impossibly beautiful Eldyn Garritt – enter their lives, Ivy’s mother hopes that their situation woes will be ended. When society and a sudden tragic event intervenes, however, Ivy is forced to leave their family home for a governess position in Heathcrest, a bleak, harsh countryside mansion. Mr. Quent, the gruff, mysterious owner of the estate has been writing letters to Ivy’s mother and father for years and when faced with no other alternative, Ivy accepts the assignment as governess to Quent’s two young wards. In Heathcreast, Ivy’s life is thrown again with ghostly appearances, the rising of the wyrdwood forest just beyond the mansion’s stone walls, and the impending threat of revolution and perverted magick.
And this is just the beginning.
Ivy soon learns that everything from her father’s illness to her relationships with Rafferdy and Quent are part of a much larger plot. Secret orders, witches, and magicians; highway men, revolutionary schemes and old enchantments are all part of the story as Ivy desperately tries to protect not only her family, but the entirety of Altania from an unyielding darkness that threatens to overtake them all.
From the very first line of this book, I was completely enchanted by The Magicians and Mrs. Quent. As Orson Scott Card says in his review, Galen Beckett takes on a tall order with Mrs. Quent, attempting to write in the styles of Jane Austen AND Charlotte Bronte, all in a fantasy novel no less. And yet, somehow Beckett not only pulls off this literary homage; he also writes a damn fine speculative fiction novel in its own right.
The Magicians and Mrs. Quent is split into three books. The first seems to be the one most (I’m assuming predominantly male) readers have the hardest time with. Arguably the slowest moving and least fantasy-driven parts of the novel, I still found the beginning to be captivating and excellent. This is Mr. Beckett’s take on Jane Austen, blending two of her most famous works to his own will. Ivy’s situation with her family and her cousin’s inheritance of their family home has Pride and Prejudice written all over it, and Ivy’s sensible refusal to believe in the feelings she and Mr. Rafferdy share because of the great chasm between their stations (combined with her more willful and impulsive youngest sister Lily who loves playing morose songs on the pianoforte) smacks of Sense and Sensibility. It is in this book that the main characters are introduced and established in true Austen-fashion. Mr. Beckett’s prose is undeniably brilliant, if not completely capturing Ms. Austen’s wit and sparkle he at least comes very close, examining the pettiness of high society, the lack of power that comes from lack of fortune (not only for the Lockwoods but also for the unfortunate Eldyn Garritt), and framing a sweet if sadly impossible love story between Ivy and Rafferdy.
Then comes the second book – where I was the most wary, as I am not a huge fan of the Brooding McBroodypants Brontes. At all. I intensely dislike Emily’s Heathcliff of Wuthering Heights, and will never like Charlotte’s Jane Eyre for all that it is a feminist work with a willful, strong heroine. Book 2 of Mrs. Quent shifts location as Ivy is transported to the rugged countryside manor at Heathcrest, where she plays governess to two frightened, troublemaking youngsters who claim to see ghosts. Mr. Quent is very much Charlotte Bronte’s Mr. Rochester – a brooding, Bryonic sort of character, tortured by his past and so absorbed in his current employment that takes him from Heathcrest at all hours of the night. In this portion of the novel, the book shifts from the playful regency to the darker gothic romance; even the mode of storytelling changes, from the third person to Ivy’s first person perspective, narrated through letters to her father.
The third book is where it all comes together – I’m talking magical battles, romantic entanglements, and nefarious schemes revealed. If books 1 & 2 were Mr. Beckett’s homage to two literary greats, book 3 is completely his own, and where Beckett shines as an author with his own emerging voice. The fantasy here is superb, the plotting undeniably riveting – I finished this book positively itching for more. While the homage-pastiche of Austen and Bronte is fantastic, the greatest strength of Mrs. Quent lies in its strong characterizations. Ivy, Rafferdy and Garritt are the three protagonists of this piece as the story follows these characters in their separate endeavors and all three are beautifully developed, likable characters and I fell in love with each of them – Ivy’s spirit and strength, Rafferdy’s charm, and Garritt’s desire to do the right thing. Even the secondary and tertiary characters are imbued with life and color, from Mr. Quent to Ivy’s unfortunate father, to even the snootier members of the ton.
And I haven’t even begun to talk about the fantasy aspect of the novel! Altania is in a terribly precarious political position – loyalists to the king rally against the uprising revolutionaries who are fueled by darker magicks, with Ivy, Rafferdy and Garritt caught in the middle as pawns to the game. As it turns out, Ivy’s father lost his mind for reasons not unrelated to the growing darkness in Altania, and a mysterious riddle left by her father has Ivy hurriedly grasping for answers before it is too late. The shady men in top hats always peering in at her family are waiting to tear apart their home on Durrow Street and unleash an even greater darkness on the land. There is an impressive amount of effort put into the worldbuilding of this novel, with historical texts, monarchs, even the very concept of “luminals” and “umbrals” (the ever changing lengths of day and night) is fascinating.
Suffice to say that the overall plot is fantastic and the fantasy element, while not exactly groundbreaking, is richly detailed and flawlessly executed.
I adored this book. Yes, there were some pacing problems, and yes there is a huge reliance on Austen and Bronte, even Dickens, Rowling and a little Tolkien. But I love, or at least respect, all of these authors and seeing this hybrid of these seemingly disparate parts, united with Beckett’s unique storytelling ability was a wholly winsome reading experience.
I can safely say this is one of my favorite reads of the year, and I highly recommend it to everyone. For the romantics, there is an undeniably gut-wrenching love story; for the fantasy fan, there is superb world-building & plotting; for the literary buff, there is an awesome homage to two truly great female authors. Read it. NOW.
Notable Quotes/Parts: From the first chapter:
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.
So often was she observed engaged in this activity that, while the practice was unusual–and therefore not altogether admirable–people had become accustomed to it. On almost any fine day she might be seen striding past the brick houses that stood along the street as upright as magistrates, a volume in her hands and her attention absorbed by the pages before her. No one bothered to wave or call out in greeting as she passed; they had learned long ago there was no point in it when she had a book with her.
And Miss Lockwell always had some book about her, be it small or large or thin or fat, with gilt-edged pages or a cracked leather cover or letters writ in gold down the spine. When they saw her coming, people stepped out of her path. Or, if the charitable thought occurred, positioned themselves in front of loose cobbles, lampposts, or other hazards so she would be forced to go around them, which she did without breaking her stride. Or taking her eyes off her book.
For many years the Lockwells had dwelled at a solid, respectable address in Gauldren’s Heights, which was itself a solid, respectable district in the Grand City of Invarel: home to lawyers, well-to-do tradesmen, and those members of the gentry who could not afford to live along the more fashionable lanes of the New Quarter (or who had not yet pauperized themselves attempting to do so). Their house was not far Uphill, of course; the Lockwell fortune was too small for that. But neither was it too far Downhill; the Lockwell name was too old for that.
The house was tall, if not particularly wide, with four floors and a gabled attic, and it had a pleasing if somewhat old-fashioned aspect when viewed off the street, from which it was desirably removed by a small gated yard. Something was always blooming in the gardens that comprised the yard, and wisteria coiled around the bars of the fence, so that one walking past was always greeted by a fulsome array of colors and scents.
If the Lockwells themselves were not quite as respectable as the address at which they lived, they were all the same charitably regarded by their neighbors. All three of the sisters had grown into beauties (though the eldest Miss Lockwell was considered to be the prettiest). And the people of Whitward Street could have only respect for Mrs. Lockwell, who had been forced to do for her daughters with so little assistance, as Mr. Lockwell had long been confined to the house by illness.
That the Lockwells never threw parties or gave dinners had to be allowed, given Mr. Lockwell’s condition. And if the three Miss Lockwells never attended masques or went for tours about the city in a four-in-hand, leaning out the windows of the carriage and waving their fans at young gentlemen, then Mrs. Lockwell should only be commended for not favoring fashion over finance. Considering their lack of fortune, her daughters would have to marry for security, not attachment, and would do well to take whatever they might get, no matter how old or how dull.
Less easy for the good people of Whitward Street to excuse were the muffled sounds that might be heard from the street at odd hours or the flickering lights that could sometimes be seen in one of the upper windows. But it was rumored Mr. Lockwell had been something of a magician once, so perhaps such things were only to be expected. And if from time to time, in the lingering twilight before a greatnight, a pair of men arrived at the front gate, dressed in dark hats and dark capes, then the neighbors never made mention of it, for Mrs. Lockwell always turned the strangers away.
Besides, such occurrences had become less frequent over time and had not happened at all in recent years. What was more, after a long period of being held in low regard, the study of magick was coming into fashion again, particularly among the sons of lords; and if the magnates aspired to a thing, it would not be long before the lesser classes followed suit.
All the same, there was something peculiar about the house on Whitward Street, just as there was something peculiar about the bookish habits of the eldest Miss Lockwell. Thus, while people regarded both of them well enough, people also tended to leave well enough alone.
Check out a full excerpt HERE.
Additional Thoughts: For those still afraid to take the plunge and buy the hardcover (I feel your pain), if you can hold out until November The Magicians and Mrs. Quent will be released in Mass Market Paperback. You can pre-order your copy via Amazon HERE.
Verdict: The Magicians and Mrs. Quent is s stunner of a debut novel, and one of the most engaging, well-rounded books I have read in a very long time. Simply put, this is a beautiful literary patchwork quilt, combining the humor of Jane Austen, the strength of Charlotte Bronte, and a unique fantasy voice that is entirely Galen Beckett’s own. One of the best books I have had the pleasure of reading this year, and I cannot wait for the forthcoming sequel.
Rating: 9 Damn Near Perfection – Missing a 10 only because for all that I loved Mr. Beckett’s literary gumbo, I want to see what the author can do completely on his own – which I am certain will happen in book 2, The House on Durrow Street.
Reading Next: Magic Strikes by Ilona Andrews