8 Rated Books Book Reviews

Book Review: Kat, Incorrigible by Stephanie Burgis

Title: Kat, Incorrigible (US) / A Most Improper Magick (UK)

Author: Stephanie Burgis

Genre: Historical, Fantasy/Speculative Fiction, Middle Grade

Publisher: Atheneum (US) / Templar (UK)
Publication Date: April 2011 (US) / August 2010 (UK)
Hardcover: 304 Pages (US)

Twelve-year-old Katherine Ann Stephenson has just discovered that she’s inherited her late mother’s magical talents, and despite Stepmama’s stern objections, she’s determined to learn how to use them. But with her eldest sister Elissa’s intended fiancÉ, the sinister Sir Neville, showing a dangerous interest in Kat’s magical potential; her other sister, Angeline, wreaking romantic havoc with her own witchcraft; and a highwayman lurking in the forest, Kat’s reckless heroism will be tested to the utmost. If she can learn to control her new powers, will Kat be able to rescue her family and win her sisters their true loves?

In this charming blend of Jane Austen–era culture, magical whimsy, and rollicking adventure, readers will find a true friend in the refreshingly unladylike Kat Stephenson.

Stand alone or series: The first book in the Unladylike Adventures of Kat Stephenson series

How did I get this book: Review Copy from the Author

Why did I read this book: When the author contacted us about reviewing her Kat Stephenson books, I could not believe that I hadn’t heard of these earlier (well, Ana had, but I hadn’t). From the fantastic titles, the adorable covers, and the even more compelling first line of the first book, I was hooked. How could I refuse the story of a twelve year old troublemaker with a penchant for magic and a desire to save her sisters?


I was twelve years of age when I chopped off my hair, dressed as a boy and set off to save my family from impending ruin.

With those charming, devilish words, young Katherine Ann Stephenson (Kat, for short) begins her unladylike adventures, fueled by the best of intentions. Kat doesn’t quite accomplish her goal of saving her family on this fated evening (she only gets so far as the garden before her two older sisters sound the alarm and bring her home), but she does by the end of Kat, Incorrigible – rescuing her sisters from their own follies, landing them the loves of their lives, and discovering her own magical talents, besides.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, the Danger:

Part the First, the Danger facing Kat and her Sisters

Kat is the youngest of four siblings, with a scattered but loving father, and a stern, imposing stepmama. Elissa, the eldest of the girls, is angelically beautiful and the very image of upperclass propriety. Angeline, Kat’s elder by 5 years, is also beautiful, but far more devious (and, as slightly older sisters are wont to be, very bossy, especially when it comes to Kat). Then, there’s Kat – our determined and stubborn heroine, with a penchant for causing messes and getting into unladylike scrapes.

The family is facing danger because of Kat’s older brother, Charles, who has been sent down from Oxford on account of his rubbish grades, and has dashed the family’s meager fortune with his gambling debts. In order to save the Stephenson prospects, Elissa is to be married to some rich old buffoon – which Kat simply cannot allow. Things take a turn for the worse when Kat, her stepmama and her sisters are invited to a country party, and the man that takes an interest in Elissa has, according to all society’s gossip, been implicated in his first wife’s untimely death.

But there’s more – magic and mischief, namely – afoot:

Part the Second, or the Problem of Witchcraft and Secret Orders

Unlike her older siblings, Kat has no memory of her mother whatsoever. What Kat does know – as does the rest of high society – is that her mother was a witch, who exposed her powers at a very inopportune time. Needless to say, the wife of a clergyman being unmasked as a witch does not do much for the Stephenson reputation in early 19th century British society. Shortly after that debacle, Kat’s mother died, leaving a husband and four children in her wake. When Kat’s father remarried, any object related to Kat’s mama’s presence was locked away, and any mention of magic or witchery taboo in the Stephenson home.

That is, until Kat discovers that her sister Angeline has stolen their mother’s diaries, containing all of her spells. Angeline has been practicing magic with some untoward results (in the form of a love spell gone terribly wrong) – but the worst of it is when Kat learns that there is a distinction between witchcraft and other types of magic. Against all odds, Kat is the lone heir to her mother’s legacy as a Guardian and an inductee to this private order of high society magicians.

And it is up to Kat to save her sisters, her family, and the day.

Which finally leads me to:

Part the Third, or My Opinion Regarding the Incorrigible Kat

If you couldn’t tell, I absolutely loved Kat, Incorrigible. From the brashness of heroine Kat, to the relationship with her older sisters and stepmother, to the magic and overall story, I loved this book.

Of course, the success of Kat, Incorrigible rests entirely on the fortitude of young Kat’s shoulders; a burden that the feisty Kat bears brilliantly. Kat’s narration is by turns hilarious and insightful, and she has quickly become my favorite middle grade heroine of recent memory. I love that it is Kat, and not her older sisters, that saves the day and inherits the magical abilities of her mother; more than that, I love that the relationship between Kat and her sisters feels wholly genuine. There’s love there, but there’s also a copious amount of exasperation – for example, Kat is frequently frustrated with Elissa’s penchant for gothic novels and her apparent dedication to becoming a proper Tragic Gothic Heroine. Too, Kat bickers constantly with Angeline – who cannot possibly believe that Kat is the inheritess of any magical ability – and more often than not, Kat believably finds herself on the losing end of wars of words with her sisters and stepmother. Ultimately, though, there is love and grudging respect at the root of all Kat’s familial relationships. Even with her blustering stepmama (whom I hope to see much more of in the second book)!

Regarding the actual story, proper, with its magical mysteries and dramatic turns of event (including the involvement of a Highwayman, a new mentor, and nasty high society folk), Kat, Incorrigible also shines. While there is little groundbreaking in this novel, the cast of characters and Stephanie Burgis’ skillful storytelling more than compensate for a familiar setting and magic system. Plus, there are plenty of twists and ridiculous situations along the way to keep even the most jaded reader thoroughly entertained.

On one final note, I cannot finish this review without one final observation. While reading Kat, Incorrigible, I kept thinking that in today’s market, it seems many authors would have chosen to write the story from the perspective of one of the older sisters (which would then come with a romantic storyline, and so on and so forth) – personally, I love that this is a MG novel told from an intrepid 12 year old’s perspective, who has little interest in the silly dalliances of her older sisters. Of course, your mileage may vary – but for me, Kat takes the Victorian Magic thing to a new level of awesome.

Absolutely, wholeheartedly recommended – I cannot wait to dive into book 2, and embark on the next adventure with incorrigible heroine Kat.

Notable Quotes/Parts: From Chapter 1:

I was twelve years of age when I chopped off my hair, dressed as a boy and set off to save my family from impending ruin.

I made it almost to the end of my front garden.

“Katherine Ann Stephenson!” My oldest sister Elissa’s outraged voice pinned me like a dagger as she threw open her bedroom window. “What on earth do you think you’re doing?”

Curses. I froze, still holding my pack slung across my shoulder. I might be my family’s best chance of salvation, but there was no expecting either of my older sisters to understand that. If they’d trusted me in the first place, I wouldn’t have had to run away in the middle of the night, like a criminal.

The garden gate was only two feet ahead of me. If I hurried…

“I’m going to tell Papa!” Elissa hissed.

Behind her, I heard groggy, incoherent moans of outrage – my other sister, Angeline, waking up.

Elissa was the prissiest female ever to have been born. But Angeline was simply impossible. If they really did wake the whole household and Papa came after me in the gig…

I’d planned to walk to the closest coaching inn, six miles away, and catch the dawn stagecoach to London. If Papa caught up with me first, the sad, disappointed looks I’d have to endure from him for weeks afterwards would be unbearable. And the way Stepmama would gloat over my disgrace – the second of our mother’s children to be a disappointment to the family…

I gritted my teeth together as I turned and trudged back towards the vicarage.

Angeline’s voice floated lazily through the open window. “What were you shouting about?”

“I was not shouting!” Elissa snapped. “Ladies never shout.”

“You could have fooled me,” said Angeline. “I thought the house must have been burning down.”

I pushed the side door open just in time to hear my brother, Charles, bellow, “Would everyone be quiet? Some of us are trying to sleep!”

“What? What?” My father’s reedy voice sounded from his bedroom at the head of the stairs. “What’s going on out there?”

My stepmother’s voice overrode his. “For heaven’s sake, make them be quiet, George! It’s past midnight. You cannot let them constantly behave like hoydens. Be firm, for once!”

I groaned and closed the door behind me.

Like it or not, I was home.

You can read the full excerpt online HERE.

Rating: 8 – Excellent

Reading Next: The Dark Unwinding by Sharon Cameron

Buy the Book: (click on the links to purchase)

Ebook available for kindle US, kindle UK, nook, kobo, google, sony & apple


  • Brandy
    August 22, 2012 at 11:57 am

    Yes! I love these books, though I enjoyed the second one slightly more. I can not wait for the third to come out. I too like that Burgis chose to tell the story from Kat’s perspective. It sets them apart in so many wonderful ways. I have read them aloud to my 8 year old daughter (we are currently reading #2) and she loves Kat.

  • Andrea
    August 22, 2012 at 1:29 pm

    These sound like fun. 🙂

  • Sandy
    August 22, 2012 at 1:42 pm

    I also agree that Burgis deciding to tell this story through Kat’s perspective rather than one of her older sisters makes the story much more delightful! I haven’t read many middle grade books in a while but this one is a gem. 🙂

  • Ruby
    August 22, 2012 at 6:44 pm

    Uh oh. Despite being an elementary teacher, I don’t read much MG fiction. Actually, now I come to think of it, maybe that’s why I don’t read much middle grade fiction. But, between you and Small Review, you’ve convinced me to give this book a try. Maybe I’ll read it aloud to my class. They’re still to young to realize my English accent is atrocious.

  • John J.
    August 22, 2012 at 9:21 pm

    I just read this one a few months ago, and I felt the same way. Kat is such a cute, daring heroine that fights hard to be the one to save the day. Some parts of the story moved a bit slow for me (mostly the magical ones), but I loved the focus on the plotline and how each character and situation felt shiny and new despite none of them being new to the world of fiction. Burgis just does things so well. And, agreed, the lack of a romantic storyline because of Kat’s age was a major plus. 🙂 Can’t wait to see what you think of the second book.

  • Neile
    August 25, 2012 at 11:28 am

    I’m thrilled that you discovered this book and love it so much. I adore both this and its sequel, and have been surprised that they haven’t gotten more notice–they’re just so much fun.

    I confess I’ve been buying both the UK and the US editions, because the UK ones are coming out first and I can’t wait to read them, and the US ones because they’re in hardcover and have such great art.

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  • Iris
    August 29, 2012 at 12:11 am

    Yes, I read this too and I enjoyed it very much. I was glad Burgis chose to write from Kat’s perspective as a younger sister as well.

  • Eliza
    August 29, 2012 at 9:24 am

    fabulous! this sounds like a lot of fun, and it definitely getting added to the list. or possibly i will start it within minutes of submitting this comment.

    if i may gently nudge the enola holmes series by nancy springer onto your radar, i think you (or ana) might enjoy them. middle grade victorian mysteries with the much younger sister of sherlock holmes as the main character. i LOVED them, and i’d love to see what you guys would think about them!

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