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Omnibus, 448 pages
Published June 8th 2010 by Orb Books
As much as I love my Jane, I sometimes hit a wall when I prepare for events like this. I find myself in Jane-Overload, and I have to do something un-Janeified and irresponsible, that in no way helps me with the event, just to sort of shake it off. This time, I reached for a book I'd been wanting to read, A Matter of Magic (that cover), only to find that I wasn't quite escaping Janeification - the book is set in Regency England... ha! So I figured I'd just embrace it, and even share it with you guys, in case you find yourself in want of something not-quite Janey, but slightly Jane-like.
(ie This review has nothing whatsoever to do with Jane Austen, and is thrown in here on the flimsiest of excuses. Enjoy!)
I'm going to make it a quick mini-review, and just separate this into 2 basic pros and 2 basic cons, because I feel the book sort of did that naturally.
- I really love Wrede's characters. She never fails to make me connect or draw me in to her worlds, which is why I found myself craving this book. I really couldn't help but love Kim, Mairelon, and even Hunch. She just nails character dynamics and interactions. And Kim is a character to root for. The reader has no trouble understanding her motivations or wanting her to come out on top, and you just can't help but love her. (And Mairelon.) I can't wait to see where the two of them go and how they play off of each other in The Magician's Ward.
- Wrede's world-building is always a cut above, even in a very quick MG/young-YA novel like this. The reader is always plunged right in, which I enjoy, but Wrede still manages to make the world understandable. Real magic versus stage magic, London's seedy underbelly versus the seedy underbelly of uppercrusty manor homes - they play really nicely off of each other, and I couldn't help but get sucked in.
- The slang. Oh, the slang. It's always such a tricky one, because the way characters talk can give a really good sense of place, time, and even character itself. In this case, it separates the lower classes and upper classes pretty effectively, and pulls together Kim's not-quite-on-the-level world with sort of "thief's jargon" -- so I liked this in the beginning. And then it went on. And it just became way too much. Fortunately, Mairelon strives to teach Kim how to blend in, which means teaching her how to talk like anything other than a London street urchin, but it still popped up too frequently, the same words over and over, and sort of drove me nuts.
- The ending. ie SCOOBY-DOO ALL THE THINGS. Those of you who read my reviews may see the term "Scooby Doo" pop up on occasion. It's something akin to the "villain monolgue" - basically, it's like those scenes in Scooby Doo where the gang corners the bad guy, who then proceeds to spill his/her guts in very minute detail (and I would have gotten away with it if it weren't for those meddling kids, etc., etc.) There is a scene at the end of the book (a very long scene) where I swear, EVERY SINGLE CHARACTER except maybe some scullery maids ends up in a room together (I'm not even sure how the room holds them all), and they ALL proceed to give their clunky narratives to reveal their part in what swiftly devolves into a Benny Hill sketch. It's ridiculous. It's a way to wrap up the book and handle this huge cast of characters swiftly, and I felt so let down by it.
Now, those cons would not keep me from recommending this book. For the majority of the book, it's very enjoyable - but use those cons to adjust your expectations, especially if you are a fan of Wrede's and know how she usually nails it.
Also, for those that want another Regency Read-alike that may fit the Jane-bill a bit better, I'd strongly suggest another of Wrede's books, Sorcery and Cecilia: same great light-hearted fun and magic, but with a decidedly strong Jane feel, and a great Darcy and Elizabeth-style romance to boot!