The Cecelia and Kate books, set in an alternate-history Regency England where magic is commonplace, chronicle the lives of two cousins as they find love and foil a dastardly plot (Sorcery and Cecelia), travel the Continent while foiling an even more dastardly plot (The Grand Tour), and wrangle a number of children and dogs while foiling a slightly less dastardly plot (The Mislaid Magician).
I adore the first book in this series. It’s an epistolary delight. Wrede and Stevermer wrote the story via “The Letter Game,” passing the narrative reins back and forth as Cecy and Kate exchanged letters. (If you’re curious, Wrede wrote Cecelia’s sections and Stevermer wrote Kate’s.) While Kate makes her debut in London, Cecelia stays in the country, and so the book unfolds through their correspondence. In addition to a satisfying plot, there are plenty of charming details about shopping, fashion, social customs, and historical gossip. The romance is satisfying as well, and in the end, everything is tied up in a neat bow. It’s low-stakes reading, to be sure, and as with many modern-day stories set in the era, the cousins and their love interests are perhaps a little more progressive than is historically accurate.
The Grand Tour picks up right after the end of the first book. Cecy and Kate are married, and since their husbands were already good friends, the four of them (plus one formidable mother-in-law) set off for their wedding tour of Europe. Of course, there’s more to it than that–the Duke of Wellington himself has asked them to look into a series of suspicious thefts of ancient coronation regalia. Their quest takes them all across France and Italy, and again the historical details provide a lush backdrop. Instead of letters, the story is told through alternating excerpts from Kate’s diary and Cecelia’s deposition. There’s also a great deal of implied (but oh so genteel) boinking in this book. The characters are on their honeymoons, after all, but it does make it feel like a book intended for older audiences.
Sadly, The Mislaid Magician is the weakest of the trilogy. It could be because I have very little interest in babies, or it could be because there’s something inexpressibly sad about seeing the characters we met as bright-eyed girls ten years later, both settled into respectable marriages and the daily routines of domestic life. Cecy and Kate are happy, but there’s a sense of narrowed possibilities, of paths not taken and now forever lost. Maybe I’m just feeling maudlin because I’m older than these venerable matrons of 28. In any case, the book introduces letters between Thomas and James in addition to the correspondence from Cecy and Kate. This should have been an opportunity for cheeky humor or a bold new perspective; instead, the men mostly repeat what the women have written but in slightly different wording. There’s a plot in here somewhere–involving railways, ley lines, enchanted dogs, and a kidnapped princess–but it manages to fall flat.
I had a similar reaction to Wrede’s beloved Enchanted Forest Chronicles. Once the feisty and independent Princess Cimorene marries and becomes a mother in the final book of the quartet, she loses her spark. There’s an overall impression that once you are grown up, your adventures are over. Happily ever after is a pleasant way to end a story, but as a beginning it stinks.
Sorcery and Cecelia: 5 Stars
The Grand Tour: 4 Stars
The Mislaid Magician: 3 Stars (And that’s generous)
Emperor Cupcake’s Rating System Explained:
1 Star: This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.
2 Stars: Not great, Bob.
3 Stars: The emperor is pleased. You may live.
4 Stars: Ooh, shiny!
5 Stars: *Incoherent, high-pitched fan-girling*