books

Patricia C. Wrede

Books:

A Matter of Magic (2010): Mairelon the Magician (1991) and The Magician’s Ward (1997)

Sorcery & Cecelia -OR- The Enchanted Chocolate Pot (1988), The Grand Tour (2004), The Mislaid Magician or Ten Years After (2006) (with Carol Stevermer)

Frontier Magic: Thirteenth Child (2009), Across the Great Barrier (2011), The Far West (2012)

Anthologies: Black Thorn, White Rose: A Modern Book of Adult Fairytales (1994)

 

 

A Matter of Magic (2010): Mairelon the Magician (1991) and The Magician’s Ward (1997)

A-Matter-of-MagicKim is almost too old to pass for a boy, which means that when she is offered a significant sum of money simply to break into a magician’s wagon to see if a silver bowl is kept there, she takes the job, even though she has been trying to leave thieving behind since her mentor was hung.

Unfortunately for her, instead of just slight of hand, Mairelon is an actual magician (or frog-maker in the street cant) and he catches Kim in his wagon. But instead of hauling her off to the runners, he asks her what she was doing, and offers to let her travel with him if she’ll tell tell the toff who hired her the bowl was nowhere in the cart. Thus Kim begins to learn slight of hand, proper speech, how to read, and finally that she might just be in over her head when it comes to dealing with magicians.

These two books were just the romp I needed to take my mind off things while I sat in the hospital with my grandmother. An historical romance with magic and mystery–just what I needed.

One of the things I liked was Kim’s progression and education through the series. As she spends time with Mairelon he teaches her to speak properly, yet she regresses to her thieves cant when under stress, and you can almost hear how no matter how hard she tries, she’ll always sound like she came from the streets. I like that’s she’s smart, but she’s not such a prodigy that she leaves her past completely behind. It’s a fine line–showing how she’s improved and educated herself, without losing the heart of who she is.

The romance doesn’t come until the second book, but it’s very well done, as Kim is presented to society (as is her right as a magician) and has to deal with the prejudice against her background and history. And of course the mystery.

If you’re looking for a lovely romp and escape, this is the prefect book for young adults or regular adults.
Rating: 8.5/10

Re-Read: October 2015

This is a reissue of two lovely YA novels, Mairelon the Magician and The Magician’s Ward.

Kim is a thief in London, who hopes that this job will help her get off the streets for good–before those around her discover that she’s not the boy she’s been pretending to be for years (near starvation is good for helping that).

She was cold, tired, and very hungry, but she did not mention it. She was, after all, used to being cold, tired, and hungry,

It’s a fun story, with a bit of romance in the second book, and plenty of mystery.

But what I like best is Kim’s attitude and her utter failure to treat Mairelon with much in the way of fear–or even respect.

“Don’t fret,” he breathed into her ear, his lips barely moving. “Sorry, Kim,” he added in a louder tone as he straightened and resumed his seat.

Kim forgot her worries long enough to glare at him. “Don’t fret” was probably his idea of a reassuring message, but he couldn’t have picked a more ridiculous thing to say if he’d thought about it since the day they met.

One of the things I particularly love about historical fantasy is that it can take the bits it likes about historical periods, but doesn’t have to worry much about the more problematic parts of that history. So one doesn’t have to worry whether it’s accurate or not, because it doesn’t matter. History never happened like that.

I really like these books, and highly recommend them if you want something fun and light-hearted.
Rating: 8.5/10

Published by Orb Books

Re-Read: July 2016

Kim has been living on the streets, hiding the fact she’s a girl, and living by her wits as best she can. When she is offered a small fortune to check out the wagon of a traveling magician, the possibility of having enough to get her off the streets is more she can resist.

But it turns out the Mairelon is more than a performer–he’s a true magician, and Kim is in for entirely more than she could even imagine.

(T)hey’re mixing magic at random, from the sound of it. Half of it’s Welsh, half of it’s Scottish, and half of it’s cribbed from someone’s classical education, with a few things that are entirely out of someone’s imagination thrown in for good measure. They’ll never get anywhere if that’s the tack they’re taking.”

“That’s too many halves,” Kim said, frowning.

“It’s not a matter of how people are, Kim; it has to do with how they ought to be.”

But Mairelon is right, thought Kim as she followed them out to the carriage. It is a costume, and I am only playing a part, the same way I played the part of a boy for so long. The thought was depressing; it made her wonder whether she would have to play at being something other than what she was for all her life.

This is a lovely story (well, two stories, really) that is recommended for any age. It’s a delightful escape.
Rating: 10/10

Published by Orb

 

Frontier Magic

 

Thirteenth Child (2009)

Thirteenth-ChildI discovered Patricia C. Wrede’s writing when I couldn’t resist the title, Sorcery & Cecelia -OR- The Enchanted Chocolate Pot. I also read and enjoyed A Matter of Magic. Both are alternate histories where magic is an integral part of the world, however, in Thirteenth Child they live in the new world this is similar to–but not the same as–the United States.

Eff is a twin. Her brother Lan is the seventh son of a seventh son and so magically gifted, but Eff is the thirteenth child, and much of her extended family has decided that she is at the least bad luck, but most likely she’ll turn out evil, which is a hard burden for any child to bear. After a particularly egregious incident, Eff’s parents decided to move to the Frontier, taking all their younger children with them, so both Lan and Eff can escape the constant presence of their place in the family and what it may or may not lead them to be.

The world building is particularly fascinating. “Historical” events are familiar enough that you can recognize them from American history, but yet different, because of magic that exists in the world.

It helps that the story begins when Eff is quite young. That makes the world building slightly easier, as (to some degree) we learn about the world as Eff and Lan do. There is still much about the world that is sometimes unclear and hard to understand, but it doesn’t do much in the way of harm to the story.

I also like that instead of Luddites, there are Rationalists, who refuse to use magic, even against magical creatures.

The ending makes it quite clear that there will be another book. And although all the main story arcs are completed, I didn’t particularly love the way the story ended. It wasn’t a huge thing, but it felt a little abrupt and a lot a tease for the next book coming.

Because of Eff’s place in the family, and the fears instilled in her about being the thirteenth child, she does frequently feel sorry for herself, and is quite often an outsider, however, the fact she does have friends and is not completely isolated saves both her and the story.

I look forward to reading the next book in the series.
Rating: 7/10

Published by Scholastic

Re-Read: March 2016

Eff’s twin brother Lan is a seventh son of a seventh son, and a natural magician.

“Wow,” Dick said, looking after Papa and Lan. He looked back at me. “Does that mean you’re a natural, too? Because you’re his twin?”

I stared at him. “I don’t know,” I said after a minute. “Nobody’s ever said.”

“Maybe they don’t know,” Dick said, looking back toward the dwindling crowd. “They like to pretend they know everything there is to know about magic, but they don’t really, or why would they always be talking about research?”

But Eff is a thirteenth child, and for the first several years of her life was not just picked on by her cousins, but told by some of her aunts and uncles that she should have been drowned at birth (hence, the attitude of some of her cousins), but things change for her when the family moves out West, just to the east of the Great Barrier, at the edge of civilized lands, beyond which are wild and dangerous creatures, both magical and mundane.

“I heard there are great beasts, the size of a house, that can stamp you flat as paper!” Cousin Bernie said.

“Those are mammoths,” Robbie told him. He’d been doing extra reading on the North Plains ever since he found out we’d be living there, and he enjoyed showing off his new knowledge to the rest of us. “They used to be all over North Columbia, but when the first settlers came from the Old Continent, they killed all the ones in the East.

This is an alternate history, set just after the end of the Succession War (Civil War). Civilization has stretched west across North Columbia (north America) to the Mammoth (Mississippi) river, where the Great Barrier spell, created by Franklin and Jefferson, keeps the most dangerous magical creatures from crossing east (and the river itself keeps the non-magical creatures out).

There was slavery prior to the Succession War, but there are no Native Americans. Apparently some people have complained about this, but considering how danger Columbia is, it seems likely that humans would have had a difficult time surviving without strong magics. Considering how much world building there is, I think this was a reasonable choice to make.

And the world building is marvelous. Everything is based upon our world, but without a grounding in history, you might not recognize all the parallels at first.

Of course, for kids, even though there is magic, some things never change.

“Time and practice, time and practice,” Alexei grumbled. “Isn’t there anything magical we can just do?”

“Sure,” Kristen said. “You can mess up.”

(W)hen things did go wrong it could be pretty spectacular. Once when a spell went wrong, it punched a hole the shape of a duck in every pane of glass in every west-facing window in every building for three blocks around the magic lab, in spite of all the shields and mufflers they had up.

I really love this book, and this series.
Rating: 9/10

Published by Scholastic Paperbacks

Across the Great Barrier (2011)

Across-the-Great-BarrierThe sequel to Thirteenth Child, Across the Great Barrier continues the story of Eff Rothmer. Her twin brother is a seventh son of a seventh son, and a strong magician, but Eff–the old of the two–is the thirteenth child, and she grew up believing she was fated to be unlucky (a belief that was helped along by some of her extended family).

But Eff is now finally starting to come into her own–she is slowly accepting that she is not cursed, and that she can do magic without ill happening. She misses Lan, who is back east studying magic, but is discovering who she is, and is bound to make her own way, rather than allow anyone to tell her what to do.

If the first book was Eff learning that she wasn’t jinxed and unlucky, this book was about Eff learning to use her magic and become her own woman.

As it’s the title of the book, it’s unsurprising that Eff goes across the Great Barrier into the West, where magical creatures remain a threat. Her expedition is with one of the professors, who wants to study the effect that the Mirror Bugs had upon the land.

I find myself fascinated by this alternate history, and how the existence of magic in the New World would have affected settlement. I also like how there are some parallels to our past, but others are significantly different (FREX, we have Franklin and Jefferson, but no Lincoln).

And of course there is Eff herself. Her understanding of her own magic is slow, but it is something she does herself, without help, which makes that understanding all the better when she achieves it.

This is an absolutely lovely trilogy, and I already purchased the third (and I believe final) book to read.
Rating: 8.5/10

Published by Scholastic Press

Re-Read: March 2016

The sequel to Thirteenth Child finds Eff coming to terms with her magic, and slowly discovering her dream–to travel the West, beyond the Great Barrier, studying the wildlife in that untamed area.

Luckily for her, the events of the previous book have given her some leeway as to her future, and the ability to work at the College menagerie.

“I think we’ve been taking the wrong tack,” Professor Jeffries said. “He doesn’t need calming down; he needs exercise.”

“Ride him North and feed him to an ice dragon,” Professor Torgeson suggested. She had strong opinions about wildlife, most of them unfavorable.

“An ice dragon would eat the rider first,” Professor Jeffries said absently.

Lan has gone East to study, as has William (the first friend Eff and Lan made when they moved West) so Eff is a bit at loose ends, especially as she still hasn’t completely controlled her magic.
Rating: 8.5/10

Published by Scholastic

The Far West (2012)

The-Far-WestThis is the conclusion to the Frontier Magic Series, that started with Thirteenth Child.

Eff is a thirteenth child, a fact which plagued her when she was younger, because her aunts and uncles and cousins believed that she was unluckly. The fact that her twin is a seventh son of a seventh son means that her magic has always been overshadowed by his (even after she stopped fearing her magic.)

This is the book where Eff finally comes into her own. She is still learning to control her own magic, but because she is doing it on her own, and because she has learned the basics of different magical systems, she develops her own, unique view of how magic works and how she can manage it.

This was a wonderful conclusion to a very good series.

I liked very much how many of the elements are understated–as they would have been during that time, although the position of blacks and women in this parallel history is better than the position they held in real history. But this was a reasonable change, given the circumstances of the book.

One thing to be aware of–although there are elements of action, this isn’t a non-stop adventure book. It’s Eff’s story, so things develop slowly, at her pace. So if you go into this looking for non-stop action, you’re going to be disappointed. The story unfolds at Eff’s pace, and is well worth your patience.

But it is definitely a very good series, and I highly recommend it.
Rating: 8.5/10

Published by Scholastic Press

Re-Read: April 2016

The final book finds Eff grown up, but still unsure what to do with herself, even though she has come to terms with being a thirteenth child.

Sometimes I couldn’t help thinking that the unluckiest thing about being a thirteenth child was having all those older brothers and sisters telling me what to do.

She remains fascinated with the Far West, and wants to travel there more, but the dangers and the fears of her family make her unsure what she wants to do. But her friend William’s return helps, as he never saw her birth order as a liability.

“We’ll have to get together this week, so you can tell us all about it,” William said to me. “Letters just aren’t the same.”

“Your letters certainly aren’t,” I said, sticking my nose up in the air and pretending to be cross. “I sent you pages and pages about the trip Professor Torgeson and I took through the settlements last year, and I was lucky to get three sentences back.”

“They were very good sentences, though,” William said earnestly.

Although Eff is grown in this book, it is still a YA, so even if there is falling in love and talk or marriage, it remains acceptable for even younger teens.

I didn’t want to hurt Roger, but I had to admit that not wanting to hurt him was a terrible reason to marry a man.

Although the focus remains upon Eff, I still like Professor Torgeson.

“Bureaucrats!” Professor Torgeson said, like it was a really horrible swear word.

“This one is Stheno, and that’s Euryale.”

“I suppose there’s a certain symmetry in naming them after the three Gorgons,” Professor Torgeson said. “I presume the third one is Medusa?”

Professor Jeffries shook his head. “A medusa lizard named Medusa would be confusing, and in any case, the third one is male. So I’m calling him Fred.”

“Stheno, Euryale, and Fred.” Professor Torgeson sighed.

I really do love this series:
Rating: 8.5/10

Published by Scholastic

 

Sorcery & Cecelia -OR- The Enchanted Chocolate Pot (1988) with Caroline Stevermer

After putting down a book that looked promising but I found only annoying after the first several chapters, I picked up Sorcery & Cecelia, which I'd put on my wish list because I thought it looked interesting. I thought that I'd just read a couple of chapters before going to sleep, however at midnight I found myself thinking, "just one more chapter and then I'll go to sleep" until I'd read half the book.

Sorcery & Cecelia -OR- The Enchanted Chocolate Pot is set in Victorian England and is told as a series of letters between Kate and Cecelia. Kate has gone to London for her first Season, while Cecelia remains in Essex. The twist is that this England is a place where magic is commonplace, and the two girls become involved in a magical plot, which makes Kate's coming out unusually exciting.

First and foremost, this book is a lot of fun to read. It's a relatively quick read, it's quite lighthearted (no angsty teens here), and the story is fascinating. Which is why I had trouble putting the book down to go to sleep.

Although some things were expected--this is a book about teenage girls, after all, there must be some romance--there was plenty that was unexpected. I also liked the fact that the story was told from the point of view of only two characters, so things were happening elsewhere, however we can only assume how they are resolved, because we know no more than the letter writers. Thus the story leaves much for us to figure out and guess on our own.

And did I mention that the story is simply a lot of fun to read?

The only problem I had was with the cover--for the most part I liked the cover, except that the face of the two girls are too old. Everything else is perfect, but it looks like the faces of two women on the body of two teens, although I can't quite place my finger on what precisely it is that makes me feel that way. The rest of the cover, however, I really liked, from the handwriting that overlays the lower portion of the cover, to the blue chocolate pot in the corner.

Additionally, although there is a sequel, this story is complete in and of itself, so if you're looking for a single book to read, this is a good place to sit down and curl up.
Rating: 9/10

Re-Read: January 2015

I had somehow managed to forget how marvelous this story is.

Kate and Cecy are two young ladies in Edwardian England–where there is magic. Kate has been sent to London for her Coming Out during the Season, while her cousin Cecelia remains at home.

When Kate attends the investiture of Sir Hilary in the College of Magicians, she stumbles into a strange garden where she is captured by a strange woman, but manages to escape. (Because both Cecy and Kate *do* rescue themselves.)

And they are also great fun.

Cecy, you know I can tell falsehoods . No matter who looks at me, for how long, I can tell bouncers so enormous even Aunt Charlotte does not think to question them.

The language is marvelous, and although the letters don’t precisely sound as if they were written by two teenagers, they are marvelous all the same.

This is an utterly marvelous story, and suitable for younger teens as well as adults.
Rating: 10/10

Published by Open Road Media Teen & Tween

The Grand Tour (2004) with Caroline Stevermer

If you've already read Sorcery and Cecelia, then you'll need little or no encouragement to pick up The Grand Tour. Cousins Kate and Cecelia are taking the grand tour of Europe on their honeymoons. Within almost no time, they are caught up in intrigue involving ancient magical artifacts, and a secret group that was active during Napoleon's reign as Emperor of France.

In their free moments, Cecelia practices her magic, while Kate adjusts to becoming Lady Schofield. The book is taken from Kate's commonplace book (diary) and Cecelia's deposition, so like the first book, the story is told as the written accounts of Kate and Cecelia.

Like Sorcery and Cecelia, this book is probably not for everyone. The main characters are two young women, just married, on their honeymoon trips. So there's shopping, and dressmaking, and talk of gloves, and Society. But there is also magic and danger, as the two couples unravel the mystery of missing ancient artifacts.

This book, although good, wasn't quite as fun as Sorcery and Cecelia. Although it was fun to see the cousins together, and the trouble they could cause together, as opposed to separately, something about this book just wasn't quite as sharp, quite as fun, as the first book.

Additionally, for the first several chapters, I had difficulty keeping Thomas and James straight. Kate and Cecilia were easy to tell apart, but at times Thomas and James seemed almost interchangeable, and I kept forgetting who was married to whom.

But it was still a good book. Kate and Cecelia are enjoyable characters, and they are good at using their wits to get themselves out of situations, so it's a nice change from the hack and slash I've been reading a good deal of recently.

And again, another excellent cover. The layout is reminiscent of the paperback version of Sorcery and Cecelia, however, the two women on the front look of a more appropriate age this time.

Additionally, the honeymoon portion of this book is extremely understated, so the story is appropriate for any child brave enough to pick up an inch and a half thick book.

If you have not read Sorcery and Cecelia, you should be able to read this book without difficulty. Events of importance are mentioned and explained. However, Sorcery and Cecelia is, in my opinion, the better book, so you might want to start there, and then read The Grand Tour as a fix for needing more proper Victorian fantasy.
Rating: 7/10

Re-Read: January 2015

We last saw our heroines married and getting ready to start their Honeymoon Grand Tour, or travel across Europe, which begins with the trip across the Channel.

“Don’t fret,” Thomas told him, in what I thought was a most unfeeling tone. “Nobody ever dies of seasickness ; they only wish they would.”

Ceci’s father has of course given them lots of ancient ruins and monuments to see while they are on their tour.

Ask C. to check Uncle’s handwriting before I write home with description. He would be upset if I got name wrong and Minerva Anthrax seems most unlikely.

Almost as soon as they land in France, strange incidents seem to occur, which draw the two couples (and the dowager Lady) into intrigue and mystery.

Though they do also get to see plenty of antiquities.

I had never before seen quite so many entirely unsuitable antiquities in one place. Their existence in such numbers gives one a very odd impression of the ancients, if one stops to think.

Because the cousins are together, they obviously can’t write letters back and forth, so instead we have parts of Cecelia’s deposition to the Ministry of Magic, War Office, and Foreign Office and entries from Kate’s commonplace book (i.e. journal).

It’s not quite the same feel as the letters, but it’s still a fun romp.
Rating: 7/10

Published by Open Road Media Teen & Tween

The Mislaid Magician or Ten Years After (2006) with Caroline Stevermer

Kate and Cecy are once again embroiled in magical mysteries.

James is called to investigate the disappearance of a magician who was inspecting the rail lines up north. Thomas and Kate thus get to care for James and Cecy’s brood, and soon have their own adventures (of course).

As with the first book, the story is told in letters between Kate and Cecy as well as the occasional letter between James and Thomas. And as with the first book, I love the way the story unfolds.

If you have read the first two books, you’ll enjoy this one. You should also be able to read Ten Years after without having read the first two books, but I don’t know why you’d want to.
Rating: 8/10

Published by Graphia

Re-Read: January 2015

The third Cecelia and Kate book comes ten years after their Grand Tour. Both have offspring that seem to get into as much trouble as their mothers did when they were younger, and some of the children seem to be showing an early aptitude for magic.

In a change from the first two books, we now have not just the correspondence between Ceci and Kate, but also between James and Thomas.

In this story, James and Ceci are sent off by the Duke of Wellington to search for a missing magician–one who was sent to look into the newfangled steam engine trains, while Kate and Thomas watch their children.

(A)fter the first half dozen, one child more or less makes little difference to the general chaos, disorder, and stickiness of life.

And Georgy has taken up residence with Kate and Thomas as well, hiding from what, she won’t say, but she hasn’t changed any in ten years.

P.P.S. Georgy is composing a letter of apology to you and James. She (belatedly but sincerely) regrets exposing your children to risk. From the amount of time she devotes to this missive, I fear it will be extremely long. It may even be in verse. I thought you should be warned. —K.

It’s another fun story, though I am not sure how much I benefited by reading the three books one after the other. They were a lovely escape, but they didn’t necessarily have the same draw, read one right after the other.

Additionally, I had a terrible time keeping Kate and Ceci’s kids straight, and could not keep track of their ages. Considering how frequently the children are mentioned, a cast of characters would have been helpful.
Rating: 7/10

Published by Open Road Media Teen & Tween

 

Anthologies

 

Black Thorn, White Rose: A Modern Book of Adult Fairytales (1994) edited by Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling

There were several of these collections in the 90s–and I had the first two if I remember correctly.

These are fairy tales retold–some with a change in the point of view, some retold in a modern setting, and some hewing only rather loosely the tales upon which they were based.

Words Like Pale Stones - Nancy Kress
Stronger than Time - Patricia C. Wrede
Somnus's Fair Maid - Ann Elizaneth Downer
The Frong King, or Iron Henry - Daniel Quinn
Near-Beauty - M.E. Beckett
Ogre - Michael Kandel
Can't Catch Me - Michael Cadnum
Journeybread Recipe - Lawrence Schimel
The Brown Bear of Norway - Isabel Cole
The Goose Girl - Tim Wynne-Jones
Tattercoars - Midori Snyder
Granny Rumple - Jane Yolen
The Sawing Boys - Howard Waldorp
Godson - Roger Zelazny
Ashputtle - Peter Straub
Silver and Gold - Ellen Steiber
Sweet Bruising Skin - Storm Constantine
The Black Swan - Susan Wade

I think my favorite story in the collection may be Roger Zelazny’s “Godson” which retells a tale that’s not particularly common, but one of my favorites. A boy has Death for his Godfather, and his godfather gives him gifts to use–with some stipulations. I very much like the twists that were put upon this story–especially the bicycle.

Another story I particularly liked was Jane Yolen’s “Granny Rumple”, though I’m not sure that like or enjoy are the proper terms for a story that’s a retelling of Rumplestilskin–told from the point-of-view of the widow of the man who helped the foolish girl.

“The Sawing Boys” by Howard Waldrop was another I particularly liked, primarily for the use of Prohibition Era slang. Well, that and the fact it just plain made me laugh.

So here we are walking down this (pardon the expression) road and we are looking for a phone and a mechanically inclined individual, and we are not having such a hot time of it.

Please note that these are adult fairy tales. They are in the most part true to the original tales, but most adults would find those inappropriate for children.
Rating: 7/10

Published by Wildside Press

 

Patricia C. Wrede's website