Caroline Stevermer

Books: Fantasy | YA

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


Snow White, Blood Red (1993), The Essential Bordertown (1998), The Coyote Road: Trickster Tales (2007), Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells: An Anthology of Gaslamp Fantasy (2013)

Sorcery & Cecelia -OR- The Enchanted Chocolate Pot (1988) with Patricia C. Wrede

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.

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.

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

The Grand Tour (2004) with Patricia C. Wrede

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.

“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.”

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

The Mislaid Magician or Ten Years After (2006) with Patricia C. Wrede

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).

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

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.

Published by Graphia

Rating: 8/10


Snow White, Blood Red (1993) edited by Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling

I often have a hard time putting down interesting books. Which means that if I’m reading a book I real like before bed, I end up staying up past my bed time instead of falling asleep. One solution is to read non-fiction before bed. The other solution is to read short story anthologies. Unfortunately, there are not a lot of high quality anthologies out there. At least, not enough to keep up with the rate at which I can read.

So I decided to go back and reread Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling's fantasy anthology Snow White, Blood Red. This book has a whole bunch of things going for it at once: it's edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling; it's got stories by Neil Gaiman and Charles de Lint; and the stories are retellings or reinventions of folk and fairy tales. Mostly fairy tales in this book.

Plus, a gorgeous cover by Thomas Canty.

For those who are unfamiliar with folk tales and fairy tales, many of the original tales--before they got cleaned up and given to kids--were filled with sex, (in addition to the casual violence of people getting eyes poked out or chopping off bits of feet or being shoved into ovens.)

In other words, these are not stories for children.

As best I can tell, this anthology is still available, so if you like short stories, this is an anthology you won't want to miss. However, if you like anthologies, this is probably one you already have sitting on your shelves.

Published by Harper Collins

Rating: 7/10

The Essential Bordertown (1998) edited by Terri Windling & Delia Sherman

Essential BordertownThe Essential Bordertown is a collection of short stories set in Bordertown, the land between our world and Faerie. The stories are written with a teenage audiences in mind, with primarily teenage characters, and parts of a “traveler’s guide” appearing before each chapter.

Bordertown strikes me as a cross between Sanctuary of Thieves’ World and the world created by Charles de Lint. It’s the area where faerie and the world of humans meets, and it’s a strange place where neither magic or technology works properly, and although there are some places where elves and humans meet and get along, there are roving gangs of elves and humans who rule different parts of town, and woe to the opposite race who wanders into their territory.

I also very much liked Carloline Stevermer’s story “Rag”, whose characters were adults, but they were adults deal with the friendships of childhood and adolescence.

Rating: 8/10

The Coyote Road: Trickster Tales (2007) edited by Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling

I love short stories. Aside from collections by Charles de Lint, I best love anthologies by Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling best. Their books are like comfort food, and I save them up for when I’m sick or feeling low.

In the same vein as The Green Man and The Faerie Reel, Datlow and Windling have this time collected stories about tricksters, and they’ve got some of my favorite authors in this collection: Charles de Lint, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Ellen Kushner. As usual, they manage to collect stories by some of my favorite story tellers.

If like short story collections, or trickster tales, then you will want to read The Coyote Road. It has stories from many of my favorite writers, and as with all their collections, I was delighted to discover new authors for whom I’ll be on the lookout.

Published by Viking

Rating: 9/10

Queen Victoria’s Book of Spells: An Anthology of Gaslamp Fantasy (2013) edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling

queen-victorias-book-of-spellsThe Vital Importance of the Superficial by Ellen Kushner and Caroline Stevermer

I love anthologies and I love historical fiction. So this should have been an automatic win for me.

Instead it was a two-plus year slog that I finally forced myself to finish.

The Vital Importance of the Superficial by Ellen Kushner and Caroline Stevermer.

Without exactly saying so directly, I assured him I would do no such thing. Miss Prism’s Academy trained us well for some situations, and saying no without ever using the word was a large part of our curriculum.

Published by Tor