Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Magicians and Mrs. Quent by Galen Beckett

Posted by Simcha 5:22 PM, under | 5 comments

I had never heard of The Magicians and Mrs. Quent or of it's author, Galen Beckett, before I saw the book on a library shelf, while on vacation in the US. Something about it, though, drew my attention and so I added it to my teetering stack of library books. And because this wasn't a book I was familiar with, and had never even read a single review of, it was unfortunately relegated to the bottom of the pile of books, where it remained.

As my three week stay in America drew to an end, I started collecting all the books that needed to go back to the library, and I suddenly remembered this book, which had completely slipped my mind. I decided that I might as well crack the book open while I rested a bit from my packing, which was a foolish mistake. From the moment I began reading it I was completely sucked into the story and I suddenly found myself in a race against time to finish this book before I had to leave it behind. All my last minute preparations were forgotten as I spent every available minute of my last day in the US trying to finish The Magicians and Mrs. Quent, despite the fact that I knew I had no chance. The book had to be pried from my hands as I got dropped off at the airport, with still a quarter of the book left to be read. There was really only one thing I could do about it, and that was get a hold of the book as soon as I got home so that I could finish it. This little story is just meant to illustrate for you how much I enjoyed reading The Magicians and Mrs. Quent.

Of the three Lockwell sisters—romantic Lily, prophetic Rose, and studious Ivy—all agree that it’s the eldest, the book-loving Ivy, who has held the family together ever since their father’s retreat into his silent vigil in the library upstairs. Everyone blames Mr. Lockwell’s malady on his magickal studies, but Ivy alone still believes—both in magick and in its power to bring her father back.

But there are others in the world who believe in magick as well. Over the years, Ivy has glimpsed them—the strangers in black topcoats and hats who appear at the door, strangers of whom their mother will never speak. Ivy once thought them secret benefactors, but now she’s not so certain.

After tragedy strikes, Ivy takes a job with the reclusive Mr. Quent in a desperate effort to preserve her family. It’s only then that she discovers the fate she shares with a jaded young nobleman named Dashton Rafferdy, his ambitious friend Eldyn Garritt, and a secret society of highwaymen, revolutionaries, illusionists, and spies who populate the island nation of Altania.

In The Magicians and Mrs. Quent Beckett has created an alternate world reminiscent of Victorian London, where magic exists alongside tea rooms, balls, strict social classes and husband-hunting debutantes. Though unlike in London, here each day and night are of a different length, due to long and short umbrals and lumenals, and so no social events may be planned without consulting an almanac first (lest an enjoyable party suddenly gets caught off by an unplanned night).

The book is divided into three sections, the first of which is very similar to Pride and Prejudice, in both plot and writing style
. Ivy is the eldest of three sisters, and the most responsible, and it is to her that the general care of her sick father has fallen, as well as the worry about the family's failing finances. Ivy's father had, at one time, been a successful magician but something had caused him to suddenly fall ill and withdraw from the outside world. Ivy is convinced that her father's illness is due to magic and she is determined to discover what had caused it so that she may find a cure. The fact that women are not allowed to practice magic does not stop Ivy from reading every book that she can get a hold of, in search of an answer.

The story also follows a young nobleman, Dashton Rafferdy, who prides himself on being careless and irresponsible, until he meets Ivy and for the first time begins to believe that he might be capable of more. There is also Rafferdy's friend, Eldyn, who is forced to leave school after his father drinks away all of their money and then dies. Eldyn struggles to support himself and his sister but in an act of desperation ends up getting involved with a dangerous criminal who is also a member of a group dedicated to overthrowing the king.

The first section of the book introduces each of these characters and weaves together their stories in a light-hearted narrative, similar to that of a Victorian romance novel. Towards the end of the first section the story gets a little darker and ends with a tragedy that leads into the second section of the book, which has a more gothic feel to it. In an interesting twist, the narrative switches from third person to the first, and the story is now told solely from Ivy's perspective.

Due to difficult circumstances at home Ivy has been forced to become employed as a governess for
a forbidding widower and the two orphaned children he has taken in. While living in Heathcrest, Ivy discovers that something sinister is going on, involving the ancient woods nearby and the young women who have been disappearing from the village. The children also claim to see a white figure calling to them from the woods, and despite her original disbelieve soon Ivy is forced to admit that something unnatural is going on, of which she is determined to get to the bottom of it.

In the third section of the book the story resumes its third person narrative, bringing the story to a satisfying conclusion while leaving a few lose threads, which are sure to be picked up in the sequel.

There is a little of everything in this book, from romance and magic to mystery and politics and it's all seamlessly blended together to create this delightful fantasy novel that completely took me by surprise. I also really liked the writing, which was both and enchanting and witty, and which frequently had me reaching for my pen to copy down quotes or passages that I particularly enjoyed.

“For a man who reads so little, you read very well,” she told him as he turned a page. She sat in a chair by the fireplace, wrapped in a shawl. “I don’t know why you don’t read more often.”
“What use is there in doing something one is already good at? The practice can bring no possible improvement.”
“It is said there is pleasure in doing something one excels at.”
“Which is precisely why you will so often find me doing nothing at all."

“If it is the most minute of things that demands my cousin’s attention,” she said, “what is it that captures yours, Mr. Rafferdy?”
“Very little, I confess. If Mr. Wyble’s interest is held rapt by the tiniest of matters, I am quite his opposite in that even the grandest of things cannot maintain a grip on mine...”
“Rafferdy excels at being bored,” Mr. Garritt said.
“Oh, how delightful that must be!” Mrs. Lockwell exclaimed. “I say, I should be very glad to be bored of fine things. For it can only mean you have everything you could possibly wish for and that you never waste a moment’s thought fretting over some thing you must but cannot have. I say, you must be exceedingly content, Mr. Rafferdy!”

After finishing The Magicians and Mrs. Quent I did check out some reviews of the book and I saw a number of criticisms of Beckett for heavy handedly pilfering so much of the plot and characters from Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte novels. Since it's been years since I've read either Jane Eyre or Pride and Prejudice and I can barely recall what either books is about, this didn't matter to me at all but many other readers seemed to have been bothered by it. I do remember though that I didn't particularly care for Jane Eyre, while this book I very much enjoyed.

While reading through some reviews of The Magicians and Mrs. Quent I discovered that Galen Beckett is actually a pen name for author Mark Anthony, who has written several other books, which I'm now curious to try out. Though my first priority is getting a hold of this book's sequel, The House on Durrow Street, which I can't wait to read.


I have, shockingly, never read Jane Eyre. And this sounds like a book I would much prefer to read in any case - I've added it to my Amazon wishlist! Yay!

I had the same response to this book...once I started I just couldn't stop. I actually found the first section more reminiscent of Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" but the second part was definitely "Jane Eyre" all the way...and I loved all of it!

This is the second glowing review I've read of this book - now I really must pick it up. How horrible that you had to be parted from it with only a quarter left to go!

I'm curious to read this even if it is a little derivative, because it sounds like so much fun! Victorian London is one of my favorite bookish settings!

Audrey: Really, you never read Jane Eyre? I had to read it for school but I'm thinking I should reread it because I've forgotten what it's about.

FairiesNest: You know, I keep getting Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre mixed up. I read both many years ago but keep forgetting which is which. I think it's time to reread them, with so many books these days being based off of them.

Stephanie: Yes, it was awful. I've learned my lesson, not to start a book when I only have a day to read it.

Jenny: I also enjoy the Voctorian London setting and highly recommend this book. I was surprised, when I visited Goodreads, to see so many negative reviews of this book. But I really liked it and I hope you will too.

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