During a gap in my NetGalley reads, I was looking for an interim book and happened on Sorcery & Cecelia or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot: Being the correspondence of two Young Ladies of Quality regarding various Magical Scandals in London and the Country. I liked the cover, and the blurb mentioned The Royal College of Wizards, so I ordered it.
And did it ever surpass my expectations! Set in Regency England, the book is a comedy of manners, a paranormal fantasy, an epistolary novel, and an absolute delight. I loved it, and I suspect Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer would have loved it, too.
Cece and Kate are two cousins who, having gotten into trouble before, are not allowed to have their London seasons together (Aunts Elizabeth and Charlotte are afraid it would be disastrous for all concerned). Therefore, Kate and her younger sister are whisked off to London for their Season, and Cece must wait until the following year for hers.
Cece and Kate are reduced to keeping in touch by frequent letters, neither of them happy about their separation. As it turns out, however, Cece's country life becomes more interesting, and Kate in London is about to be entangled in magic.
Magic is an accepted part of life (a family acquaintance has just been inducted into The Royal College of Wizards), but the girls have little experience of it as Aunt Elizabeth is adamantly opposed to anything magical. Nevertheless, when Kate inadvertently enters a door into an enchanted garden where a beautiful woman believes Kate is someone else in disguise, magic and sorcery gain access to her life.
In the meantime, life in the country gets more interesting when the beautiful young Dorothea arrives and is immediately surrounded by besotted suitors who cannot resist her. Dorothea, a shy young woman, seems almost as bewildered as Cece over the enchanting effect she has over men. Cece befriends Dorothea and has great sympathy for her when Dorothea's stepmother arrives and insists on taking Dorothea to London. Cece is also put out by a young man who has been spying on them.
The letters fly back and forth--asking questions and giving advice, describing balls, dresses, and people, and more importantly, trying to solve some mysterious puzzles. Eventually, connections between the small country community of Rushton and the events in London are made, and the intrepid young women take on forces that are threatening and dangerous.
What fun! I loved both Cece and Kate and their friendship, high spirits, and satirical comments (oh, the many ways to tie cravats). I loved finding allusions like "messing about in boats" and "ill-met by moonlight," references to Walpole, Lady Caroline Lamb and Lord Byron, and the title of the book The Theory and Practice of Charms: Being an Inquiry int the Making of Bags, Boxes, and the Like by Cuntry Witches and Their Ilk. I loved the odious Mysterious Marquis, the magic, and both Cece and Kate.
The opening letters are a bit slow, but serve to give an impression, an atmosphere, of the time period; the pace quickly picks up, however, as our undaunted heroines exert their efforts with aplomb and determination.
When I finished, I discovered that the process of writing was a game the two authors engaged in. The Letter Game was suggested by Ellen Kushner, another talented writer. A few excerpts from the Afterword:
"The game has no rules, except that the players must never reveal their idea of the plot to one another. It helps to imply in the first letter why the two characters must write to each other and not meet in person." (Caroline)
"As the opener of the letter exchange, I was responsible for choosing a setting, as well as for defining my own character. I decided on England just after the Napoleonic Wars, in an alternate universe in which magic really worked...." (Pat)
The authors never discussed the plot with each other; only through the letters of the cousins was information about plot shared. As a result an organic kind of story took form with each author using the letters as key.
This novel was great fun to read, and I can only imagine the fun of writing it. Perfect for Carl's Once Upon a Time Challenge.
(Attachments by Rainbow Rowell, which I also thoroughly enjoyed, is a form of The Letter Game using emails.)
Paranormal Fantasy/Comedy of Manners/Historical Fiction/YA. Kindle ed. 2012.
Print length: 336 pages.