A Most Improper Magick, A Tangle of Magicks, A Reckless Magick (The Unladylike Adventures of Kat Stephenson Series 1-3), Stephanie Burgis
Sometimes, you know you’ll love a book even before you’ve opened the cover. I’m not talking about the illustration on the front – but a certain combination of “ingredients” that make that book call out to you in particular. For me, Susanna Clarke’s Jonathon Norrell and Mr Strange was that book – a book which is stitched together from dark fantasy, alt history, dry wit and loving Austen parody. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but it truly is mine. So much so that I continually search the web to see what Clark’s up to, if another book is in the pipeline, and I also continually search for a book that might combine those ingredients again in such a ravishing way.
The Kat Stephenson series in some respects a “young adult” version of Clarke’s rather more refined and mature project. Stephanie Burgis too is engaged in writing magic into the Regency period, whilst gently parodying and lampooning the social mores of the time. Ostensibly, it has “me” written all over it – particularly as I actually prefer young adult fantasy to adult fantasy (to me it seems more creative and the writing is often so much more engaging).
However, whilst the fact that I have read all three books published so far in the series should say something about how much I enjoy them, I think the books are not without problems. whilst Burgis has achieved her aim of creating a spunky, adventurous heroine who defies gender restrictions at every turn, I don’t find Kat’s voice, or indeed, the general tone and atmosphere of the novels, rings historically true. Simply having Kat’s older brother repeatedly utter “DASH IT!” does not a historical novel make (however alt that history might be). Especially when Kat immediately “rolls her eyes” or “squirms” or does other completely anachronistic things. A bit of research and some time crafting the voice would really have enriched these novels no end – and would have considerably expanded its appeal beyond an 11-13 “I have seen all the Austen films/television serials but am too young to quite appreciate the books yet” market. And indeed, it would have given that market something slightly more substantial to get their teeth into.
Additionally, Burgis falls into a trap that many series-novelists seem to do, in terms of tediously recapping what’s happened in the previous book. I always find this irritating and mostly unnecessary – how many readers actually start with the second or third book of a series? And if you assume that a reader is following you in the correct succession but has just completely forgotten what she has read before, that doesn’t suggest you have a very good opinion of your own writing, or of your reader. It’s annoying to read pages and pages of explanatory asides, and I confess to having skipped several chunks of the second and third books because of this. There are, of course, ways to remind a reader of previous developments that may be important – but you need to be a clever writer and be able to craft a novel for that.
But, by golly, can the woman make you turn the page. My reading experiences with these three novels was very reminiscent of reading Harry Potter – I was left breathless by the action, willing the engaging, sympathetic protagonist to win out, and whilst I could almost anticipate the next plot development, it didn’t stop me from wanting to travel with the characters and get there with them. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed how the novels – again, much like Harry Potter – track the growth and development of a group of characters, all of whom I’m getting very fond of, and not just the protagonist. I think the books are also getting stronger – the most recent is the most intricately plotted and action-packed to date.
These novels are a lot of fun - they don’t demand much of you, they’re not cerebral in the slightest, and they only take a few hours to read, but they’re a lot of fun.
So, I’m going to disregard the anachronistic tone, and gleefully await the instalment, as I can’t wait to see what Kat Stephenson gets up to next.
Review written by guest blogger Nazneen.