A Matter of Magic
Patricia C. Wrede
Release: June 8, 2010
When a stranger offers her a small fortune to break into a traveling magician’s wagon, Kim doesn’t hesitate. Having grown up a waif in the dirty streets of London, Kim isn’t above a bit of breaking-and-entering. A hard life and lean times have schooled her in one lesson: steal from them before they steal from you. But when the magician catches her in the act, Kim thinks she’s done for. Until he suggests she become his apprentice; then the real trouble begins.
Kim soon finds herself entangled with murderers, thieves, and cloak-and-dagger politics, all while trying to learn how to become both a proper lady and a magician in her own right. Magic and intrigue go hand in hand in Mairelon the Magician and The Magician’s Ward, two fast-paced novels filled with mystery and romance, set against the intricate backdrop of Regency England.
Review by Rose Red:
Today, I'm continuing our Throwback Thursday Review series by reviewing one of my all-time favorite books that I read over twenty years ago back when YA was still the ridiculously small teen section and not a huge thing. I've talked a lot about how much I love Patricia C. Wrede's books on this blog, right? Well, in case you didn't know, I adore all of Wrede's books! But my favorite of hers is definitely Mairelon the Magician and its sequel. Seriously. This duology is in my Top Five Favorite Books Ever category. I recently reread it and I was reminded why I love it so much. I'm reviewing A Matter of Magic which is a bind-up of both books but I'll mostly be discussing the first book.
Mairelon the Magician is one of my comfort reads, so I’ll try not to gush too much. My general reaction when people ask me if it’s good is “YES! ZOMG! YOU HAVE TO READ IT! YOU’RE GOING TO LOVE IT!” Really. It’s a really great book! It’s part mystery, a little bit comedy, and a mixture of alternate history and fantasy. And it contains lots of sarcasm and snark. It technically falls under the fantasy of manners subgenre in fantasy which makes it a quick and lighthearted read. There are no world-altering plots or epic battles. Just a fair amount of sneaking around, spying, and working out who’s plotting what against whom. It has quite a large cast of characters but actually very little magic. There are a couple scenes where several of the characters come together in the oddest ways that are really quite hilarious.
Wait a minute. This is a fantasy book that has hardly any magic in it? Kind of. There is enough magic to lend to the plot without being overly distracting. I’ve seen this story referred to as “a fun, Doctor Who-esque mystery/adventure plot colliding with a Victorian comedy of manners!” And I quite agree with that statement. As much as I love it and think it’s enjoyable on its own, I do think it works better when read with its sequel, The Magician’s Ward, which adds a bit of romance to the already eclectic mix found in the first book.
The title of the book is a bit misleading because the main character of the book is actually Kim, a seventeen year old cross-dressing street thief. Kim has had to keep her gender a secret or else she will would find herself working the brothels in the more shady parts of London. So when an upper-class gentleman offers her a small fortune of five pounds to break into a performing magician’s wagon and tell him what’s inside, she takes the job without asking too many questions. This could be her big break that gets her out of the streets for good. Unfortunately, the magician in question is not just a street performer, but a real wizard. And by the time she figures that out, it’s already too late.
Kim is such an awesome character! She is intelligent and full of snark. Not to mention, she is one of those characters where her curiosity lands her into all kinds of sticky situations, but she can always get herself out. She is very street smart in every sense of the phrase. Her experiences being a thief while keeping her gender a secret, have given her a unique skill set that comes in handy a lot in this series. She's still one of my favorite heroines even after all of these years.
Mairelon is also one of my favorite characters ever! He is as exasperating as he is intelligent and is an interesting mixture of rogue and gentleman. But he’s also stubborn, reckless, mischievous, charming, and yet he can still be an all around gentleman. This is proven when he catches Kim snooping in his wagon. He doesn’t call the constable, but offers her the opportunity to become his assistant in the show and to travel with him. Not only that but he offers to teach her a variety of things like some ‘magic’ tricks and how to read so she can better her situation. And he does it just because that’s who he is. I also think he does it to irritate his manservant, Hunch, who doesn’t trust Kim quite as easily as Mairelon does.
Kim’s voice is so fantastic that it lives in my head for days after I finish reading it, and it provides a skeptical viewpoint of the gentry that really accentuates how ridiculous they can be. Mairelon’s character is adorably exasperating but so darn lovable. They’re one of my favorite fantasy duos, and I wish almost everyday that Wrede had written more than just two books for them! I still dream of what possible adventures Kim and Mairelon could be having after the ending of the second book. I was in high school when I found out there was such a thing as fanfiction and I immediately looked for any having to do with this series. There’s not a lot there, but it’s quality stuff.
There is one thing I would like to point out about this book and it is more of a warning than a complaint. Since the main character is a street thief in Regency Era London, there is quite a bit of slang in this book that was used by the lower classes and criminal underbelly known as thieves’ cant. The amount of thieves’ cant can make the story hard to read for some folks. I like it! For me, it adds to the book and it helped me to love Kim more (I actually use some of these words in every day conversation. Seriously. Nattered is such a great word!). Overall, I think if you pay attention to the context in which the slang is used, you can figure out its meaning most of the time. But don’t let that put you off reading it. Thanks to the beautiful age of the internet (which I did not have when I first read this) you can just look up each slang word’s meaning in an online database. There’s a lot of good ones out there but I’d recommend this database. You can just type the word in and it brings up all of its possible meanings.
Patricia C. Wrede is one of my favorite authors! Her characters are so wonderfully developed, and the stories are full of just the right mix of adventure, humor, intelligence, the occult, and romance. I loved every minute of this book even after I’ve read it so many times! Some days you just need a fun uncomplicated read to make your day better. I love this book so much and I'll be rereading it for many, many years to come.
Recommended for fans of:
Newt's Emerald by Garth Nix
Sorcery and Cecelia: or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer
Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal