Here's an oldish favorite . . . I don't know how often I'll be updating, because the fall semester starts today. Oy! On the other hand, it's my last semester. Huzzah!
Book: Sorcery and Cecilia, or the Enchanted Chocolate Pot
Authors: Caroline Stevemer and Patricia C. Wrede
Originally Published: 1988
18-year-old cousins Kate and Cecilia thought that their lives were going to be dull this spring of 1817. Although Kate is in London for her first Season, her gorgeous sister is there too, pretty much ensuring nobody's going to look at Kate. Poor Cecy is stuck at home in Rushton, where nothing ever happens (except for that dust-up about Squire Bryant's goat). Their entertainment becomes writing long letters to each other.
Except all of a sudden, Kate and Cecy find themselves hip-deep in the doings of wizards in both London and Rushton . . . wizards who don't want to be interfered with. Why did an ominous woman try to serve Kate chocolate that burned a hole in her skirt? Who is the Mysterious Marquis, and why is he after that chocolate pot? Why does James Tarleton keep trying to sneak around, apparently spying on Cecy? (He's very bad at it, too.) And how the heck did their shy little friend Dorothea suddenly become the reigning belle of the neighborhood and then of London? Working together through their letters, Kate and Cecy are going to get to the bottom of this . . . hopefully before the wizards figure out what they're doing!
From the moment you meet Cecy (discussing a proposed visit to the oh-so-dull Reverend, she tells Kate that "I am determined to have the headache on Thursday if I have to hit myself with a rock to do it) and Kate (recounting a visit to the Elgin Marbles, she tells Cecy that listening to other people talk about them is enough "to make the eyes roll right back in your head with boredom"), you have to like them. Funny, caring, clever, and still just teenaged enough to be real, these are girls you want to have on your side in a battle against unscrupulous villains.
It takes a little while for the plot to get going, but when it does, readers discover a fast-paced and ofttimes hilarious magical adventure in an alternate Regency London where magic is accepted and wizards are commonplace. This book is often described as Jane Austen with a dash of magic, and I have to agree with that. Lively, ever-so-slightly screwball, and just romantic enough, this book is just plain old fun.
The story of this book is almost as interesting as the plot. Patricia C. Wrede convinced Caroline Stevemer to play the letter game, a writer's exercise in which letters are written in-character and neither player is allowed to tell the other what's going to happen next. At the end of it, being professional writers in their own rights, they realized they had a book, and thus Sorcery and Cecilia was shared with the world. Wrede (as Cecilia) and Stevemer (as Kate), luckily have similar enough styles that the switch is not jarring, as might be expected. A sequel, The Grand Tour, was published in 2004, and Wrede carried on with the idea of this alternate England in her two books Mairelon the Magician and The Magician's Ward. Go find them!