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 by Patricia C Wrede and Caroline Stevemer
originally published 1988
Magic Carpet Books, 2004
Genre: Fantasy, Young adult, Regency romance
Synopsis & Review: It’s England, 1817, and things are pretty much as we would recall them. Other than the magic, that is. Cousins Kate and Cecelia embark upon a correspondence with one another when Kate must accompany her beautiful sister Georgina to London for a Season while Cecelia is kept at home due to misbehavior. What begins as simply a way for the girls to keep up with one another soon unveils several mysteries carrying on in Town and in the country, mysteries that seem oddly related.
Kate stumbles upon a peculiar woman in a garden, who appears to be not only laboring under the delusion that Kate is really a man named Thomas, but also seems to be offering visitors poisoned chocolate. Cecelia encounters the bewitchingly lovely Dorothea, who most men appear to forget whenever she’s not around, and also the odd Mister Tarleton, who seems to be lurking in shrubberies everywhere. Back in London, Cecelia’s brother Oliver has disappeared in the middle of Vauxhall, and Kate finds herself betrothed to the odious Mysterious Marquis—whose name happens to be Thomas. Just what is going on?!
Armed with Cecy’s charm bags and a combination of arcane and clever guesses, Kate and Cecy go head to head with some terrible evil wizards—and find love in the bargain.
Thank heavens for Jenny, or I probably would never have happened upon Sorcery & Cecilia!
I can’t believe this book (and its sequels) came out back when I was in the YA age group, and I’d never seen them anywhere, despite my fondness for Wrede’s Dealing with Dragons (cherries jubilee, anyone?) I must say, I am glad that they’re back in print so they can be enjoyed by a wider audience than they first reached.
The combination of a little light fantasy and magic (but not any twee-ass magical realism!) with historical fiction can be delightful when done right, and this charming epistolary novel gets it perfectly. The Regency romance has at times been tired out and done to death, but Wrede and Stevermer perform feats of necromancy with their lovely language and characters. Kate and Cecy’s voices come through very strongly, perhaps in parts because the authors began the novel as a “Letter Game.” They do a wonderful job of moving the plot along through the missives, while keeping them suitably letterlike.
I would never refer to the novel as Austen-like, though they take place in the same period. Kate and Cecy are very modern, active girls. Despite a nod to social conventions about appropriate behaviors, not only do Kate nor Cecy chafe under such restrictions, they also flout them when necessary, and act to secure their own destinies–all while remaining adorably prim.
A fun, whimsical, and very fast read.
Read also: A House for the Season (series) by Marion Chesney, Dealing with Dragons by Patricia C Wrede, any Judith Merkle Riley
Cover: Cute. I like the sepia.
Instead, I skirted the back of the crowd and walked along the north aisle, gazing about me at the hall. There are many banners, very threadbare and tattered, and many stone slabs underfoot, well worn by centuries of steps, all worked with symbols and signs to identify the wizards who placed them there. I walked along happily, admiring the splendid clothes of the onlookers and the general air of faded elegance and chilly, damp, historical glory, until I encountered a little door in the north hall, only latched, not locked, its pointed arch scarcely higher than my head.
I only meant to glance in to satisfy my curiosity, but beyond the door I found a cloistered garden, planted with daffodils and hyacinths, as tranquil and remote as if it were in Essex or some more distant place. I couldn’t resist stepping through the door. It swung shut behind me and as I took a few steps forward, I saw I was not alone. In the center of the garden was a tea table and two chairs. In one chair sat a little woman with hair so white it was almost blue in the sunlight — which was odd, for the day outside was a gray and drizzly one (at least, it had been as we walked to the hall). I took the vacant chair at the little woman’s gracious gesture. The instant I sat, my legs and feet went first pins and needles, then quite numb. The little woman watched me very hard and when she saw my puzzlement she beamed with pleasure. At first I thought she was old, because of her hair, but when I looked closely I saw she had only powdered her hair white, as was the custom in our grandparents’ day. Her skin was smooth and carefully painted, her eyes were dark and very hard. She smiled kindly at me and asked if I would take chocolate with her.
You and I often played at dolls’ tea party together, Cecy. I will never again remember such games with pleasure. The very thought chills me, for now I know how the dolls felt when we poured out tea for them. For the life of me all I could do was nod and smile inanely and hold out my cup. She took this for acceptance, and poured me a cup of chocolate from the most beautiful chocolate pot I have ever seen. It was blue porcelain, a blue that made me think of the sky in September, or the lake at Rushton, or Georgina’s eyes. I could scarcely look away from it.
22 October – 23 October