Entertainment For the Cost of A Stamp (How Much Is That Now?)

SCSorcery & Cecelia Or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot, by Patricia C. Wrede & Caroline Stevermer, features “the correspondence of two Young Ladies of Quality regarding various Magical Scandals in London and the County” between April 8 and July 17, 1817. It is the first novel in a three-book series.

Cecelia “Cecy” Rushton is stuck in Essex, while her cousin Kate Talgarth is spending “the Season” in London. The letters between these magically-inclined cousins begin with Cecy begging her cousin to “write and tell me everything!,” a correspondence that ultimately plays a vital role in thwarting the black-magic-laden plans of wizards who masquerade as upstanding members of society.

This is an epistolary novel, which means that readers experience the action by reading Cecy and Kate’s letters, which, conveniently for the story, the villains never interrupt or intercept (Napoleon learned the perils of unrestrained letter-writing when the British intercepted his personal letters and published them).**

It took me a little while to adjust to the writing style and the format. I know it’s fiction, but I still felt like I was invading Cecy and Kate’s privacy at first. Once I squelched that creepy feeling, I ended up really enjoying the book. It’s an ideal choice for Jane Austen fans, who will appreciate the characters’ quips, the Regency Era setting, and the Austen-like courtships. The romance is predictable, but it’s a satisfying addition to the light magical mystery that brings these couples together.

I particularly liked the fact that the heros — the “Mysterious Marquis” (who, reminiscent of Mr. Darcy, wears “a sardonic expression of pained civility”) and James Tarleton (initially misperceived as a voyeur) — cannot defeat the villains without Kate and Cecy, a feisty and intelligent pair. As Kate explains to the Marquis when he asks her why she disregarded his message, “You were reasoning from incorrect information… You said you could handle things by yourself… Plainly you are mistaken.”

In the Afterword, I learned that this novel has its roots in “The Letter Game” between the authors in 1986. Wrede assumed the role of Cecy, and Stevermer played Kate, as the two sent letters back and forth to each other in character. As Stevermer explains, “Our letters were long on gossip and short on plot, but they provided good clean fun for the cost of a postage stamp.”

In the U.S., where Stevermer and Wrede are from, a first class postage stamp cost 22 cents in 1986. Today, it costs 49 cents, which I actually had to look up. The only stamps I could find in the house say “Forever” in place of a price, which, according to the U.S. Postal Service, “can be used to mail a one-ounce letter regardless of when the stamps are purchased or used and no matter how prices may change in the future.” The entertainment Wrede and Stevermer received from the traditional version of the “Letter game” would cost more than twice as much today, but would be essentially free if played by email.

There is something magical about receiving a letter in the mail, but the ease of email is hard to beat. If too much of the charm would be lost by a typical Gmail or Outlook message, why not prepare a formal letter with fictional letterhead and PDF it?

I left this book wondering what Cece and Kate’s correspondence would look like had they lived in a fictional version of today instead of 1817. In a fast-paced, information driven world like ours, their communications would probably be a third as long, full of smiley faces, and supplemented with Skype, text messages, Facebook status updates, and phone calls. That’s not necessarily worse than the 1817 version. It’s just different.***

*I read a reasonably priced e-book version. When I bought it, it was less expensive than the paper back version but more expensive than a stamp (for now!).

**Is any casual communication truly private? If it isn’t our employers reading our email, then it’s the government. And we haven’t even mentioned Facebook’s disturbing emotional experiment. (As Mr. A.M.B. quipped, “I assume Mark Zuckerberg was trying to determine whether or not humans had feelings, a question that had eluded him for some time.”)

***Not that there aren’t any potential drawbacks to these modern forms of communication. See Pew, How Teens Do Research in the Digital World (Nov. 2012); Maria Konnikova, What’s Lost as Handwriting Fades(June 2, 2014).

 

Check Out These Reviews of Sorcery & Cecelia:

  • Jenclair at A Garden Carried in the Pocket: “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.”
  • Thea’s Take at The Book Smugglers: “The book absolutely delivered the type of lighthearted, escapist, frothy regency fantasy I was yearning for. I loved it. LOVED it.”
  • Melanie at The Indextrious Reader: “Quite clever and amusing; if you like Regencies you’ll like it. If you like fantasy, you’ll like it. If you like both, you’ll love it. And the good news is, it’s the first book of a series.”

About A.M.B.

I am an attorney and the mother of three. Check out my "About Me" page for more information.
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20 Responses to Entertainment For the Cost of A Stamp (How Much Is That Now?)

  1. janceewright says:

    I’ve never ever heard of this, which is surprising because I loved Patricia Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles. So onto the TBR it goes.

  2. Pingback: History: Without An Imagination, It’s Only “Old Rocks” | The Misfortune Of Knowing

  3. I read this book in middle school, well before I had an email account, and I loved it. I do still love sending mail though, there’s just something that makes you feel special when you get a “for no good reason” card in the mail!

    • A.M.B. says:

      Sorcery & Cecelia is exactly the type of novel I would’ve wanted to read in middle school, but I hadn’t heard of it until a few weeks ago. Where have I been?!

      I hope you had a great Independence Day weekend!

  4. I instantly smiled when I read your bit about feeling squeamish with letter-writing novels. I also feel the same way when I first start reading these types of books. It almost makes you feel like you’re peeking somewhere you shouldn’t!

  5. I was part of a group called postcrossing. People got to receive postcards from all over the world. “The main idea is that: if you send a postcard, you will receive one back from a random Postcrosser from somewhere in the world.” It was fun and I made friends that lasted for years. http://www.postcrossing.com/about . I hope you and your readers don’t mind the link.

  6. Lindsey says:

    I find epistolary novels to be either really good or really painful.

    If you are looking for a more modern take, you could check out Rainbow Rowell’s Attachments. The story takes place on the eve of the new millennium and there is a lot of emailing back and forth.

    • A.M.B. says:

      I really enjoyed Attachments! Lincoln reminded me of my husband (“built like a tank, dressed like he just won the science fair.”). :)

  7. HC says:

    This sounds like a fun read, but I can see how the format would take some adjusting to. I can’t remember the last time I wrote or received a personal letter or even a postcard. I think the cost of stamps is to blame.

    I deleted my Facebook account a few weeks ago and have no regrets. Maybe I’ll treat myself to some forever stamps and force someone to be my pen pal!

    • A.M.B. says:

      I’m tempted to delete my Facebook account, too, partly because I don’t have the time to use it effectively. I don’t check it enough to know what my friends are posting, and I really should just pick up the phone and call them instead. The last time I sent a personal letter was probably in 1999, my first year of college (other than sending postcards while traveling). Email became my primary form of communication.

  8. Mr A.M.B.’s comment about Zuckerberg made me LOL. :)

  9. Literary Feline says:

    I want to read this! It sounds wonderful.

    Pen palling was a hobby of mine for a number of years, and while I rarely write letters by hand anymore, I’m still in touch with a handful of those I corresponded with, including my very first pen pal. I participated in story rings a handful of times, where a group four or five people each take turns adding to a story. Each person is given a chance to start the story by writing a page, and then each person after adds their own page. The result is a four to five page story. None of them were publish worthy by any stretch, but it was a good writing exercise, not to mention fun to see how a story can evolve with so many imaginations at play.

    • A.M.B. says:

      I highly recommend Sorcery & Cecelia! I hope you enjoy it. The story rings you mentioned sound like a lot fun.

      I loved writing letters, but it’s been a long time since my last one. Except for a handful of postcards over the years (while traveling), the last personal letter I sent was probably in 1999, the year I went off to college. Email became my primary form of communication. While I still have many letters from my childhood in old boxes (the responses to my letters), all the emails I sent and received during college are lost. It’s sad, though sometimes I’m glad my husband can’t see what I said to my friends about him when we first met! I’d be embarrassed, even all these years later!

  10. biblioglobal says:

    Oh Sorcery and Cecelia is such an enjoyable book! You and your daughters (perhaps in a few years) might enjoy Patricia Wrede’s Dealing with Dragons series, which does a great job playing around with traditional fairy tale tropes.

    • A.M.B. says:

      Thanks for the recommendation! I am looking forward to reading more of Wrede’s work. I can’t believe I hadn’t heard about Sorcery and Cecelia until a few weeks ago. Where have I been?!

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