Sorcery & 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.”