In Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer’s The Grand Tour Or The Purloined Coronation Regalia, the sequel to Sorcery & Cecelia Or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot,* ancient artifacts might look like nothing much, but in the right wizard’s hands, they can change the course of human history.
I’m sure that many people can sympathize with the sentiment that, as one (minor) character put it as she stood before an ancient temple: “Old rocks are not at all fun.” Even one of our main characters, Cecy Tarleton (née Rushton), thinks it’s a “rather unimpressive ruin.” Meanwhile, her father, Arthur Rushton, who recommended she and her husband James visit the site, “hasn’t much regard for appearances. He’s only interested in history.”
Historians like Arthur see more in old rocks and masonry than meets the eye. Just as my daughters use their imaginations to create a robot from a stack of cardboard boxes, history-lovers use their imaginations to reconstruct the past from historical evidence. They envision the people who lived in those ancient places, piecing together how they lived and what impact their present continues to have on our present. With the discovery of new original sources—or of new insights into known sources—historians re-imagine the past, trying to get as close to what “really happened” as they can.
Knowing that “the thoughts we record today will become the treasured historical documents of the future,” Arthur Rushton presents his niece Kate with a diary, in which she chronicles her honeymoon. Since Sorcery & Cecelia, Kate has become Lady Schofield, having married Thomas, the “mysterious Marquis.” In The Grand Tour, Kate and Cecy are taking a joint wedding journey with their husbands through continental Europe. Their plans suddenly change when a mysterious package puts them on a quest to stop the ruthless rise of an empire built on historically-informed magic.
In The Grand Tour, Wrede and Stevermer once again bring to life the Regency Era—albeit with wizards. It’s an enjoyable sequel, even though it lacks much of the charm of the original novel. In particular, the intelligence and independence that made Cecy and Kate so endearing in Sorcery & Cecelia is largely missing from The Grand Tour, as the two young women settle into the confines of married life in a fictional version of the Regency Era.
While the first novel is based on juicy letters between Cecy and Kate, the second novel tells the story through Kate’s personal diary and Cecy’s formal deposition to the British Ministry of Magic, the War Office, and the Foreign Office. As a result, we receive a more intimate look into Kate’s life than into Cecy’s, and we find that Thomas’ surly exterior from the first novel remains intact. Kate loves him, despite his “bossy and devious and obstinate” demeanor, but I didn’t, and I found myself wishing that Kate would challenge Thomas’ controlling behavior more directly and consistently than she did. I liked James Tarleton more than I liked Thomas, perhaps because I knew less about him due to Cecy’s more formal description of the underlying events.
Thankfully, in a satisfying twist at the end, the reliance on Regency Era gender stereotypes hinders the group’s ability to solve the mystery, hopefully teaching an important lesson to everyone involved. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that by Book 3 in this series (published in 2006), Cecy and Kate have found their footing in their marriages and exert more independence from their husbands. Such behavior might be “inappropriate” and unlikely for married women of their social class in the early 19th Century, but let’s not forget that this series of novels is fiction, not history.
*I discussed the first novel in this series in Entertainment for the Cost of a Stamp (How Much Is That Now?).
Image: Kate’s description of a “maimed old abbey church” in France reminded me of England’s Hailes Abbey, which I visited in 2006.