Thursday, January 7, 2016

Book Review 2015 #9 - Stephanie Burgis's Renegade Magic

Renegade Magic by Stephanie Burgis
Published by: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: August 1st, 2011
Format: Hardcover, 336 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

After Kat's sister Angeline loses her true love Fredrick during their older sister's wedding thanks to the interference of Lady Fotherington, the girls stepmother whisks them away to Bath to avoid scandal. With the public renouncing of Angeline as a witch their stepmother hopes that by going to Bath Angeline can get herself an eligible bachelor before the gossip reaches the resort town. But their stepmother isn't counting on the fact that Fredrick is Angeline's true love and she's not about to just give up on him because of his family's objections. Angeline has a plan, a plan put into place by the accidental meeting of the rake and reprobate, the Viscount Scarwood. He is a totally unsuitable match, so perfect for Angeline's purposes.

But Angeline's future happiness isn't the only future in jeopardy. The head of the Order of Guardians, Lord Ravenscroft, with Lady Fotherington's interference, has taken away all Kat's hopes of being trained as a Guardian. They insist she is too headstrong and has violent tendencies. She only broke Lady Fotherington's nose the once, are they going to hold that against her forever? Her tutor, Mr. Gregson, insists that he will champion her if she just lays low. Sadly when Kat and her family show up in Bath there's a mysterious magical happening that the Guardians are investigating and her enemies are quick to point the finger at Kat. How can she lay low when she needs to help her family and help the Order? Just because they don't want her as a Guardian doesn't mean it's not in her blood. But they might not see her actions as altruistic but opportunistic.

Bath! What could be more Austenesque then Bath? Not only did Austen live (and hating living) in Bath for five years, but two of her scant six novels have action set there. The Jane Austen Centre is located in Bath and each year the town plays host to the Jane Austen Festival with people coming from around the globe to take part in honoring one of the greatest writers the world has known. But just setting a story in Bath, while a touchstone to Austen, isn't enough, in my mind; there has to be something more. A little adventure, a little spice, a little history. While there is adventure and spice, it's the history that Burgis infuses into the story that she then manipulates to her narrative that is so arresting. I am referring to the hot springs that are the source of the towns fame.

The Assembly Rooms and the Roman Baths became the go to place in the Georgian era for a restorative cure in this spa town. The Romans themselves actually built the baths and a temple, hence the Georgian moniker the "Roman Baths." Burgis was able to give more of a connection to these springs and the customs surrounding them by having Kat give her visceral reaction to "taking the waters" at the assembly room. One would think of dainty women circling the Assembly Rooms and having a nice gossip, but in reality they were jammed with people and that cool refreshing glass of restorative water was anything but. It was straight from the hot springs, hot being key. So the water was warm and sulfurous, therefore having that lovely odor of rotten eggs. One doesn't often think of the gentility of this time in realistic ways, but Burgis has this knack to show the truth while giving us a romping good time.

Burgis also expands on the history of the springs, and the goddess that the Romans worshiped. Because this book has magic, anything can happen with an incantation to a deity, and anything does. The combining of the real history and the magical possibilities is such a good fusion that it doesn't leave you questioning why something happens, it just makes sense. But my favorite part of all has to be the fact that it's book knowledge that bests magic in the end. It's not some old incantation or a secret spell that's unearthed, it's knowing that prior to the Romans's worshiping their goddess, there was another goddess that ruled. I just love the bookish guy being the victor in the end. Books for life!

The magic of the spring brings another interesting twist to the worldbuilding that Burgis has done. Instead of being either witchcraft or Guardian magic there is a third, more dangerous magic, wild magic. I love that there's this magic that existed before the other harnessed magics that is still thrumming through Britain and can trump the rest. Witchcraft is the easier for using spells and drawing little power, Guardian magic is more refined, it's inborn and therefore a part of you and just flows out, therefore able to easily squash witchcraft. But now there's wild magic! Magic that has the power of the Gods behind it. Magic that can not be contained and makes all other magic insignificant. I love that this world Burgis has built is expanding and evolving to encompass more instead of being formulaic and the same story told in a different way over and over again.

What I can't wait for is the further expansion of this world. While the war with France had previously been mentioned, I'm glad to see that Burgis isn't discounting the power that magic could have in that war, just look what two magician's did in Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell! The British Government obviously has some sort of connection with the Guardians, but how much is the secrecy of magic tied to the Government's wishes? Is the hatred of magic and it's place in society a kind of propaganda done by the Government so they can keep it in control and on their side? Because near the end of the book I started to wonder if perhaps the French Government maybe had a different view on magic. There's no denying that Britain and France have often been at two very opposite ends of the spectrum, so maybe in France magic isn't disreputable? Maybe in France a Guardian would be worshipped publicly as a hero? One thing is sure, I'm grabbing the next book to see how this all plays out!


Newer Post Older Post Home