Friday, March 18, 2016

Book Review - Marissa Doyle's Bewitching Season

Bewitching Season (Leland Sisters Book 1) by Marissa Doyle
Published by: Henry Holt and Co
Publication Date: April 29th, 2008
Format: Hardcover, 352 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

Persephone and Penelope Leland are about to come out in society. Though Persy would rather not. She is convinced that she will somehow embarrass herself and her twin sister Pen when being presented to the Queen and therefore ruin Pen's chances of a great match. So it's much better Persy just stays at home, in the country, for the rest of her life, and studies magic. London only holds one lure for Persy, and that's Princess Victoria. Princess Victoria is a heroine to the twins. Not only will Victoria be the next queen, but she shares their birthday. And if Persy is truly honest with herself, London has another lure; Lochinvar Seton. Lochinvar grew up near the Leland's estate and they have always been close. Ever since Persy and Lochinvar found a shared love of reading Persy's heart was forever lost to him.

But London holds more worries for Persy than tripping in front of the Queen, her beloved governess and magical tutor Ally has gone missing. This is so unlike Ally that the twins and even their little brother Charles are worried. Even Ally's family don't know what to make of this shocking situation. Sadly shopping for gowns and matching shoes take up way too much time and the search for Ally is continually postponed. Yet as the day of Princess Victoria's birthday draws closer Persy discovers that the Princess is the target of a dangerous plot using Ally and her magical abilities. Will Persy be able to save her heroine, Ally, and get the man of her dreams? Whatever happens it will be a season to remember.

I rarely draw comparisons between books by different authors because all writing is so unique and different. Yet comparisons can be useful in trying to convince someone to pick up a book. Or even, in that most drastic of circumstances, to get someone to avoid a book. So while I hesitate in this review to point out that there is a definite Lauren Willig vibe about this book, the other part of me goes, but it must be said! If you're a follower of my blog you know how much I love Lauren's writing. I think I've convinced you all of that by now. The reason I feel this vibe in Bewitching Season isn't so much to do with the writing style, the London ton, or anything really logical, other then a deep connection with the characters. The reason I love Lauren Willig's books is this connection I feel to her characters. I don't just want to know what happens in all their lives, I NEED to know. I feel what they feel, I love what they love.

I become insanely worried about these characters that are fictional to other people but to me are old friends. Despite never reading anything my Marissa Doyle previously I felt this connection. I felt like I was visiting old friends. I felt as if I've known Persy my whole life. She is SO like me, we're kindred spirits. She's bookish and doesn't like large gatherings, preferring studies over balls, oh how I can relate! Yet she's drawn into this glitzy world just for the hope of seeing Victoria! Just replace Victoria with I don't know, David Tennant, and that's me in a nutshell. With all the mix ups and crossed signals, my heart was breaking with worry that things wouldn't work out. And that's the greatest gift a writer can give, to make you care so much that you don't believe the happily ever after is guaranteed.

I can not stress enough the importance of a good relatable heroine. Shy bookish girls, come to me! But what is great about Persy and Pen is that we're getting a one-two punch. I thought at first that it would be gimmicky having twins, but instead I really liked how this played out. Because outwardly they are the same, but inwardly, and especially to Lochinvar, they are so very very different. Everyone in the ton kind of views them as curios, yet they are so complex. While we spend the most time with Persy, her being the primary heroine, it's interesting to see the contrast with Pen, who wanted all that Persy didn't. Yet Pen isn't all she seems as well. Yes, she wanted nothing more than to have the perfect season, but instead of looking for her own happiness, she is secretly trying to secure her sisters. Complicating matters further is Persy becoming, not secretive, but self-reflective and not sharing her secrets with Pen.

The divide that opens up and is eventually sealed between the sisters is a right of passage for anyone who has a close friend or sibling who you grew distant from. There's just so much that I relate to that I want to just take these girls out for a night of magical fun. Returning to Lochinvar, can I just say how perfect he is for Persy? Despite his good looks, he's literally a spaz. He loves learning, and schooling, and books, and damn, that really is the perfect man now isn't it? The only character that worried me was Charles. Precocious younger siblings or relations can easily mean the death of a good story. They are the bane of everyone, especially the Brady Bunch. But somehow Charles walks the fine line between overly cute and annoyance just perfectly. It doesn't hurt that he actually wants to help and that his suggestions often are very useful.

But just having a bunch of great characters wandering around does not make for a good book. There needs to be a story, a narrative that is equal to the characters. While I have always loved Historical Fiction, the lure of living in another time, it's always a more satisfying read when there's that hint of history. The merging of fact and fiction elevates a story to a new level. It's not just about the setting, but about the reality it imbues the narrative with, even in a magical world it gives it a good grounding. Here the story is entwined with Queen Victoria's rise to power. I have to admit I have a strong fondness for the young Victoria, and no, it has nothing to do with the Julian Fellowes movie of that name. I have a fondness for the miniseries Fellowes so blatantly ripped off, Victoria and Albert, staring another Victoria, Victoria Hamilton, and the lesser Firth, Jonathan.

The struggles with her mother and Sir John Conroy that were brought to the small screen here crackle with the same animus, but with an otherworldly threat to the young Victoria. It's like the idea of Queen Elizabeth's adviser, John Dee, actually having magical powers and using them, but brought forward to Victorian times. Seriously, I was insanely happy about these magical underpinnings being logically placed in a historical context. Merging characters I loved and bringing historical figures I love and making them into flesh and blood people interacting with these characters, oh yes, I am a happy girl. And oddly, what made me happiest was the little detail that Victoria did a drawing of her dog Dash. It's always the little things that help inform the bigger picture.

Though in the end it comes down to magic. Does this book actually use magic well? The answer is damn right it does! As Marissa mentions in her profile post she loves "starting out with history and then layering magic in underneath it, I tend to prefer real-world historical settings where magic is secret and known only to a few, rather than alternate history where magic is an accepted part of the world." This is an interesting take, because usually, at least in most Regency Magic books, magic is known about and regulated, yet here, here it is a secret. So what's delicious about this idea is that this could conceivable be what really happened! Yes, Marissa is stating that just perhaps a Regency was averted and Victoria became Queen unimpeded due to magic. It's a wonderful idea isn't it? That magic is all around us but we're just not away of it.


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