Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Book Review - Beth Deitchman's Margaret Dashwood and the Enchanted Atlas

Margaret Dashwood and the Enchanted Atlas (Regency Magic Book 2) by Beth Deitchman
Published by: Luminous Creatures Press
Publication Date: Ovtober 19th, 2014
Format: Paperback, 302 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

Margaret Dashwood hasn't been back to Norland Park since her family was unceremoniously shown the door by her sister-in-law Fanny after their beloved father died. Margaret and her father had a rather large secret that they kept from the rest of the family. They were both magically inclined. Her father secretly taught her spells and when she came of age she discovered that her father had left her a legacy in his study at Norland. Hence the visit. It might be awkward, it might even be painful, seeing her beloved Norland irreparably changed by Fanny's atrocious taste, but it's the only way to secure her legacy, a legacy that is far greater than she ever imagined. The first night she sneaks into her father's study she can't believe all the secret hidey-holes and realizes it will easily take every night of her visit to secure all the hidden treasures. Though one of the treasures is greater than all the rest. She finds an enchanted atlas that her father made for her. He knew how much she loved this book and longed to travel, so he made this very powerful artifact to fulfill his youngest daughters dreams. She is touched beyond measure to learn that she mattered this much to her father. But more importantly, through his correspondence she now has the names of fellow magical practitioners whom she can contact.

Arriving in London Margaret soon receives a response to a letter she sent to one of her father's friends, a Mrs. Bristlethwaite. Though Margaret has longed for magical company, it's her other correspondent who she's more excited about. While at Norland she met a Mr. Ellsworth, an eligible young man who she instantly connected with. He was also heading to London and asked if he could keep up the connection, something Margaret was very much wanting to do. But soon romance takes a back seat to magic when Mrs. Bristlethwaite sees Margaret's atlas and shows her the power it contains and how it can transport them all over the world. The book even contains lists of famous magical artifacts you can visit. Margaret longs to immerse herself in magic, but living with her family who are unaware of her abilities is a bit risky. Luckily a compromise is reached. While Mrs. Dashwood stays in town to look after Marianne during her confinement Margaret will head home to Devonshire with Mrs. Bristlethwaite and be a guest at Barbary Hall. At Barbary Hall Margaret is allowed to revel in her abilities and meet the local coven. But soon the coven is in danger. Magical artifacts are disappearing from all over the world and Margaret and her atlas are uniquely placed to put an end to this dastardly sorcerer who is up to no good. But will a revelation destroy her chances of happiness?

While most people view Pride and Prejudice as the definitive book by Austen, it isn't necessarily mine. Yes, I adore it more than words can say, but to me Austen is Sense and Sensibility. I still remember how it all happened, my introduction to Austen. I had a gaggle of friends senior year in high school obsessed with the Pride and Prejudice miniseries. They would watch the Netherfield Ball scene over and over while giggling. Now I had always viewed these friends as serious scholarly types, we ran a literary magazine and the "free thought" club, yet here was something that made them giddy little schoolgirls. They talked endlessly about spending nights re-reading Pride and Prejudice while taking a bath instead of doing homework. Needless to say, my interest was piqued. After I graduated I bought myself this big omnibus with the tinniest type possible from B. Dalton's with Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Emma promising myself to spend the summer reading all of Austen. I remember sitting on my bed in my room crying over the heartbreaks of Elinor and Marianne's story. My Austen obsession therefore began and ended with one book.

I think it was Oscar Wilde who said that reviews end up being more about the reviewer than what is being reviewed. I try not to do this too much, but this one time you will really have to indulge me. Because the truth of the matter is that reading Margaret Dashwood and the Enchanted Atlas recaptured for me that moment when I first discovered and fell in love with Austen. When Margaret and her mother returned to Norland Park for a visit I felt like I was there once again for the first time. Like getting to experience a first kiss all over again. People talk about books being time machines. And they are. But sometimes it's not just world history but personal history that you discover between the covers. I relived a moment that I have tried to recapture before and have failed to. This second book in Beth Deitchman's series seems to capture more of the spirit of Austen's own writing. While I adored Mary Bennet and the Bloomsbury Coven, there's something about having a gaggle of interesting and unique characters thrown together in the most haphazard of circumstances that screams Austen.

But it isn't the other characters that anchor this book, it's Margaret. If I'm honest with myself Emma Thompson had more to do with my picking up Jane Austen than anyone else. Because when I was in high school I wasn't so much of a book nerd as a movie nerd; and I always have to read the book before watching the adaptation, that is an inviolable law. So yeah, book nerd in the making I guess. As fate would have it that Emma Thompson adaptation of Sense and Sensibility figures quite prominently in Margaret Dashwood and the Enchanted Atlas in an interesting way. The truth is Margaret Dashwood is a very interesting character in that she actually doesn't really have any character. She is a blank. I like how on the Wikipedia page for Sense and Sensibility that they refer to one of John Middleton's sons as just "nameless." She is barely above this, being basically a cypher. To Emma Thompson this wouldn't fly. So she gave Margaret a personality in her adaptation. Margaret has a love of travel and wants to be a pirate and has a great love of a large atlas that Hugh Grant later gifts to her on his visit to Barton Cottage. It's not just in writing this book that Beth Deitchman has inexorably entwined Margaret with this atlas, she is just tapping into what all true fans of Austen know. With just a few lines Emma Thompson was forever to change the image of that little girl that Janeites the world over then embraced.

Emma Thompson gave Margaret a personality trait, imbuing her with something we can relate to and Beth Deitchman has expanded on that framework. Being the youngest of two very different siblings, I was interested to see who she would take after, the romantic Marianne, or the pragmatic Elinor. While Margaret does have the drive and levelheadedness of Elinor when it comes to studying her magic, I would say overall that she takes more after Marianne. It's not JUST the love of poetry and her losing her heart so quickly to Mr. Ellsworth, or even the pining for him hour after hour, it's the way she does her spells. This is a purely brilliant idea on the part of Beth Deitchman. Margaret does all her spells in French. If you remember what was previously said in Mary Bennet and the Bloomsbury Coven, simplicity and intent are the most important aspects of getting a spell to work. Therefore Margaret translating her spells into French, no matter how perfect her pronunciation, is a poetic affectation. She thinks they sound more magical. I literally snorted at this. It's just SUCH a Marianne thing to say! While yes, I can agree with some of Margaret's theories as to magic and poetry, I think her revelation at the end to Mrs. Bristlethwaite is perfect. Oh, and totally Elinor.

A big difference between Mary Bennet and the Bloomsbury Coven and Margaret Dashwood and the Enchanted Atlas is that in the prior we followed a novice, someone just introduced to the world of magic, while in the later we have a heroine who has been practicing magic under the guidance of her father all her life. While both heroines encounter magical communities on their adventures, Mary still stands separate, while Margaret becomes enmeshed in hers. Both are looking for their place in the world, but Margaret very much wants her place to include those like her, those who can help her on her journey. As I mentioned earlier, it's these unique and interesting characters that help make this book more Austen. The Devonshire Coven is just chock-a-block with characters I fell in love with. From the forthright and indomitable Mrs. Bristlethwaite, to the ever hungry Mr. James, to the kind and gentle Mr. Barrington, each one of these characters is so well rounded, so memorable, you can easily see them finding a permanent place in your heart, just like Mrs. Jennings somehow contrived to do. In fact the only real fault in this book is that it has now come to an end. I could literally spend hours just sitting with these characters in Barbary Hall sipping tea and playing cards while a fire glowed in the hearth.


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