Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Book Review - Stephanie Burgis's Kat, Incorrigible

Kat, Incorrigible by Stephanie Burgis
Published by: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: August 1st, 2010
Format: Hardcover, 304 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

Kat isn't your typical girl. When her family is facing money problems due to her older brother's profligate ways, she decides to cut off her hair and run away to London to make her fortune and save her family. Never mind that the idea is more then a little ill conceived, her heart was in the right place. But her stepmother has a foolproof plan, and that's to marry off Kat's sister, and her eldest stepchild, Elissa, to the wealthy Sir Neville. This is something Kat and her other sister Angeline don't view as acceptable. Angeline has heard the rumors that he killed his first wife and despite what society thinks and how their stepmother would frown on her plan, Angeline decides to use magic to help them out of this hole.

The girl's real mother was a powerful magician, something that made her an eccentric outcast. Something that passed down to her children. Little does Angeline know as she's pouring over her mother's spellbooks, that it's Kat who has the real power. Kat is to inherit her mother's legacy and become a Guardian, under the tutelage of her mother's teacher, Mr. Gregson. Though once Kat learns all this she's having none of it. She's going to help her family and get on with her life, and that life isn't going to be complicated by a secret organization that she's uncertain of, even if that organization might help her with the Sir Neville problem.

For some reason I have found myself picking up a lot of middle grade books recently. Whether for my blog or my book club, I have read quite a few lately and been severely disappointed. Some people might say that I have high expectations seeing as these books where written with a younger audience in mind. But the truth is, as authors and readers, this is the age to hook kids. If I hadn't found Elizabeth Levy and her delightful "Something Queer Mysteries" series staring Jill, Gwen, and Fletcher, at this precise "middle grade" age, well, I highly doubt you'd be reading any book reviews written by me. So when reading middle grade books I try to read them not only as if current me is reading them, but as if that little ten year old me is too. I have to say, ten year old me would have loved the heck out of Kat, Incorrigible, and thirty something me really enjoyed it as well.

With re-reading, and also having previously read so many Regency books with a magical bent, I found it fascinating to find a book that tackled the idea of magic existing in that society in an entirely different way. From Susanna Clarke to Mary Robinette Kowal, magic is not only accepted, but viewed as an enhancement to life, used for the betterment of society from conflicts with the French to making your ballroom look spectacular for your yearly fete. Here Burgis has created a society that doesn't look kindly on magic, it is frowned upon. Magic is not something that anyone in polite society would deign to do. Therefore Angeline and later Kat doing magic is a societal no no.

The girls are reminded time and time again by their stepmother that their dearly departed mother was a freak for her magical abilities that she flaunted. Elissa, being a stickler for societal conventions, parrots the party line and her stepmother by adhering to this train of thought and lecturing her younger sisters on it as well. What this has done to society as a whole and is seen in the microcosm of the Stephenson household is that magic has moved underground. Magic is done in secret and is regulated by shadowy organizations but, despite the outward appearance of society, it is more widespread then you would think. Not only is there magic, but there is even distinctions in magic, from the lower witchcraft to the higher Guardian magic, which helps to secretly control all the magic.

At first I was wary of this "Guardian" magic. Yes, it's cool that, unlike witchcraft, it doesn't need spells and is more a force of will. The magic isn't what I was taking umbrage with, it was the fact that there was an Order, capital "O", that regulated everything. I don't know what it is that exactly raised my hackles, but I audibly sighed at yet another secret organization controlling a supernatural force. Seriously, how many secret organizations can one world hold? I know that this is more then a bit hypocritical of me seeing as I love shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Warehouse 13 and The Librarians that all revolve around this trope. In fact, Buffy could be a very good comparison with Mr. Gregson taking on the role of a Watcher... but for some reason I just wasn't willing to initially buy it and I'm not sure I'm sold on it yet, only time will tell. But I will say that as the book progressed it bothered me less and less, so that's something.

I think all the flaws started to fall away because of my love for Kat. She is seriously the most amazing, kick ass, witty heroine you could wish for. I don't joke when I say that literaryily speaking I think that her kindred spirit is Arya Stark from George R. R. Martin's Song of Ice and Fire. They both have this take no prisoners attitude towards life. They both love and care for their family and will protect them above all others. They are confined by the strictures of their society until they start to slowly subvert them. I just adore that Kat is a heroine young (or young at heart) girls can look up to as someone real and amazing that doesn't follow any damsel in distress tropes and is willing to take down titled nobility with a good right hook.

But Kat alone wouldn't work without being surrounded by her sisters. Her sisters bring the book it's believability. They fill the pages with sisterly love but also sisterly strife. While I didn't have a sister growing up this book captures perfectly what I think it must be like, I can only extrapolate from having a brother after all. Her sisters and their affairs of the heart bring a madcap feel that makes the book transcend the typical middle grade fare and made Kat, Incorrigible a fun romp that felt like old time comedies and farces. I dare you to not fall headfirst for this book once the ball starts and the masked bandit appears. It is a situation that a young Jane Austen would have devoured as she herself was known to deftly skewer the literary tropes of her day in her earliest writing. Personally I can't wait to devour the next installment of Kat's adventures. Allons-y!


I have read the first two installments in this series as well, and it is a very delightful one. I love to read children's books from time to time. I find them stress-relieving! :D

Totally! They are delightfully fun and a breath of fresh air.

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