Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Book Review - Stephanie Burgis's Stolen Magic

Stolen Magic by Stephanie Burgis
Published by: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: April 2nd, 2013
Format: Hardcover, 400 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

Kat Stephenson and her family are off to Devon to the Carlyle's great estate on the coast for the long delayed marriage of Kat's sister Angeline to Fredrick Carlyle, her true love. Why the delay? Because Fredrick's mother was none too keen on the match, hoping to marry Fredrick to her niece Jane; besides being against the whole Angeline's a witch thing. One thing is clear, Mrs. Carlyle is going to put Angeline through the ringer in a final effort to see the back of her. But would Fredrick's mother resort to attempted murder to get her way? Because the Stephenson's have had a perilous journey, their coach almost rolling off a cliff to the ocean far below, and it was no accident. But who was behind the accident? Unbeknownst to most of the family they have not been travelling to Devon alone. There is a mysterious and magical person shadowing Kat, and she's not sure of their motivation.

Much like the hurtles Angeline has faced to reach her wedding day, Kat has had many obstacles in her induction to the Order of the Guardians. The induction is finally approaching when yet another delay happens. Kat sacrificed her magical portal to save England and her need for a new one has caused much consternation in the Order. You would think it would be easy to get a new one, but all the replacement portals have disappeared and the lovely Lady Fortherington is gleeful to point her finger at Kat once again, especially when it looks like the portals are somewhere in Devon. So not only does Kat have to prove her innocence, yet again, she has to work with her nemesis Lady Fortherington, prepare for the wedding, keep everyone alive and safe, and hope that all the delays end happily for all involved.

What I most loved about this "final" installment in Kat's magical journey is that while still channelling Jane Austen, Stephanie Burgis has decided to throw a little Daphne Du Maurier into the mix. Devon, being so close to Cornwall, has had it's fair share of wreckers and smugglers, and spies! The cliffs are honeycombs, hiding secrets that could imperil our erstwhile heroine. Not to mention you can get some damn good spirits down the local pub. The environment permeated the book with it's sea air and wind swept clifftops making me think longingly of Jamaica Inn. Burgis has been able to fuse the feeling of propriety that is Austen with this wildness that belongs to Du Maurier as she emulates the Brontes for yet another strong middle grade book that shows that there are great books for this age group.

Despite the fact that Kat is the youngest sibling in her family it just struck me how unique this is if we compare it to other literature set during this time, versus other middle grade books. The younger children, if mentioned at all, rarely figure into the narrative other then just part and parcel of the chaos of everyday life. We will excuse Lydia Bennet because she doesn't play by anyone's rules. Look at Sense and Sensibility, the youngest daughter, Margaret Dashwood, she's just there doing whatever and is hardly mentioned, in some adaptations they even just drop her all together. What I'm saying is that usually we get the older, "wiser" POV, but here there's something magical about seeing it through the eyes of a rambunctious youngster. Kat has an advantage being the youngest, because not only has she observed her older siblings all their lives, but being the youngest, there's a little leeway. She does love to cause trouble and there seems to be an indulgence in this, even if she's frowned upon at the same time.

Also by being the youngest she is allowed a certain excess of emotion. She is allowed to cry without it being viewed as indulgent. Yet what I love in the way Burgis writes Kat is that Kat is allowed to be vulnerable, she's allowed several times to break down and cry because of the emotional drain and chaos that surrounds her. She is allowed to give way to her emotions but at the same time she is strong. I always hate, what I will call the "There's No Crying in Baseball" rule. That you must be strong or vulnerable, there is no middle ground. This isn't how humans work. We aren't just strong and we aren't just weepy, we are a combination of the two. The strongest amongst us can also be the easiest to cry. By showing this complicated nature that is humanity, Burgis is showing young girls and boys that you don't always have to be strong, you can be a hero or a heroine and still cry. I love that this is such a positive message, such a true message. 

And Kat is able to have periods of vulnerability because she is surrounded by people who love her. Kat has always been a little rebellious and more the a little self sufficient. Over time though, while she can still handle all these hurtles thrown in her path, she has realized the strength of family. The hardest thing for any headstrong girl, yes, here I'm pointing the finger at myself, is when to acknowledge you can't do something on your own and when you realize it's not a weakness to ask for help. Here Kat's family knows her so well that she doesn't even need to ask for the help, it's just there. I love that Charles has really stepped up. In the first book he was little more then a lump in bed that caused the family untold troubles. By the second volume he was central, but as a source of consternation and also in need of rescue. By this volume we see that he has mended his ways and is taking on the role of protector of the family, even if this mainly means protecting Kat from herself. I kind of fell in love with Charles a little for how he's matured.

As for the magic? I like that there appears to be an entente brewing between the warring factions of Guardian magic and witchcraft. To me it seemed silly that they should hate each other just because they are different forms of the same thing. They are both reviled by society so it makes sense that uniting their powers together to form a united front is a logical step. But far be it from people of any kind to be logical. They latched onto their differences instead of embracing their similarities. Of course the French had no such compunction when it comes to this missishness. All for victory and that. So I'm glad that the prejudices will hopefully start to break down if only out of necessity. But I'm even more excited for Kat who has vindicated her mother's opinions all these years later.


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