Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Book Review - Marissa Doyle's Betraying Season

Betraying Season (Leland Sisters Book 2) by Marissa Doyle
Published by: Henry Holt and Co
Publication Date: September 29th, 2009
Format: Hardcover, 330 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy (different edition than one reviewed)

Penelope feels that she not only let her twin sister down but her heroine Queen Victoria as well. Sure, she was there when Victoria was saved, but the special commendation belongs to her twin Persy and Persy alone. Pen feels like a fraud. And that is why she's in Ireland. It wasn't just that she felt like a third wheel at home with her sister in a constant state of connubial bliss with her new husband. It's that Pen has neglected her magical studies and now is the time to fix this shortfall. If she had tried harder before perhaps she could have actually helped Persy when she needed her help and deserved the commendation bestowed on her by Victoria. So Pen has followed her governess Ally to Ireland and Ally's new home in Cork with her husband. Only Ally is experiencing a common result of getting married and her horrific morning sickness, which seems to last all day, has led to Ally's father-in-law, Doctor Carrighar, taking over Pen's education. Despite how much she wants to better herself, being locked up all day studying, at times with four male students of Doctor Carrighar's who don't appreciate the presence of a female, can be tiring.

But Cork isn't London and Pen convinces Ally to let her run errands. Alone. When she's out one day she fatefully and almost fatally runs into Lady Keating. Lady Keating takes Pen under her wing and soon becomes the female role model Pen is so desperately missing with Ally being laid up and Persy a country away. It doesn't hurt that Lady Keating's son, Niall, isn't hard on the eyes. But then again, Niall is rumored to be the illegitimate son of Queen Victoria's uncle, the Duke of Cumberland. The Duke might not be liked, but he does have the looks, the looks of Niall. The Duke is also at the heart of a plan being concocted by Lady Keating, who just happens to be a sorceress. Due to unforeseen circumstances Lady Keating's plan to get ride of Queen Victoria and install the Duke on the throne has a hitch. She needs a third witch, preferably family, to help invoke the power of the Triple Goddess to get her spell to work. To this end Lady Keating orders Niall to court Pen, whose magical abilities she has recognized. But when does duty to his mother become true love for Penelope? With secrets upon secrets and broken allegiances can anyone get a happy ending? And more importantly, can Pen earn the commendation Queen Victoria gave her?

In Marissa Doyle's first book in this series, Bewitching Season, I felt such a strong connection to Persy and her bookish ways that I quite honestly didn't think I would be able to connect to Pen. Through the filter of Persy's story Pen seemed the epitome of the girly girl of the time, more concerned with couture and a debutante's lifestyle than education and books. Cutting Pen off from her delightful family, and in particular her little brother Charles, seemed a sure way to get me to tune out. Of course I was totally wrong. Pen didn't so much change throughout her sister's adventure as had her eyes opened and Betraying Season is the result of this new knowledge. Yes, I could say that it's because the sisters did a "Parent Trap" and switched situations, with Pen becoming the bookish one, but that isn't it at all. What it is is that we get to see Pen's struggle as she tries to change, as she tries to do better, to be better, and this is a struggle which we can all relate to. And her change isn't overnight, while she does buckle down and commit to studying, she still longs for and misses society and the season she gave up to improve herself. This is what works so well, we constantly see Pen struggling to balance this new life of the mind with her old life of leisure that Lady Keating seems to initially represent; and it's in this struggle that we finally relate to Pen.

The love story is also of a different ilk. Persy quite literally fell for the boy next door in Lochinvar. Their romance was sweet and destined and full of misunderstandings, but was always a given. We, as the readers, weren't there on this journey from the beginning, we came in once it was already set in stone. Bewitching Season was more about the consummation than the journey. Which is where Pen and Niall come in. We get to follow their budding romance every step of the way, from initial attraction to happily ever after. There's a different kind of magic finding someone when you least expect it and connecting and building a bond and overcoming obstacles. By seeing their entire romance unfold we can never be certain that the HEA is guaranteed. There's more fluidity to the outcome by not having it so fated as Persy and Lochinvar were. Plus, there's wonderful misunderstandings that crop up because these two people haven't known each other their whole life. I think this is best exemplified by Niall's hair-brained scheme to "save" Pen from his mother's machinations. The entire time you're thinking, why didn't Niall just tell Pen what was going on? But that's the fun of this book. They're new to each other so they will misstep, and sometimes those missteps are hilarious in their absurdity.

As for Lady Keating being the big bad... I kind of seriously adored her. Persy was facing a foe who was all about his power hungry machinations, whereas Lady Keating is actually far more complex. She's not just evil, but she's definitely not good. She seriously wants what is best for her son, but doesn't bother to ask him. She assumes that her desires for power and fame are aligned with her sons. But Niall isn't that way inclined. In this way I view her as a very Norma Bates character, because she's trying to do what's best for her son but in the only way she knows how. And of course that way is entirely the wrong way to do it. But underneath this veneer she has created she's far more complex than you'd think. She is obviously a woman who is looking for someone to connect to. She doesn't care about her husband or her daughter, because one was a convenience, the other wasn't skilled enough in magic to provide any interest. She "loves" Niall because he is a link to the one person she did connect with, the Duke of Cumberland. But it is in her relationship with Pen that we see all her different layers. She obviously has longed for someone magical to connect with and one wonders, if she had had this in her life earlier, would she be the villain? I honestly don't think she would be, and that human side is what makes her so deliciously complicated.

What I really sunk my teeth into here was the expansion of the magical system that Marissa Doyle had previously set up. Ireland has an entirely different feel, magically speaking, and this contrast helps Pen become as adept as her sister, but in a unique way. There are many methods of teaching these varying magics, and I think it really shows how people, even twins, learn differently and connect to subjects in distinctive ways. This "Other" magic very much ties into the very fiber of what it is to be Irish and their myths and legends. The Fairy realm, the Triple Goddess, all of it ties into what makes Ireland so distinctive. I can't help but think of the Irish Fest I used to attend every summer in Milwaukee. Even though it was many many miles away from the homeland, there was a magic to the storytelling and the music and the community. There's just something inherent to the culture of Ireland that encourages this belief in the possibility of magic and Marissa Doyle has tapped into it in this volume. She has made magic even more believable and that's why I, and perhaps even Pen, were able to make this connection that we didn't think was possible.

The magic just doesn't stop at enchantments, but goes further into the bestiary, the "creatures" of Ireland and the magical world. Adding magical creatures into a series that previously had no mention of them is a tricky thing. The main problem that us readers face is the suspension of disbelief. This suspension is often hampered by making the creatures too comical. A funny creature doesn't lend itself to credulity, most of the time. Yet once again Marissa Doyle comes out on top. She introduces the creatures, in particular Corkwobble the clurichaun, which for some reason my spell check actually recognizes as a form of leprechaun, in a very matter of fact way. And this is what makes it work. My paternal grandmother was 100% Irish, though not born there, and she talked about ghosts and creatures, in particular Pookas, as totally existing. I grew up believing in these creatures and nothing will ever shake my belief because when a little old lady sits you down and says it's just the way of the world and sure, you'll see ghosts, there's something so matter of fact that you just accept it. And that is what this book does, it's the way of the world for Pen and Pen just goes with it. And what better way to have an adventure then to be at Pen's side?


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