Friday, March 25, 2016

Book Review - Marissa Doyle's Courtship and Curses

Courtship and Curses (Leland Sisters Book 3) by Marissa Doyle
Published by: Square Fish
Publication Date: August 7th, 2012
Format: Paperback, 368 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

Sophie spent years dreaming of what it would be like to have her first season in London. Needless to say her daydreams were nothing like the reality her life has become. When the illness came no one could have guessed the toll it would take on the Rosier family. Sophie lost her mother, her sister, and the assurance of two strong limbs holding her up. She is now crippled and must rely on a cane to support her. Therefore spending months in ballrooms unable to dance escorted by her aunts isn't exactly what she hoped for. That doesn't even take the rumors into account. The fact that the ton has somehow gotten it into it's collective consciousness that she is some kind of malformed freak that can't string two words together, let alone form a sentence, is galling. At least if they see her their misconceptions should be fixed, shouldn't they? But for all that Sophie has endured nothing has cut her to the quick more than the loss of her magic. The illness that ravaged her body also took away what was most precious and secret to her. What's worse is that she has no one to turn to. Her mother taught her in secret, and with her mother gone who can she trust?

Soon Sophie's lack of magic is a major worry. Her father, Lord Lansell, is almost the victim of a tragic accident. The almost had nothing to do with Sophie but with the dashing Lord Woodbridge. In fact Sophie only made matters worse. But soon another "accident" leads Sophie to a startling discovery, many members of the War Office have been "attacked" in these seemingly random ways. Could a French Spy be using magic in order to undermine the British war effort against Napoleon? If this is the case Sophie needs her magic back more then ever! But protecting her father isn't the only thing occupying her time. Lord Woodbridge won't leave her alone. Sure she could see herself prior to her deformity falling for such a man, but that was before. What could he see in her now? As for his cousin Parthenope and her parakeet Hester, they have quickly become Sophie's trusted allies. So why can she trust Parthenope but can't trust her feelings for Lord Woodbridge? It is all too confusing and she really needs her mother. But perhaps Sophie will realize that even with a cane she can stand on her own two feet and make a contribution to the world.

This is THE Regency Magic book you've been waiting for in Marissa Doyle's series. While the first two books were lovely, being set during the time of Victoria they weren't so much Regency and therefore had a different, if still magical, writing style. Courtship and Curses though is all Regency all the time! Tangentially relating to the previous Leland sisters book by following Pen and Persy's mother, Parthenope, and her first season, there's a moral formal, more Jane Austen air to the writing that some people might find too stylized but which I reveled in. There's just something magical about books set during the Regency, whether they contain magic or not. Personally I would never want to do "the season" and as for paying house calls everyday? Spare me now. It's a world that I wouldn't ever necessarily want to live in, yet somehow these books about bygone days of balls and manners just draw me in. Now I don't want you thinking I'm not a connoisseur of this style, because I am. It takes a special kind of author and story to whisk me away and Marissa Doyle did an admirable job of providing me with the cheapest kind of time travel around.

Being fully back in the Regency means that we get war and Wellington. I kid you not that Wellington is one of my favorite characters to be portrayed fictionally. He was such a symbol of the time and such a lightning rod for the war with France that I seriously just want him at every ball being boisterous and opinionated. Of course I always picture Wellington as Stephen Fry from Blackadder and that doesn't hurt. But Marissa Doyle doesn't just use Wellington as a signifier for the war with France or even for comedic purposes, she uses him to show the actual danger that the war represents and also as a sort of catalyst for Sophie to embrace herself and her magic. This entire volume actually serves to remind us of the dangers of life during wartime. In the previous volumes everything that occurred was building to one great and dangerous event that would change everything. Here there is constant peril for members of the War Office. Attack after attack after attack. It's not that it just ups the suspense, it's that you feel the danger more. This isn't your typical Jane Austen with balls and courting, with officers only entering to show off their lovely uniforms. I would say that Marissa Doyle captures more of what Thackeray did with Vanity Fair. The harsh reality versus the rose-tinted glasses.

One of the harsh realities of war is prejudice. Of course this is something our heroine Sophie has had to face with her deformity. But during a war prejudice is pretty much universally shifted to the country that you are fighting, in this instance France. There are two prominent French characters in Courtship and Curses, Madame Carswell, the widow of Lord Lansell's oldest and dearest friend, and a confidant to Sophie, and the Comte de Carmouche-Ponthieux, a lost love of Sophie's Aunt Molly. Madame Carswell more than the Comte is the subject of much gossip, not just because she's French, but because she's a threat to those older women who want to get their claws into Lord Lansell. Sophie is wonderful in that she stands by her friends. She has known the evil glares of others and tries to protect those who protect her. Yet what I find most interesting is that in one of these two instances her trust actually isn't justified. Prejudices form for a reason, no matter how stupid, and while we should always fight it, sometimes, just sometimes the reason for them rears it's ugly head. And I like that Marissa Doyle doesn't make it so clear cut, because that isn't the way of the world. Not everyone we prejudge is deserving of exoneration, just as we should try to be less prejudiced. Life is full of these contradictions and to have both innocence and guilt shown goes to the heart of life's messiness. Plus, manipulating our prejudices does keep a story going.

Yet the heart of this book is Sophie. What really struck me about this book is that Sophie is a very different type of heroine. With her deformity she has a very different vantage point from anyone else. It's not just that she's more passive in society being relegated to the sidelines of the ballrooms and therefore sees more, it's that the way people viewed deformities during this time was so different that it would be so easy to think badly of yourself. Because deformities were thought to outwardly show an inner malignancy. That obviously Sophie's foot was because she had something very wrong with her, not that she was the victim of a serious illness she couldn't control, despite being a witch. Now most authors would use this set up to give us a "teaching moment" on what it means to be broken and to willingly accept our limitations, or how to overcome this, but thankfully that isn't what Marissa Doyle does at all. Instead we are shown Sophie's very real struggle and her inner turmoil that asks how can we be strong when we think ourselves crippled in mind or in body? Because it isn't the affliction it's the attitude that is important. So while we are "taught" that a positive attitude can overcome anything, we aren't "taught" it with a stick.

This goes even deeper when you look at the "good" and the "bad" people that surround Sophie. Being brought out in society by her Aunts, Sophie's Aunt Isobel is always telling her how lucky she'll be to get a second son with no prospects because of what she is. It's never about WHO she is, but WHAT. I can't help thinking about the analogy of being overweight. I was told my entire life that I was overweight. Looking back at pictures when I was younger I wasn't overweight in the least, yet I believed it. I believed it so much that I developed the mindset that this was something that would never change and therefore what I ate and how I took care of myself didn't matter and I did become overweight as a result. But I don't think that way anymore, or at least I try not to, and it's because of my friends. It's about surrounding yourself with good people, people who see who you are. People who boost you up and not drag you down. That is what Madame Carswell, Parthenope, and Lord Woodbridge do for Sophie. They make her realize that she is special. That she isn't defined by some outward feature that people can point at and laugh. That is why her magic returns. That and a stern talking to by Wellington. Sophie's magic is basically her self-esteem. She learns to love herself and therefore she is powerful. Now that is something we all need to remember!


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