Friday, July 8, 2011
Review: The Magicians and Mrs. Quent by Galen Beckett
The beautiful and bookish Ivy Lockwell lives with her parents and two younger sisters. Mr. Lockwell is a prisoner of his own mind through his studies of magick, and the country of Altania is not sure what to make of its magickal elements. Society seems to shun or disdain magick, but there are some factions within the political system of Altania that believe Altania’s ancient magick still thrives, biding its time to rise up again.
Desperate times force Ivy to take a job in the country with the enigmatic Mr. Quent. There, she learns just how tangled up she is in Altania’s magick. Ivy alone holds the key to protecting Altania from the wrath of a frightening magickal force.
THE MAGICIANS AND MRS. QUENT sure sounds like something I would love. Historical fantasy, particularly with a Regency feel (although the story is set in a different world)… I’m all over it, right?
This book was of that strange breed for which I know there were deep flaws with its premise, execution, and more, and yet found myself reading all the way through.
First off, I don’t think I have ever read a book before which so blatantly copied from famous authors’ works. Beckett was clearly influenced by Austen and Bronte, not simply in terms of writing style, but in the story’s actual content. Parts 1 and 3 of THE MAGICIANS AND MRS. QUENT consist of the social pettiness and satire of an Austen novel, while Part 2 is blatantly reminiscent of Charlotte Bronte’s gothic, mystery atmosphere. The influence of these two authors on this book goes so far as to manifest itself in the book’s point of view: Parts 1 and 3 are told in third-person omniscient, whereas Part 2 switches to first-person from Ivy’s point of view. What, Beckett, you couldn’t even integrate it so that Ivy’s time at Quent’s place could be told in third person? As a reader, I simply did not see the logic in dividing these parts so. Ivy’s first-person narration in Part 2 seemed to have no significant influence on the story whatsoever, except that it makes it easier to “borrow” from the likes of Jane Eyre. Blergh.
Similarly, the disjuncture of Part 2 from Parts 1 and 3 made it feel like two different stories were being told. Even in Part 3 the happenings of Parts 1 and 2 didn’t fit together in any believable way, leaving me no choice but to conclude that Part 2 seemed like an authorial indulgence in Victorian gothic storytelling with little to no bearing on what readers are led to believe should be the primary plot of the book—that is, the goings-on of Parts 1 and 3.
So obviously the characters and their predicaments were pretty much completely jacked from Austen and Bronte (go on, read a few pages and tell me if any of Altania’s characters have never appeared in an Austen or Bronte work before). This led me to have a different reading experience with THE MAGICIANS AND MRS. QUENT than I usually have with a book—namely, that I knew the story was flawed and not very original, but continued to read out of my enjoyment of the, shall we say, “smallness” of the story. The story elements were poorly integrated, but it possesses the addictiveness of reading about petty people’s petty problems (from Austen) and the melodrama of an innocent girl exploring the “haunted” grounds of a tortured man (from Bronte). In short, what I liked about in book lay in its completely unoriginal elements. This makes me feel a little like a sellout.
So THE MAGICIANS AND MRS. QUENT is not going to win any prizes, but if you can’t get enough of Austen and Bronte and don’t mind when some rather illogical magickal elements are thrown in, you might consider checking this book out. It serves, at the very least, as great entertainment as you count how many phrases come right out of the two famous women’s works.
Cover discussion: A little bit of old mixed with the fantastical, which is perfect for this story and which appeals to me too.
Spectra/ Nov. 24, 2009 / Paperback (reprint) / 512pp. / $15.00