Wednesday, September 21, 2011
The Twelfth Enchantment
The Twelfth Enchantment / David Liss
New York: Random House, c2011.
I read this book by chance: I've heard of the author and this one crossed my desk at work with an appealing cover, and a setting that caught me -- Regency era with magic. I've read a few that are similar in tone so gave this one a try as well.
In this tale, Lucy Derrick, unhappy 20 yr old orphan living with her parsimonious uncle in England, is being betrothed to a local 35 yr old mill owner. She's none too thrilled about this, when the arrangements are disturbed by the arrival of an enchanted Lord Byron. He delivers a message to her -- she shouldn't marry -- and then collapses, spewing pins (apparently a sure sign of enchantment).
Lucy discovers her magical abilities when she is able to lift the curse from Byron with the help of a local wise woman. She is then drawn into a world of magical creatures, human and non-human alike (gods, wraiths, demons...) and must figure out who to trust and how to decide what to do to make everything right. Unluckily for Lucy, a key figure who she must depend upon is a man who jilted her in her younger years, and who -- true to Regency romance rules -- turns out to be worthy in the end.
Besides Byron, William Blake figures as a character. I've mentioned before that I'm not crazy about real people as characters. But not only real people are represented; fictional icons also have their corresponding figures. Lucy's sister is married to the spitting image of Mr. Collins (of Pride & Prejudice) whose Lady Catherine turns out to be the maniacal mastermind behind the magical villainy that Lucy is fighting. There is also an element of the machinations involving the Luddites and the rise of the industrial age, adding in a mythical depth as well.
I liked it, but wasn't wild about it. It felt like a cross-pollination between Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, and the series of Regency Fantasy-Romance epistolary novels of Patricia Wrede & Caroline Stevermer (of which the first, and my favourite, is entitled Sorcery and Cecelia; or, the Enchanted Chocolate Pot) Plus it held, for me, shadings of the enslaved factory workers of one of my favourite fantasy novels, The Labyrinth Gate. There was a little too much influence for my taste; I'd have liked a shock of the new as well.
Still, if you're looking for a well-written addition to the growing genre of Regency magic, this is a good bet. There's lots of dark magic, books, engravings, ghost dogs, poetry, dresses!, illicit love, betrayal, and of course, True Love. It was a quick read that gave a nod to Austen and the expectations of Regency fiction even as it added its own dark flavour to the era.