The Magicians and Mrs. Quent
by Galen Beckett
498pp (Hardcover)
My Rating: 7.5/10
Amazon Rating: 4.1/5
LibraryThing Rating: 3.53/5
Goodreads Rating: 3.57/5
 

The Magicians and Mrs. Quent by Galen Beckett is the first book in the Mrs. Quent trilogy, a Regency-esque fantasy set in a secondary world. The book itself is also split into three disparate but connected sections spanning subgenres: the first is primarily fantasy of manners, the second is mainly Gothic fantasy, and the last has more in common with traditional high fantasy with its focus on magic and higher stakes. While I feel that it’s a flawed novel in many ways, it’s also one of the most engrossing books I’ve read lately—in fact, the first thing I did after finishing it was order the next two books, The House on Durrow Street and The Master of Heathcrest Hall, because I really want to know what happens next!

While the Lockwell family lives in a respectable (though not fashionable) part of the city of Invarel, their financial situation has been in decline over the last few years, making it difficult for them to continue to afford their residence. Mr. Lockwell, once an esteemed doctor and scientist, has been confined to the house for nearly ten years after the practice of magick left him incapable of coherent communication. Only Ivy, his sensible eldest daughter, can calm him when agitated, and it is she whom her mother and sisters have relied upon to hold the family together since his affliction.

Before his illness, Mr. Lockwell taught Ivy the principles of problem solving, and she believes there must be a way to she can help her father. Since magick caused his ailment, Ivy is convinced magick must also be the solution and spends much of her time scouring the books in his library looking for answers, even though it’s dreadfully improper for women to do magick.

When picking up books her father scattered all over the library one day, Ivy discovers a title she’s never seen before but doesn’t give it much thought, assuming one of her youngest sister’s books was misplaced. However, she takes a closer look at it after she begins to suspect her father is leaving hints for her to seek that particular book and learns from its inscription that her father meant to give it to her for her thirteenth birthday, which occurred right after his magickal mishap. When Ivy finds a riddle hidden within it, she’s certain her father knew what was to befall him at the time and left her a clue that will lead to the answers she’s been looking for all these years. Ivy is determined to solve this mystery for her father’s sake, but more may be at stake than one person—the fate of her entire world may hinge on her figuring out this puzzle before it’s too late.

The Magicians and Mrs. Quent is a delightful novel with a wonderful heroine and entertaining conversations, but it’s far from a perfect novel. Though I devoured it—even loved reading it!—it’s best enjoyed if one does not think about it too hard. It’s one of those books in which many problems could be solved by better communication, whether it’s people telling others important information earlier or mysterious strangers actually explaining what’s happening instead of being cryptic. There are also times in the second section that I didn’t think Ivy behaved completely in character in order to draw out that mystery as long as possible. However, despite all these quibbles, it was immensely entertaining and I could hardly put it down!

The first section has obvious similarities to the work of Jane Austen with its focus on society, relationships, and class inequality and serves as an introduction to the city of Invarel and the three main protagonists. Though this is primarily Ivy’s story, it also follows two other characters: Mr. Rafferdy, a lord’s son who is more interested in entertainment than business and responsibilities, and Mr. Garritt, a man struggling to provide for himself and his sister after their father squandered their money. The first chapter belongs to Ivy, and I knew I was going to like her from the very first line:

 

It was generally held knowledge among the people who lived on Whitward Street that the eldest of the three Miss Lockwells had a peculiar habit of reading while walking.

In addition to being a reader, she’s clever, kind, dutiful, and courageous, and she was my favorite of all the characters. With all her wonderful character traits, she almost seemed a little too perfect, but she did have a tendency to be a little recklessly adventurous at times, plus she could be a little judgmental and quick to anger (though she was also quick to reassess her first impression and feel remorse upon realizing she had made an error).

It took me a little longer to warm to the other two protagonists, especially since Ivy’s story begins with a clear direction given her goal to help her father, and it’s not immediately apparent how the other two fit. Mr. Rafferdy’s first chapter involves discussion with completely different characters at a party, and Mr. Garritt’s first chapter largely involves discussion with yet more completely different characters at a tavern (though at least he has his own goal of getting a loan while Mr. Rafferdy is rather aimless at first). They do eventually tie into Ivy’s story more, although Mr. Garritt’s story is much more loosely connected than Mr. Rafferdy’s—especially since Mr. Rafferdy immediately falls head over heels for Ivy and makes every effort to ensure he runs into her as often as possible, even though a lord’s son can never marry a woman of such low status.

The second part of The Magicians and Mrs. Quent is completely different from the first and last, as it switches to first person perspective in the form of Ivy’s journal. This spookier section is commonly compared to Jane Eyre, and it’s very different in tone from the lighter first. Ivy is a governess to two children, and she encounters some mysteries in the countryside: the children keep insisting they see someone outside who talks to them, and people in a nearby town find Ivy’s appearance unnerving. Some may find the change in point of view jarring, but I enjoyed spending more time with Ivy and learning more about the past with her.

The final section returns to Invarel and the original structure, and this part is where Mr. Rafferdy and Mr. Garritt’s roles become more necessary (though the former more than the latter). Book Three is focused on magick and political turmoil, and all characters are involved with different aspects of the former while Mr. Garritt’s adventures allow a glimpse of the rebellion against the king.

Though certainly not as witty or sharp as its authorial influences, The Magicians and Mrs. Quent is a thoroughly captivating read with a compelling main character at its center. It does have a tendency to put following the plot line before sense, but since it seems as though this novel is setting up a larger story and there are still a lot of unanswered questions, it’s possible at least some of these issues will be addressed in the sequels. It’s not a thoughtful book with much depth, but it’s a great book for those times one just wants to be immersed in a story—and I am very much looking forward to learning what happens next in The House on Durrow Street!

My Rating: 7.5/10

Where I got my reading copy: I purchased it.

This book is June’s selection from a poll on Patreon.

The House of Binding Thorns
by Aliette de Bodard
368pp (Hardcover)
My Rating: 8/10
Amazon Rating: 4.8/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4.25/5
Goodreads Rating: 4.13/5
 

The House of Binding Thorns by Nebula Award–winning author Aliette de Bodard is the second novel in the Dominion of the Fallen series, a dark Gothic fantasy set in the ruins of an alternate Paris containing fallen angels, magic, and a dragon kingdom under the Seine. Though it follows events in the previous novel set in this world, BSFA Award winner The House of Shattered Wings, it’s considered a standalone sequel: it shifts the focus from House Silverspires to House Hawthorn and the dragon kingdom, and while it follows a couple of the same characters as the first novel, it also introduces some new ones. It’s certainly not absolutely necessary to read The House of Shattered Wings first (and, personally, I much prefer the newer book), but it would probably be helpful to do so since this novel does continue the stories of some of the same characters.

After the head of Silverspires learned of their House alchemist’s angel essence addiction, she dismissed Madeleine from their protection. Madeleine was then reclaimed by Asmodeus of Hawthorn, who has haunted her nightmares ever since she crawled away from this House twenty years ago—the night of the violent coup that ended with Asmodeus’ ascension to the head of House Hawthorn, many deaths, and her own severe injuries that never completely healed.

Once Madeleine has been weaned off the drug, Asmodeus presents her with a choice that is not much of a choice: she must pledge her loyalty to him and avoid relapsing in order to serve the House, or he’ll “release her.” Shortly after obtaining her oath of fealty, Asmodeus informs her that he intends for her to accompany a Seine-bound delegation that will be negotiating a formal alliance between Hawthorn and the dragon kingdom through Asmodeus’ betrothal to a dragon prince. All is not well in the dragon kingdom, and the diplomats find the dragons appear sick and frightened, there seem to be divisions among them, and the envoy Hawthorn sent to pave the delegation’s way has not been seen in three days—and no one knows what happened to her.

The cause of the dragon kingdom’s vulnerability is a recent influx of angel essence that has left many of its inhabitants skeletal with easily broken antlers. Considering that Hawthorn is the closest House to the Seine and the one that would benefit the most from their weakness, the dragons believed them to be a possible culprit and sent one of their own, Thuan, to infiltrate the House. For the last six months, Thuan has been acting the part of a young Annamite mortal seeking to become a dependent of the House, but in fact he has been trying to uncover the source of the angel essence destroying his kingdom—before it’s too late.

Despite its power, Hawthorn has enemies of its own, and both the House and the dragon kingdom may need to work together to survive—or they may fall together.

Though it featured an intriguing world and some lovely prose, I felt The House of Shattered Wings was hindered by too much narrative introspection that didn’t add to the story or advance the characterization, making parts of it rather dull (my review). In the end, it had enough strengths that I ended up deciding to give The House of Binding Thorns a chance, especially after learning it focused on House Hawthorn and Asmodeus, who was one of the more compelling characters from the previous book—and I’m happy I did since it’s a far superior novel.

Like the first Dominion of the Fallen novel, The House of Binding Thorns features some beautiful writing, and its further exploration of the world allows this to shine even more as it brings to life the wonder and decay of the dragon kingdom, the creepiness of a certain copse of trees, and other parts of the devastated Paris that de Bodard has created. While the perspectives in The House of Shattered Wings were limited to characters within House Silverspires, this novel’s point of view characters are both inside and outside of Hawthorn:

  • Madeleine, an angel essence addict and alchemist sent to the dragon kingdom as part of Hawthorn’s delegation (her story is continued from the previous book, in which she was part of House Silverspires)
  • Thuan, a several-decades-old dragon posing as a teenage Annamite boy in Hawthorn in order to investigate their potential involvement in the affairs of the dragon kingdom
  • Philippe, a former Immortal of the Jade Emperor’s court desperately trying to learn how to resurrect a dead friend (his story is continued from the previous book, in which he was in House Silverspires against his will)
  • Francoise, an Annamite woman on the edges of the Annamite community because they disapprove of her choice to love a Fallen (Berith, Asmodeus’ dying Fall-sister)

While I still felt each of them could have been fleshed out with more distinct narrative voices, I did find both Madeleine and Philippe’s stories and characters were more engaging than in the previous book. Madeleine’s struggles as an addict and a traumatized victim of Hawthorn’s coup are sympathetic and heartfelt, and though she wasn’t my favorite character, I enjoyed her story since the dragon kingdom was mostly viewed through her eyes. By far, my favorite point of view character was Thuan—his secret identity added some tension since there’s always the possibility of his discovery, and though dutiful to his kingdom, he also grapples a little with guilt over lying to those within the House who have treated him kindly (plus I love dragons!). However, I thought Francoise was the most fascinating and well-drawn character even if I preferred following some of the others’ stories.

Out of the four main characters, Francoise is probably the most “ordinary” and least powerful. She’s not a dragon or magician (though Berith can temporarily lend her some of her magic) nor does she have the power that comes from being part of a House, which makes the way she approaches challenges all the more admirable. She bravely faces Asmodeus, a Fallen feared by even Philippe and Thuan, on more than one occasion, and is a pillar of inner strength and resilience—and, unusually for fantasy, she does it all while pregnant or recovering from a difficult birth.

In general, The House of Binding Thorns is a unique addition to the speculative fiction genre. Though themes of community and belonging are not uncommon in stories, these are deftly and thoughtfully handled here, and it also examines post-colonialism with inspiration from France’s interference in Vietnam and the Opium Wars. Like many fantasy novels, it has an emphasis on power and those who wield it, but I found its approach to power struggles refreshing. Various characters and factions are grasping for dominance, but many of them do not seem to be doing so out of greed or a desire to become powerful, but mainly for survival—not only their own, but that of those they care about or their community as a whole. Despite a plethora of powerful characters with dragons, magicians, and Fallen, there is some balance and no one is so secure that they do not fear anyone else.

As mentioned, Asmodeus instills terror in even dragons and former Immortals due to his notorious ruthlessness and, though not a point of view character, he’s a fascinating character who tends to steal the show. He’s still somewhat mysterious since we only see him through the eyes of others, but it is shown that he does have a moral code of sorts since he tends to keep his word and look out for Hawthorn’s dependents—and there are even a couple of times some vulnerability shines through the mask he presents to the world.

The House of Binding Thorns further develops the world of the Dominion of the Fallen and is much stronger and more memorable than the previously published novel. It’s more engaging and better paced with gorgeous, atmospheric writing that fits the story and setting (of course, more focus on the dragon kingdom is quite welcome too!). Though more compelling than in The House of Shattered Wings, the characters did not seem as distinct or “alive” as I would have liked, but other than that, I thought The House of Binding Thorns was a standout novel.

My Rating: 8/10

Where I got my reading copy: Finished copy from the publisher.

Related Links:

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I talk about books I got over the last week–old or new, bought or received for review consideration (usually unsolicited). Since I hope you will find new books you’re interested in reading in these posts, I try to be as informative as possible. If I can find them, links to excerpts, author’s websites, and places where you can find more information on the book are included.

It’s not exactly a “leaning pile” this week since there’s only one book to cover, but it’s one I’m quite happy to see re-released!

Perilous Prophecy by Leanna Renee Hieber

Perilous Prophecy (A Strangely Beautiful Novel) by Leanna Renee Hieber

This new revised edition of the Prism Award–winning prequel to Strangely Beautiful was released last week (trade paperback, ebook). You can read chapter two of Perilous Prophecy right here on Fantasy Café, as well as Leanna Renee Hieber’s essay on Gothic literature titled “The Gothic as a Canary in Fear’s Coal Mine.”

 

Cairo in the 1860s is a bustling metropolis where people from all walks of life mix and mingle, mostly in complex harmony. When evil ghosts and unquiet spirits stalk the city’s streets, the Guard are summoned―six young men and women of different cultures, backgrounds, and faiths, gifted by their Goddess with great powers.

While others of the Guard embrace their duties, their leader, British-born Beatrice, is gripped by doubt. What right has she, a bookish, sheltered, eighteen-year-old, to lead others into battle? Why isn’t dark-eyed, compelling Ibrahim, who is stronger of will than Beatrice, the one in charge?

Ghosts maraud through Cairo’s streets, heralding a terrible darkness. Beatrice and her Guard have little time to master their powers; a great battle looms as an ancient prophecy roars toward its final, deadly conclusion.

This enchanting prequel to Leanna Renee Hieber’s gaslamp fantasy, Strangely Beautiful, returns to print after more than a decade, edited and revised for Tor’s publication.

The Leaning Pile of Books is a feature where I talk about books I got over the last week–old or new, bought or received for review consideration (usually unsolicited). Since I hope you will find new books you’re interested in reading in these posts, I try to be as informative as possible. If I can find them, links to excerpts, author’s websites, and places where you can find more information on the book are included.

One book that I’m very excited about showed up in the mail a couple of days ago, but first, here are last week’s posts in case you missed either of them:

The Tiger's Daughter by K Arsenault Rivera

The Tiger’s Daughter (Their Bright Ascendancy #1) by K Arsenault Rivera

This epic fantasy, K Arsenault Rivera’s debut novel, will be released on October 3 (trade paperback, ebook). Entertainment Weekly has an excerpt from The Tiger’s Daughter.

This sounds fantastic, and I also love the cover.

 

Even gods can be slain

The Hokkaran empire has conquered every land within their bold reach―but failed to notice a lurking darkness festering within the people. Now, their border walls begin to crumble, and villages fall to demons swarming out of the forests.

Away on the silver steppes, the remaining tribes of nomadic Qorin retreat and protect their own, having bartered a treaty with the empire, exchanging inheritance through the dynasties. It is up to two young warriors, raised together across borders since their prophesied birth, to save the world from the encroaching demons.

This is the story of an infamous Qorin warrior, Barsalayaa Shefali, a spoiled divine warrior empress, O Shizuka, and a power that can reach through time and space to save a land from a truly insidious evil.

A crack in the wall heralds the end…two goddesses arm themselves…K Arsenault Rivera’s The Tiger’s Daughter is an adventure for the ages.

Additional Books:

Since the beginning of 2016, I have been reading and reviewing one book a month based on the results of a poll on PatreonAll of these monthly reviews can be viewed here.

June’s theme is fantasy of manners. It’s a subgenre that I tend to enjoy, and I’ve been in the mood to read more fantasy of manners novels lately so I scoured my shelves for books I’ve heard fit into this category. The June book selections were as follows:

The June book is…

The Magicians and Mrs. Quent by Galen Beckett
The Magicians and Mrs. Quent by Galen Beckett

In this enchanting debut novel, Galen Beckett weaves a dazzling spell of adventure and suspense, evoking a world of high magick and genteel society—a world where one young woman discovers that her modest life is far more extraordinary than she ever imagined.

Of the three Lockwell sisters—romantic Lily, prophetic Rose, and studious Ivy—all agree that it’s the eldest, the book-loving Ivy, who has held the family together ever since their father’s retreat into his silent vigil in the library upstairs. Everyone blames Mr. Lockwell’s malady on his magickal studies, but Ivy alone still believes—both in magic and in its power to bring her father back.

But there are others in the world who believe in magick as well. Over the years, Ivy has glimpsed them—the strangers in black topcoats and hats who appear at the door, strangers of whom their mother will never speak. Ivy once thought them secret benefactors, but now she’s not so certain.

After tragedy strikes, Ivy takes a job with the reclusive Mr. Quent in a desperate effort to preserve her family. It’s only then that she discovers the fate she shares with a jaded young nobleman named Dashton Rafferdy, his ambitious friend Eldyn Garritt, and a secret society of highwaymen, revolutionaries, illusionists, and spies who populate the island nation of Altania.

For there is far more to Altania than meets the eye and more to magick than mere fashion. And in the act of saving her father, Ivy will determine whether the world faces a new dawn—or an everlasting night. . . .

I’ve been wanting to read this since I first heard about it and was especially intrigued by it after reading Thea’s excellent review of The Magicians and Mrs. Quent  on The Book Smugglers—so I’m very much looking forward to it!

Book Description from Penguin Random House (CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR FOOL’S ASSASSIN and FOOL’S QUEST):

More than twenty years ago, the first epic fantasy novel featuring FitzChivalry Farseer and his mysterious, often maddening friend the Fool struck like a bolt of brilliant lightning. Now New York Times bestselling author Robin Hobb brings to a momentous close the third trilogy featuring these beloved characters in a novel of unsurpassed artistry that is sure to endure as one of the great masterworks of the genre.

Fitz’s young daughter, Bee, has been kidnapped by the Servants, a secret society whose members not only dream of possible futures but use their prophecies to add to their wealth and influence. Bee plays a crucial part in these dreams—but just what part remains uncertain.

As Bee is dragged by her sadistic captors across half the world, Fitz and the Fool, believing her dead, embark on a mission of revenge that will take them to the distant island where the Servants reside—a place the Fool once called home and later called prison. It was a hell the Fool escaped, maimed and blinded, swearing never to return.

For all his injuries, however, the Fool is not as helpless as he seems. He is a dreamer too, able to shape the future. And though Fitz is no longer the peerless assassin of his youth, he remains a man to be reckoned with—deadly with blades and poison, and adept in Farseer magic. And their goal is simple: to make sure not a single Servant survives their scourge.

Assassin’s Fate, the third book in Robin Hobb’s Fitz and the Fool trilogy and the sixteenth novel set in the Realm of the Elderlings, was one of my top most anticipated books of 2017 since I loved both the previous books, Fool’s Assassin and Fool’s Quest. Like my reviews of the preceding installments, I’m not going to discuss Assassin’s Fate in depth to avoid spoilers: after all, this is the conclusion to the third trilogy about FitzChivalry Farseer, as well as the fifth series in this world. If you’ve read this far, you know what the series is about and probably don’t want to read any plot-related details (and if you haven’t read these books and enjoy character-driven fantasy, magic and kingdoms, animal companions, and dragons, and you don’t mind angst or books in which characters endure significant hardship, start with the first book in the Farseer trilogy, Assassin’s Apprentice).

Although I found it nearly impossible to put down throughout the last 40% or so, Assassin’s Fate is my least favorite book in this trilogy mainly because the first 60% of it seemed excessively long. While Fool’s Assassin was not at all fast paced, it was riveting due to the characters and their relationships—and those were just not as compelling in this final installment as in the first (or second) book, even though there were still some great scenes. At first, I wondered if I found it less engaging than the previous installments due to a lack of familiarity with the characters from the Rain Wilds Chronicles quartet, the only Realm of the Elderlings novels I have not yet read. Yet I still found it slow even after it shifted to primarily focusing on this trilogy’s characters and some who appeared in previous books I had read, plus the second storyline also seemed longer than necessary. The journeys seemed to drag on and on, and there were not a lot of interesting plot or character developments throughout these pages—nor were there many interesting interactions between the characters who have been present throughout this trilogy.

Once the traveling finally came to an end, the book was quite readable complete with more excitement and Epic Events. Though this trilogy is primarily focused on Fitz and characters close to him, occurrences in Assassin’s Fate have some large ramifications for the liveship merchants and include revelations involving dragons (and fantastic scenes involving dragons!), and the ties to these other series are some of the best parts.

As with all of Hobb’s books, one of the most memorable aspects is the emotional journey, but I didn’t think that measured up to previous books in the series: these parts seemed rushed, especially after reading so many pages that meandered. Though heartbreaking, even the ending didn’t hit me as hard as I would have expected. It was so heavily foreshadowed that it wasn’t surprising to me, but predictable scenes in Hobb’s books have often managed to elicit strong feeling—the characters just didn’t seem as vivid in this novel to me as in others, and I think that also affected my experience with it.

Although I’m glad I finished the Fitz and the Fool trilogy since there are some momentous scenes that I wouldn’t have wanted to miss, I did feel that Assassin’s Fate was a bit disappointing compared to most of the other Realm of the Elderlings novels. While Hobb’s deft characterization usually keeps me invested despite any slow pacing, more than half of this installment seemed far too drawn out for both the amount of plot and character development it contained. It does eventually become more engaging with more action and compelling character interaction, but many of these parts have the opposite issue with pacing and seem too rushed, especially considering they follow a large portion containing little of interest. It’s still a keeper as an important volume in the series, but it doesn’t have the same high quality I’ve come to expect from these books (although you should probably take my opinion with a grain of salt since most readers seem to think better of it than I do!).

My Rating: 7/10

Where I got my reading copy: Finished copy from the publisher.