After the intensity of Blake Charlton’s Spellbreaker, I wanted something much easier to read. And, given that I have plans for much of the weekend, I wanted something that stood alone, or was at least on the shorter side. Something that I’d read before and enjoyed, to cheer my mood and make things easier on my brain. So I grabbed Mairelon the Magician by Patricia C. Wrede off the shelf.
For a simple story, this one is pretty complex. It’s not just that it’s Victorian England with magic, it’s so very much more than that. The basic plot is right out of Shakespeare’s comedies: everyone is trying to find a stolen platter and somehow they all end up in the same room at the climax. Some of these people have nothing at all to do with the theft or (several) attempted recoveries, others are up to their necks and the people are far more interconnected than they should be.
Now I kind of wonder how this book would work as a stage play.
Despite the twists and turns, this is still a kids’ book. I’ll remind you that I was probably seven or eight years old when I first started reading Patricia Wrede books and while I didn’t pick this one up until later, that doesn’t change the fact that a kid could easily read this and understand what’s going on. This is despite Kim, the main character, being seventeen years old. Remember, the protagonist’s age does NOT have to dictate the target audience! (I have a picture book whose main character is a man in his thirties or forties…still a children’s book! I’ll get to that someday on this blog. Maybe late this year…) I mention the age because all those young adult and (even worse) teen books seem convinced that in order to relate to their target audience, the main character has to be right around the same age. Now, I’ll admit that if you’re setting your book in a highschool, you probably need to have a 14-18 year old protagonist. But that’s no law and frankly, how can people better empathize with others if they’re not being exposed to different groups? Age is one of those differences that shouldn’t be ignored when writing a book.
Now, truth be told, I enjoy the sequel, Magician’s Ward, far more than Mairelon the Magician. Part of that is because I found the second book first and read it first. I’ve gotten better over the years about realizing when I don’t have the first book in a series, but sometimes I still screw up. Fortunately, Magician’s Ward is more than strong enough to stand on its own. Yes, there are numerous references to the events of the previous volume, but there’s enough information that a new reader can surmise what they must and continue with the story.
I think part of why I perfer Magican’s Ward is the same reason why I’m not a fan of most Agatha Christie books. You know the ones, where a bunch of people happen to be on a train or something, someone dies, and it’s got to be one of them responsible. It’s so…contrived that all these people who may have prior connections are all in this random location at the same time. All that running around in the English countryside made the first book feel much the same way. I’m not saying that the second book lacks those surprising connections, just that there aren’t quite as many that are random and that it’s much more plausible when set in a large city such as London.
If Mairelon the Magician is something of a comedy of errors, then Magician’s Ward is a Cinderella story. Kim, who was a street thief in the previous book before meeting Mairelon, has now been taken as the man’s ward and apprentice. Of course, this is quite an adjustment considering that the Merrill family are aristocrats and Kim is going into her first social Season. In case learning magic wasn’t enough to deal with, let’s add in a social life! But this isn’t your typical highschool thing, oh no. This is the time of social calls, parties, and balls that is life for the aristocrats, the wealthy, and the titled. Not the royal court, but what those outside the royal court do since they cannot be where the rulers are.
Can you tell how enthralling I found this book when I first picked it up? My copy is almost twenty years old and while it hasn’t been as abused as some others, it has been well-loved. As a pair, the two are rather engrossing even if they are fast reads. I finished the first with a couple minutes to spare on my lunch break, and knew there was no way I’d go to bed tonight without devouring the second. Patricia Wrede isn’t one of the authors I usually turn to, but she’s always there when I want her. I don’t even have that many books by her, but I’m happy to own all the ones I do. It’s a good thing my mom bought me Dealing with Dragons when I was in third grade or so. Imagine what I’d be missing out on otherwise!