Regency England. As historical settings go, it's one of the most romantic. Young ladies in long dresses, swooning at the sight of eligible bachelors. Nice manners, fluttering fans, and an emphasis on respectability at all times.
Unless, of course, you're Kat Stephenson. Twelve years old, and determined to rescue your family from ruin not by making a prudent marriage, but by hacking off your hair, dressing as a boy, and running away to London to make your fortune. And, when hauled back again, by facing off against notorious highwaymen and evil lords and wicked stepmothers... with a little help from the magic powers you never knew you had.
Lookout Regency England: Kat Stephenson has landed. We may be in Jane Austen territory, but my guess is that Mr Darcy and co wouldn't last five minutes with the unladylike heroine of A Most Improper Magick. In the midst of polite Regency society, Kat Stephenson is a character who swims against the tide of social-climbing stepmothers, villainous lords and very proper older sisters in empire line dresses. Where the Bennett sisters would swoon, she swaggers. She's easy to relate to: as the youngest of four, she's forever bossed around and treated like a nuisance by the older siblings who foolishly fail to recognise how quite formidable their kid sister really is. She's boisterous, independent and doesn't care for etiquette. And if all that isn't enough to tell you that she's the kind of character who'll turn this polite society upside down, she's also MAGIC. What could be better than that?
Because the most intriguing thing about A Most Improper Magick has to be its take on the supernatural world. There's your regular witchcraft, of course: love spells and enchantments and more sinister dark varieties. And then there's the power of the Guardians: a potent inherited magic possessed by those who belong to the secret Order that Kat stumbles across when her late mother's golden mirror transports her to another dimension. As this is the first book in a series, we're shown just enough of this world to pique our interest, as Kat has her first taste of magic, sorts out her sisters' love lives and makes her own mind up about the mysterious Order of Guardians. It's clear there'll be much to discover in the next instalment, and I can't help wondering whether Kat's family - particularly witchcraft-practising middle-sister Angeline - will be the cause of her troubles next time around.
Amidst all the magic and matchmaking, A Most Improper Magick gives us a proper page-turning adventure story. Kat fearlessly encounters shady aristocratic villains, sneaks around the gothic Grantham Abbey and even throws herself in the path of highwaymen - and all with a cheeky wit and resourcefulness that makes her exactly the kind of heroine a reader can't help rooting for. It's a story that shows a different side to the refined Regency world you read about in other books or see on TV: an unladylike side that's more fun than I ever could have expected to find there.
A Most Improper Magick is a treat of a book. Packed with magic, mischief and peril, it's a good old fashioned yarn with a 21st century style heroine. I'd recommend it to tweens or younger teens looking for a wicked supernatural adventure with added girl power.
Out: 1st August 2010, UK / April 2011, US
Thank you to Stephanie Burgis and Templar Publishing for providing a review copy of this book.