January 23, 2005

A College of Magics by Caroline Stevermer (repeat)

cover: castle on rocky coastStevermer's book starts off seeming to have a generic fantasy plot and setting, but as the book progresses she consistently makes things more surprising.

For the first chapter or so, the book seems to be in a standard pseudo renaissance fantasy setting, but slowly it comes clear that it's set in an alternate Europe of the early twentieth century, complete with motor cars, revolvers, and the Orient Express.

Faris Nalaneen is the teenaged duchess of Galazon. She has been sent to Greenlaw College by her uncle who mostly just wants her out of his way while he collects as much political power as he can muster before Faris reaches her majority. Outwardly, Greenlaw appears to be a standard finishing school. And Faris is certainly ripe for some finishing, she is brash and headstrong and reckless.

But as the title implies, Greenlaw also teaches magic. Though "teaches" is perhaps a misnomer. Magical ability is inborn, and its use seems to be largely intuitive rather than deliberative. In its effects, the magic in the book seems to be derived from what magic would be like if the magic of the actual period (things like stage magic and mesmerism) were real.

The book is in three sections. The first shows Faris's three years at Greenlaw. The second follows her from Greenlaw back home to Galazon by way of Paris and the third considers how Faris comes into her political and magical power.

It's a pleasingly complex young adult fantasy novel.

Posted by jeffy at January 23, 2005 12:16 PM