What if a magician in the sideshow had real magic? It’s a great premise…and just the smallest part of Mairelon the Magician by Patricia C. Wrede. It’s an excellent book, but it will do you no good to read the plot summary (at least on the copy I had), as it only addresses the first twenty pages. Sometimes I wonder who writes these things…
So, as to the actual plot: Kim is an orphan on the streets of London, a girl who disguises herself as a boy to avoid the wrong kind of attention. A stranger hires her to spy on Mairelon the Magician, who puts on the aforementioned sideshow. Kim quickly realizes, however, that Mairelon is not merely an illusionist, but a real magician. That’s as far as the book jacket will take you. That’s barely the beginning, though. Most importantly, Kim doesn’t find it at all shocking that he can actually do magic. You see, Kim lives in a London where magic is real–it’s an academic, rich man’s profession, but it’s real.
The setting is actually very similar to Wrede’s Sorcery and Cecilia books, a magical version of Regency England, although her blog says they are not proven to be the same world. I’d kind of like to think that they are. 🙂
Back to the plot, beyond what the book jacket says: Mairelon apparently sees something of value in Kim, and takes her on to be trained as his assistant for his magic show. Kim quickly finds herself enmeshed in Mairelon’s quest to find the Saltash group, several silver objects that together can do powerful magic. The quest takes them out of London and into the countryside where everyone you trip over is also chasing the same objects, though for various reasons.
It’s an often very funny story, a good mystery, and I enjoyed the characters. Kim is a smart girl who knows how to watch out for herself, while watching for a chance to improve her lot. She has a soft side too, and gets fond of Mairelon, even if she’s not likely to admit it. Mairelon is one of those flamboyant characters who can be serious underneath it, who means well and is also enormously stubborn. So is everyone, actually, including Kim and Hunch, Mairelon’s combination guard, wagon-driver, assistant and friend.
It’s the interplay between the three of them that I like best. Mairelon’s tends to rush blithely ahead, carefully oblivious to Hunch and Kim’s attempts to restrain him for his own good. The result is a lot of glowering, cursing and deliberate misdirections of the conversation. I imagine you can surmise who’s doing what. Hunch and Kim start out disliking each either, but develop a mutual respect–but one not likely to be admitted.
The other best part is the Sons of the New Dawn, a neo-druid group who have no idea what they’re doing, but whose leader is wildly adamant about finding his Sacred Dish, which is unfortunately the same as the Saltash Platter Mairelon wants. They’re very funny all around.
The book winds up with a final scene featuring at least a dozen people and probably the best example of written hubbub I’ve ever seen. I confess I have trouble balancing dialogue with three or more characters–Wrede somehow writes twelve people arguing with each other.
The end is somewhat marred in that she winds up the hubbub and then spends pages explaining everything that happened. It’s the same device as a detective story, where the detective unmasks the killer and then neatly lays out all the steps of the crime and the investigation. It goes on a bit, though, and feels somewhat forced. On the other hand, she gets points for not leaving the reader wondering what on earth was going on–I’ve seen books that could desperately use a few pages of someone explaining it all.
There’s a sequel to the book, which I haven’t read yet–but if anything, the plot (if I can trust the summaries!) looks even better, so I’ll be tracking that down soon. 🙂
Author’s Site: http://pcwrede.com/index.html