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What Am I, Some Sort of Wizard?

Meghan reviews the start of the Patricia Wrede series, Mairelon the Magician, in which a street urchin teams up with a magician and his assistant.

What Am I, Some Sort of Wizard?

BOOK REPORT for Mairelon the Magician (Mairelon Book 1) by Patricia Wrede

Cover Story: Brown Bag It
BFF Charm: Yay
Swoonworthy Scale: 2 But Growing
Talky Talk: Jonathan Strange and Mrs. Heyer
Bonus Factors: Rum Coves, Magic, Jeeves and Wooster
Relationship Status: A Friendship That Grew Into So Much More

Cover Story: Brown Bag It

Seriously, even as adamant as I am about YAngelism, I don't think I could manage to read this book in public without defending myself to everyone who saw me and quirked an eyebrow. Luckily it's on my Kindle, so I don't have to get a concealing cover for it, but jeezycreezy. With that artwork, it looks like those great illustrated classics hawked in the 80s -- the abridged versions of Treasure Island and Ivanhoe.

The Deal:

London street urchin Kim gets what sounds like an easy job -- case a traveling magician's wagon, keeping her eyes open for a distinctive silver bowl, and earn five pounds. What Kim doesn't expect is for the street magician to be a real magician, and for the contents of his locked trunk to have a powerful spell on them that knocks her out. When Mairelon catches her, he decides to take her in his employ instead of punishing her, much to Mairelon's assistant Hunch's chagrin. Kim has been posing as a boy to avoid being snatched and used as a prostitute by the local gang bosses, and although Mairelon wants her to continue the charade, Hunch is all kinds of uneasy about the proprieties. Anyhoo, a bunch of magical silver's been nicked, and Mairelon framed for it, and he's on the hunt to recover it and clear his name with the Ministry of Wizardry (for this is a Regency England like Susannah Clarke's, where wizards and real magicians exist and move in the highest social and government circles), and they end up getting tangled with a tamey-lamey version of the Hellfire Club, some nasty underworld types and -- worst of all for Kim -- the gentry.

BFF Charm: Yay

Ok, I'll fess up here -- I'm giving Kim a bff charm mainly so she can teach me some of her flash lingo. Although Mairelon tries to pull a Henry Higgins and teach her how to talk like a proper lady, she's full of excellent gutter expressions. She's also rather resourceful with a spare bit of wire and just about any lock, and I bet would be a lot of fun in a rowdy gambling hall.

Swoonworthy Scale: 2

There's not so much swoon here as a faint, twinkling promise of swoon. Hunch's delicate proprieties aren't even close to encroached on, but one of my favorite things about the way Mairelon handles Hunch's complaints is how he deliberately misinterprets Hunch in dirty ways. Take this exchange:

'You 'ad ought to be sent to bed without any,' Hunch grumbled, 'and that dratted girl, too.'

'Really, Hunch!' Marelon said in a shocked tone before Kim could do more than gasp in outrage. 'And all this time I'd thought you were worried about the proprieties.'

Kim definitely feels things for Mairelon, but other than his silliness with the double entendre, the only swoon is in the hint of yumminess in the future.

Talky Talk: Jonathan Strange and Mrs. Heyer

The England conjured (Get it? Conjured? Get it?) by Wrede is like the brilliantly fantastic England of Susannah Clarke's Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrel, one of my absolute favorite books. Magicians and wizards are just another profession, like banking or costermongery, although magic does require an aptitude and ability transcends social class. There's no Hogwarts, although the public school my husband went to is "strong in Latin and Greek and wizardry" (sadly, Chris doesn't remember any wizardry, though he's still quite good at Latin). Wrede doesn't construct quite the fantastically complicated universe Clarke does, but she does have a way with words.

Check it:

Finally he was satisfied. He raised his hands slowly and extended them, cupping them around the precariously balanced globe without touching it. He bent his head and began to whisper. The words hissed and sizzled in the confined space of the wagon, rough and saw-edged. Kim held her breath. Orange light flared from the crystal globe, and Renee D'Auber's voice filled the wagon.

The milieu of the book reminds me a LOT of another of my favorite authors, Georgette Heyer, with its ton and Season and so many different lord whosits and lady whatserfaces that I can't keep them all straight. And cravats and figured muslin, natch.

Bonus Factor: Rum Coves

I already mentioned how much I love the gutter slang Kim uses, and while "cloth-head" isn't quite as earthy an insult as, say, douchebag, it still makes for some nice variety.

Bonus Factor: Magic

I really REALLY like fantasy that doesn't read like fantasy, and my number one favorite way it's done is to pretend like magic is normal and all.

Bonus Factor: Jeeves and Wooster

The prose is definitely NOT Wodehousian, but some of the situations are straight out of their madcap adventures. Hunch is also way grouchier than Jeeves, but he and Mairelon have a nice little way about them that makes me think of Fry and Laurie nonetheless.

Casting Call:

Emma Watson as Kim

Emma Watson's not known for playing rough-and-tumble gutter urchins, but she's all I can think of at the moment (I really want someone a bit more like Lyra Belacqua here).

David Tennant as Mairelon. You're welcome.

Tennant MUST be Mairelon. No one else will do.

Relationship Status: A Friendship That Grew Into So Much More

While the book didn't grab me as romantic material at first, I enjoyed hanging out with it so much that it wasn't long before I started worrying my emerging romantical feelings were going to get in the way of our friendship. Luckily, I was wrong, and the book felt the sparks, too. We're well on our way to the next level (aka the sequel), and I think we'll be together for a long time.

Meghan Miller's photo About the Author: Meghan is an erstwhile librarian in exile from Texas and writer for Forever Young Adult. She loves books, cooking and homey things like knitting and vintage cocktails. Although she’s around books all the time, she doesn’t get to read as much as she’d like.