Wednesday, April 20, 2011

What I'm Reading: The Magicians and Mrs. Quent

The Magicians and Mrs. Quent, by Galen Beckett

You may pick this book up thinking "This could be a great combination of fantasy and regency romance." And for the first few chapters, you would be right; it's a Jane Austen parody/homage, with some excellent and surprisingly complex worldbuilding going on. But the author isn't really interested in writing a regency romance, so partway through the book we switch to being in a Bronte novel, and then later we switch some more.

I have the impression that the author wished to gracefully combine the elements of several classical authors, creating a complete story that poked fun, paid homage, and yet stood on its own. A difficult task, and I feel this book falls short of the mark. The changes in topic and style felt abrupt and jolting. A switch from third-person narration to first-person narration, even under a thin guise of being epistolary (the writing does not take the form of letters), is bound to jar my suspension of disbelief. Along with the changes in tone and writing style, I found that plot developments were often also rather abrupt. I sometimes had the feeling that characters and storylines were blundering along, not waiting for the reader to catch up. I felt a COMPLETE lack of emotional buy-in to a MAJOR plot development, and this caused some emotional distance from the characters. It was hard to live the story with them when I couldn't understand their feelings or behavior.

In fact, now that I think about it.....there's a large and significant portion of the book where I cannot figure out why it is there at all. In my opinion, the book would have been better without it.

All in all, this book disappointed me, because I felt like it was close to being great, but the elements just couldn't quite fall together properly. I suspect that the author had too many ideas for his own good, and he couldn't bear to set any of them aside for the sake of his narrative. It is clumsy storytelling, and since I read for story, that's a harsh criticism indeed.

There is a follow-up book, The House on Durrow Street. I will probably read it, in search of some kind of emotional resolution. Galen Beckett may parody Jane Austen, but he lacks the ability or inclination for true homage, because the emotional satisfaction of a Jane Austen book is ENTIRELY absent. Perhaps the second book will provide it.

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