The Rules of Magic

Lucy Derrick is in a sore spot – her sister and father have died, her second sister married a distant cousin to keep the family home and money but that backfired when said cousin kicked Lucy out and she landed on the doorstep of an uncle who pinches pennies, and now she is being elbowed into marrying Mr. Olson, an prosperous yet unimaginative man who runs the local hosiery mills. A mighty sore spot that Lucy tries to make the best of.

Then Lord Byron lands on the same uncle’s doorstep while Mr. Olson is visiting, demands to speak with Lucy Derrick and proceeds to warn her away from marrying Mr. Olson while explaining she needs to gather the leaves. Byron then vomits pins, swoons and promptly falls unconscious.
Through the help of a local cunning woman, Lucy removes a curse from Byron, opening the door to her education in the magical arts. This is where the books begins to lose its momentum. Not every learning sequence in a novel or movie is action-oriented; however, having Lucy sit in her room and read ancient books and copy down talismans is a bit dry. And Liss doesn’t spend much time explaining how magic works in this version of England. Her education glosses over the intricacies of magic – later moments when Lucy is preparing a spell or using one are similarly vague.
That’s one way to get around the difficulties of explaining magic without being predictable or contradicting oneself but that is the fun of reading a book about magic and witches. What are the rules? Who is allowed to do what? How does a teacher pass on the craft?
How an author answers those questions is what differentiates all the magic-oriented novels apart. The Harry Potter series is ultimately one long coming-of-age tale rooted in the choice between good and evil but it was JK Rowling’s world-building that captured her audience and turned a coming-of-age tale into a cultural phenomenon. Obviously, lightning doesn’t always strike twice and I’m not saying Liss should try to recreate what Rowling did. I am saying he should have been more confident in his world and his characters to spend time with the magic that is dramatically changing the protagonist’s life.
The Twelfth Enchantment is long – 400 pages – and filled mostly with Lucy attempting to navigate society as best she can as she moves toward her goal – collecting the 12 ‘leaves’ of a book in order to find her baby niece who was replaced by a changeling. There are bigger things happening around her – Ludd is a magical being, there are revenants that are like faeries but sound more like sophisticated zombies to me, the industrial revolution is a big deal – but Lucy’s main objective is personal. Her smaller goal helped keep me engaged.
Although I did get frustrated every time Lucy was saved by someone else. I understand part of the journey for a novice in any genre is filled with trial and error and oftentimes their teachers or elders must step in but there was a lot of that. Could be because of the timeframe – Lucy risks her reputation by taking a carriage ride overnight with Byron to confront an enemy. Men steal her and men save her. It would have been nice to see her do something for herself in a bigger way.
And, in the tradition of Austen, there are love interests. Byron is a knave who tempts Lucy. Mr. Morrison hurt Lucy terribly when she was younger but must be involved because he is useful. Antics ensue. Hearts are hurt. Things are learned and love is declared at the end – along with an obvious set up for a sequel. Have you heard about that fighting going on in France?

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