Friday, March 22, 2013

The Magicians and Mrs. Quent by Galen Beckett

Continuing in my pursuit of good fantasy novels, I picked up The Magicians and Mrs. Quent, by Galen Beckett. This one is not GLBT, although I suspect two of the male characters may pair off eventually in a sequel.

First off, let me say that the novel was not only good enough for me to finish, but I've wishlisted the sequels. So that's saying something. However, I did have a number of problems with it, which I'll get into in a bit.

The novel is set in an Edwardian-esque fantasy world with strange night/day cycles that change all the time. Nights are referred to as "umbrals" and days as "lumenals," and due to some unexplained phenomenon, some umbrals last 20 hours, some five, and likewise with the days, etc., with no rhyme or reason to when the long and short umbrals and lumenals occur. Magic exists in this world, and seems to have different manifestations based on gender. Other than that, the setting is very much Edwardian, as you can guess from the dress the woman on the cover is wearing.

So my initial reaction to the first lines, which are very  Jane Austen, was delight. I thought, here is exactly the sort of book I want to read, especially given my intent to explore writing an Edwardian romance. However, this delight soon faded.

First of all, I think it just doesn't fit to combine fantasy and Austen. It's weird, because I love both, but somehow, they just don't go together. It's like lemon curd and white cheddar. Love 'em both. Wouldn't spread the one on the other.

Secondly, Beckett moves from Austen, to Bronte (all of them, but especially Jane Eyre) to Dickens, and back to Austen. I love all of these, of course, but they are all very different. I don't read Austen if I'm in the mood for gothic romance (Northanger Abbey is not my favorite of hers), I read Bronte instead. I don't read Bronte if I want a taste of the drudgery of living in working class London, I read Dickens. 


So the movement in the novel from the (mostly) cheery story of Miss Ivy Lockwell and her sisters and their association with Rafferty and Garritt to Ivy becoming a governess in the lonely, shadowy Heathcrest Hall in the windblown, wild country of Mr. Quent (who almost has a wife locked in an upstairs room, for pity's sake), to a return to the capitol with a focus on Garritt's struggle to find and keep a job as a clerk... I just had trouble with it. I found the similarities to real works by Austen, Bronte, and Dickens too distracting and when the plot deviated from the expected formulas for those novels (Austen would not have had Ivy fall for two men, for instance--at least, not without resolving it for the reader so that one of the men was revealed to be a cad) I was annoyed.

I also found it bewildering when the mid section of the book, set at Heathcrest, suddenly switched to first person, and I became convinced that the whole first part of the book was almost entirely unnecessary to the plot. I started thinking, why did the author even include it? And why not write the whole novel in first person? I know why now, having read the whole thing. Beckett needed to go with third person in the first and last thirds of the book to show stories like Garritt's. Could the middle part have remained in third person? Probably. I'm left feeling like the novel just wasn't very tight. Maybe if I reread it I would feel differently.

Anyway, those are my quibbles. Overall, I did enjoy the novel. Ivy is likeable, as is Rafferty. Garritt I'm on the fence about, and I was ready to toss his sister to the bad guy he so strenuously protected her from. I have a theory about Mr. Quent, but I won't share it until I've read the next two books.

Click the image above to order.
I won't say, "If you're a fan of Austen and Bronte you'll like this book," because as you can see, that's not how it worked out for me. Rather, if you are looking for a fantasy novel that departs from the usual medieval setting and involves some likeable characters, you'll like this book.


  1. If I'm looking to read something featuring wives locked in upstairs rooms, I look to Charlotte Perkins Gilman. :)

  2. Hey, don't miss Charlotte Bronte while you're at it, my friend. Jane Eyre all the way.