I thoroughly enjoyed Patricia Wrede’s Sorcery and Cecilia or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot series when I read it a couple of years ago. So recently when I was in the mood for some comfort reading, I decided to hunt down some more of her books.
The Magician duology features the titular magician, Mairelon, and Kim, a street urchin, and a thief who ends up accompanying Mairelon on his journey at the start of the first book. The books are written in third person and told mostly from Kim’s point of view.
Reading Mairelon The Magician, the first in the series, I realized that one of the reasons I enjoy Wrede so much is because of her world-building. And I’m not referring to the magical elements in her stories.
I’ve normally seen the words world-building used in the context of fantasies but I’ve come to think of “world-building” as a tool that every author can wield, to some extent or the other.
The world-building in fantasies is obvious and more often than not consists of building literally a new world for the story to inhabit and exist in. But the world-building aspect need not necessarily be confined to “fantastical elements” in a story.
For instance, earlier this year I read Betty Neels for the first time ever, and it struck me that Neels’s use of certain elements—such as the details of the food, or the specifics of the décor, and the furnishings—is distinctive enough across all her stories to stand out as rudiments central to the Neelsian “world.”
In Wrede’s case one of the tools she uses very effectively is the way Kim speaks (and by extension, the words in which her thoughts are conveyed to us, the readers). To be honest, I have no idea whether people from the streets of London really spoke this way in the early part of the 19th century. Or maybe Wrede just made it all up? The colorfulness and disparateness of Kim’s speech is powerful enough to hasten the sense of being sucked into another world.
“Why not?” Kim said indignantly. “Anyone as meets you can see you’re a regular swell, and it queers me what your lay is. Bilking the culls in the markets ain’t work for a gentry cove, and you ain’t told me nothin’. I got reason for wonderin’.”
~ Mairelon The Magician
“Don’t go pitching me no gammon. You ain’t heard near enough, acos I’ll lay you a monkey the gentry-mort ain’t told you I was on the sharping lay afore Mairelon took a fancy to adopt me.”
~ The Magician’s Ward
As you can make out from the above, Kim gets adopted by Mairelon as his ward at the end of the first book. And at the end of the second book, they end up engaged. I was very interested in seeing how Wrede would show this change in their relationship given that in the first book they come off as a gentleman, and his page-in-training with nary a whiff of romance.
Turned out Wrede’s really good at portraying just how one could fall in love: not in a big fell swoop (at least in this case), but rather a stray thought here, and a puzzlement there, while going about the business of living one’s life which in this case involves magical mayhem, and intrigue of all sorts. I quite like how it takes time for Kim’s brain to catch up with where her heart has already gone.
If I had to sum up why Wrede’s books are comfort read, I’d say it’s because of the perfect blend of magic, old-timey England, a dash of romance, and a plot that is interesting enough despite being slightly boring at times (and no I refuse to believe that that’s an outright contradiction, thank you very much).
I’ll leave you with my favorite words from the books:
Bubblebrained, pigheaded, sapskulled gull! Muttonheaded flat! Nodcock. Goosecap.
Well, I ain’t no mace cove, and I don’t hold with bubbling a flash cull, not when it comes to getting priest-linked, anyways.
The often-exasperated fondness that had replaced the fear wasn’t love. Nor was the gratitude she felt because he had taken her out of the precarious street life that was all she had known until then, nor the also-often-exasperated respect that she had learned for him as a teacher, nor the equally exasperated friendship that surfaced when they were poking around some problem together. Exasperation, in fact, seemed to be a keynote of her feelings toward Mairelon. Was that how you fell in love with someone, then—by getting exasperated with him?
Aw, these books. I devoured all of Patricia C. Wrede’s books when I was a kid, but the ones I return to as an adult are the ones that take place in the alternate England-with-magic. These two books, plus the original Sorcery and Cecelia.
I did so hope there were more past-England-with-magic books by Wrede!
Oh – such great thoughts – I completely love these books! I pick them up when its raining outside, and the wind is blowing a gail. I snuggle down with hot cocoa and Patricia Wrede.
And you are so right about the world building, it’s absorbing and intricate with a lovely sense of the tangible. Both Mairelon The Magician and The Magician’s Ward actually remind me a lot of Madeleine Brents’ books…they are a favourite of mine (have you tried?) but with the addition of magic. The historical feel, attention to detail and that complexity of language equalling identity and placement within narrative – it is all rather enthralling…
There is another series by Wrede, call Frontier Magic, written much more recently, which I keep meaning to search out but never got around to – but now you have inspired me!
Ooh, I’ve never heard of Madeleine Brent! I don’t know how easily they’ll be to come by but would you recommend starting with any specific book?
And yes, agree with you about Wrede creating a completely enthralling world–it might be worth checking out the Frontier Magic series, I’m thinking!!
There are actually some Brent e-books on openlibrary.org – if you have an e-reader/adobe digital editions, which are free to check out (I LOVE open library – they have saved the day for me many a time when searching for an elusive, random and hardly available anywhere else book)
And whilst they don’t have the same cheerfulness/sense of the ridiculous that Wrede has in hers (Brent’s are more GOTHIC in tone); they have this sense of being absorbed by another world that is just lovely.
Stranger at Wildings starts in a touring circus in Hungry, with the heroine as a trapeze artiste…and ends up in country society in England.
Merlin’s Keep (my first and always fav), starts in Tibet, has a chase through a sandstorm, some excellently vivid descriptions of food and culture (although I’m not sure how entirely accurate they are) A land called Bod, a hero who is a captain, and a villain called ‘eater of souls’ and a fight-to-the-death in a monastery
They are just so cool. 🙂
Oooh, I’ll keep the titles in mind for my next let’s-try-something-gothic phase. I didn’t have a stellar experience with Mary Stewart who also writes gothics but Stranger at Wildings sounds intriguing!
And haven’t used open library yet but heard only good things about it!
I’ve had a similar experience with Mary Stewart…I think I go in expecting MORE than what she generally gives me, and end up often being chronically under-welmed. But Madeleine Brent (actually Peter O’Donnell) also wrote the Modesty Blaise series – so his tend to read more like a cross between Girls Own Adventures and Mallory Tower/boarding school stories crossed with say Victoria Holt for the gothic aspect. Which is a refreshing change!