Stephanie Burgis’s debut fantasy, A Most Improper Magick, The Unladylike Adventures of Kat Stephenson was excellent fun, exactly what I was hoping it would be. It was a frolic – a little bit Jane Austen, a little bit Libba Bray with some Highwayman action tossed in for good measure. This is a book that does not take itself too seriously. I like that in a book.
Kat Stephenson has discovered she has inherited her mother’s magical powers. This is exciting, but it is also difficult, because in 1803 in London, magic is very much frowned-upon. Kat is not sure how to handle her new-found talents, and she has a lot on her mind because her eldest sister is likely going to be forced to marry an ancient but wealthy gentleman and also, a mysterious group of witches known as the Order is trying to convince Kat to allow them to give her proper magical training. Her brother Charles has gambled away much of the family’s money and her other sister Angeline is casting some irresponsible love spells and generally making a mess of things. Kat feels it is up to her to solve as many of these problems as possible, and she’s not afraid to use a little magic to do it. Did I mention there is a highwayman lurking in the woods? What fun!
I knew I was going to like the smart and funny voice of the narrator after the first two sentences:
“I was twelve years of age when I chopped off my hair, dressed as a boy, and set off to save my family from impending ruin. I made it almost to the end of my front garden.”
Burgis keeps it all light and clever and certainly communicates the Austen-like balance of frustration and love between the sister characters and the other family members. Kat is feisty and memorable. The other two sisters are not as well-developed overall, but I’m hoping to see that fleshed out in the second and third books in the trilogy. Some might find that there isn’t enough tension as the book advances, since most of the focus is on the romantic outcomes for Kat’s sisters, and ultimately, it’s Kat we care about the most. In some ways, this book feels like it’s primary purpose is to set-up what is to come in the next two titles. The social situations are amusing though, so I didn’t mind too much that the pace felt a shade slow towards the middle. As in Austen, it’s the conversations that entertain more than anything. This is a quick and charming read, with a heroine you will want to spend more time with. If, like Stephanie Burgis, your favourite movie is Emma Thompson’s Sense and Sensibility and you’ve been known to enjoy a little Doctor Who, I think you will get a real kick out of this book and be eager for the next installments.
(Note: Based on something the author wrote at her blog, I’m not sure that this is going to be the title of the book when it is released in the U.S. We’ll see).
A Most Improper Magick will be published by Atheneum.