‘The Magicians And Mrs. Quent’ by Galen Beckett is not by chance dedicated to ‘Jane, Oscar and Charles.’ It reads like a novel by Jane Austen, Oscar Wilde or Charles Dickens, even though it doesn’t take place in the familiar surroundings of 19th century England and none of the three mentioned authors wrote about a world with magic in it. But the island nation of Altania is a recognisable stand-in for England and the overall atmosphere evokes the Victorian landscape and society.
The action of the novel’s first book (overall, there are three within this volume) is situated in Invarel, this world’s London, and introduces us first to Ivy Lockwell, while she attempts to do a little magick. Her experiment provides no results whatsoever. We later learn that on Altania magick is by tradition the sole domain of men. Ivy is fascinated by and tries to use it to help her father, who used to be an accomplished magician until his mind was shattered in a magical accident, leaving the family impoverished. When her mother unexpectedly dies, Ivy takes on a job as a governess at Heathcrest Hall, a country estate, in order to take care of her father and her two younger sisters.
Then we get to know Dashton Rafferdy, son of one of the great magnates ruling the kingdom of Altania. He loves nothing more than to waste his time, drifting from one society event to the next, at least when he isn’t drinking together with his childhood friend, Eldyn Garritt. He even disclaims that he might be descended from one of the great magical families, who in earlier times defended Altania against invaders and the Wyrdwood. That is, until someday he meets Miss Ivy Lockwell and falls in love with her. But theirs is a doomed relationship from the beginning. At first, it is the difference in social standing which forbids an intimate relationship, then his father forces him into a marriage for political reasons. Perhaps, because of his life becoming more and more miserable, Rafferdy begins to study magick despite his misgivings.
Finally, Eldyn Garritt’s father has drunk away the family’s fortune and then himself into the grave. To provide for his sister and himself, Garritt tries to take on a job but he ultimately falls into the hands of a highwayman, who secretly plots to overthrow the current regime and uses Eldyn to further his cause.
Whereas the first and the third book of the novel are third-person-narratives, the second book is told from Ivy’s viewpoint and she tells us about her work as governess for the master of Heathcrest Hall, Mr. Quent, who works for the crown observing the Risings of the Wyrdwood, which is what the Altanians call the last remnants of the old wood which grew on Altania before humans colonised the island. Sometimes thickets of the Wyrdwood rise and try to kill everything in their vicinity. Ivy learns in her time at Heathcrest Hall more about the Wyrdwood and her connection to it than she thought possible. At the same time, she falls in love with Mr. Quent and marries him.
In book three it’s back to Invarel, where Eldyn meanwhile has discovered his knack for illusionism and tries to get out of the grasp of the highwayman. Rafferdy has continued his study of magic and is being prepared for his role as future magnate by his father. When Ivy returns to Invarel, she and Rafferdy’s situation have reversed: Rafferdy has never married because of a scandal concerning the family of his bride-to-be made the marriage obsolete, but Ivy has become Mrs. Quent. Despite that, Rafferdy agrees to help her solve a riddle left by her father for her, the solution to which will become critical for Altania’s future.
‘The Magicians And Mrs. Quent’ is noticeably the work of an experienced author, even if it pretends to be a debut novel. Galen Beckett is a nom de plume of Mark Anthony, who has written the ‘The Last Rune’ series and some ‘Dungeons & Dragons’ novels before. Nevertheless, it is a new style for him, a fantastic Regency novel with magick and Lovecraftian undertones, which get stronger and stronger in the end.
All three of the main protagonists are interesting characters, even if none of them seems to have a serious character flaw. The atmosphere is quite dense, the world-building is excellent and the plot moves at a steady pace keeping the reader interested in what happens next. All in all, the novel makes the impression that there lurks something beneath its tranquil surface, ready to break free at any moment.
Some aspects will hopefully become more prominent in the next novel, eg the fact that some of the villains of the piece, namely the rebels, actually fight for democracy and equality in their society. There is a lot of potential in this novel which hopefully will be realised in the next two books.
‘The Magicians And Mrs. Quent’ is a fantasy novel set in a Regency-like era which will definitely delight fans of Susanna Clarke. Older fans of JK Rowling should risk an eye, too. I am looking forward to discover if the Lovecraftian elements will get stronger in the next installment and if the things we only got to glimpse in this novel will get elaborated in the next.
(pub: Bantam Dell. 498 page hardback. Price: $23.00 (US). ISBN: 978-0-553-58982-5
pub: Bantam Dell. 498 page small enlarged paperback. Price: $15.00 (US), $18.95 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-553-59255-9)
check out websites: http://www.bantemdell.com/ and www.galenbeckett.com