Perhaps the first of the "mannered" fantasies, Sorcery & Cecilia owes much to Georgette Heyer, Jane Austen and the regency romance. Begun as an example of the letter-writing game, where the two writers sent in-character letters to each other, it soon spun into a story with a life of its own - and with a little editing, one of my favourite fantasy novels. Sadly, by the time I discovered it, it was long out of print. But now, with a long anticipated sequel just around the corner, Harcourt has brought out a new hardcover edition.
Kate and Cecilia are cousins, minor gentry from somewhere in the rural part of Essex. While Cecilia has to stay in Essex, Kate is in London, enjoying her debutante season. It's a season that is going to have many consequences for the two girls, as they become embroiled in plots at the heart of The Royal College of Wizards. This is a world where magic works, and where it's become a science - documented in books, and taught by tutors.
When Kate accidently saves the life of a mysterious wizard (by failing to drink some hot chocolate), she finds herself caught up in intrigues and confusion. Meanwhile, back in the country, a girl is bewitching all the young men. As Kate and Cecilia investigate the strange goings-on, they find themselves caught up in secret magic lessons and fake engagements, while still having to take tea with relatives and attend important balls and parties.
Sorcery & Cecilia is a wonderful novel, and one that is virtually impossible to describe without giving away too much of its plot! The letter format is well suited to the plot, as it allows us to see only what the girls see, while helping us to fit the clues together and to work out what is going on - just in time to follow the action. It's a story where the rules of the world (of society, and of magic) are everything, and manners conquer all.
Well worth reading and savouring - preferably slowly, over a nice cup of Earl Grey and with some buttered scones.