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Monday, July 28, 2008

“The Magicians & Mrs. Quent” by Galen Beckett

Official Galen Beckett Website
Order “The Magicians & Mrs. Quent
Read An Excerpt HERE

AUTHOR INFORMATION:The Magicians & Mrs. Quent” is Galen Beckett’s first novel. Currently, the author lives in Colorado and is working on the sequel, “The House on Durrow Street”.

PLOT SUMMARY: Of the three Lockwell sisters—romantic Lily, prophetic Rose, and studious Ivy—all agree that it’s the eldest, the book-loving Ivy, who has held the family together ever since their father’s retreat into his silent vigil in the library upstairs. Everyone blames Mr. Lockwell’s malady on his magickal studies, but Ivy alone still believes—both in magick and in its power to bring her father back.

But there are others in the world who believe in magick as well. Over the years, Ivy has glimpsed them—the strangers in black topcoats and hats who appear at the door, strangers of whom their mother will never speak. Ivy once thought them secret benefactors, but now she’s not so certain.

After tragedy strikes, Ivy takes a job with the reclusive Mr. Quent in a desperate effort to preserve her family. It’s only then that she discovers the fate she shares with a jaded young nobleman named Dashton Rafferdy, his ambitious friend Eldyn Garritt, and a secret society of highwaymen, revolutionaries, illusionists, and spies who populate the island nation of Altania.

For there is far more to Altania than meets the eye and more to magick than mere fashion. And in the act of saving her father, Ivy will determine whether the world faces a new dawn—or an everlasting night…

CLASSIFICATION: According to Galen Beckett’s bio, “The Magicians & Mrs. Quent” was written in response to the following question: “What if there was a fantastical cause underlying the social constraints and limited choices confronting a heroine in a novel by Jane Austen or Charlotte Brontë?” Not surprisingly, “The Magicians & Mrs. Quent” strongly channels Jane Austen’s books and Charlotte’s classic novel Jane Eyre—including writing style, characters, the setting, tone, subplots both romantic and social, etc—and is probably most suited to readers of those authors. But because of the novel’s fantastical elements, playfulness, and gothic flourishes, there’s also a hint of Harry Potter and Susanna Clarke’sJonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell” in the book, and I believe fans of either could also be charmed by “The Magicians & Mrs. Quent”.

FORMAT/INFO: Page count is 498 pages divided over three Books and twenty-eight chapters. For Books One and Three, narration is in the third person and alternates between Ivy Lockwell, Dashton Rafferdy, and Eldyn Garritt, while Book Two is written in the first person in the form of letters from Ivy to her father. For the most part, “The Magicians & Mrs. Quent” is self-contained with the majority of subplots resolved by the end of the novel, but the book is the first volume in a planned trilogy with the author currently working on the sequel, “The House on Durrow Street”.

July 29, 2008 marks the North American Hardcover publication of “The Magicians & Mrs. Quent” via
Bantam Spectra. Cover is designed by Jamie S. Warren with the artwork provided by Phillip Heffernan.

ANALYSIS: From the very first moment that I cracked open “The Magicians and Mrs. Quent” till its final, gripping page, I was thoroughly enchanted by Galen Beckett’s debut, and much of the reason stems from the writing. Simply put, “The Magicians and Mrs. Quent” is the most proficiently written first novel that I’ve read since Susanna Clarke’sJonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell”. But where the latter was written in an archaic manner and suffered at times from verbosity, the former oozes with a keen wit and endearing charm. I was particularly impressed with Galen’s ability to skillfully write in both the first and third-person, as well as the author’s humorous observations and clever banter:

Her white wig was frizzy as a dandelion gone to seed, and her cheeks were painted like a Murghese teapot, which was not inappropriate, as her shape recalled a teapot as well.

Beer might make a smart man dull, but coffee is worse because it can delude a dull man into thinking he’s sharp.

Mr. Baydon, could you put down your paper? I’m trying to choose a puzzle to fit together, and I need your help.
I have you, Mrs. Baydon, and that is all I require to puzzle me.

Also impressive was the characters and the accurate manner in which Galen depicts a Regency/Victorian-influenced world where women are inhibited by their gender and social classes by their wallets. Of the former, Galen’s characters are superbly crafted, highlighted by sparkling dialogue and distinctive personalities which even extends to the minor characters like Mrs. Lockwell who “seldom said anything she didn’t feel was worth exclaiming”, Lily who adopts the mannerisms of whatever romance she’s reading, Mrs. Murch who always mixes things up when cooking such as substituting salt for sugar or soap for butter, and Lady Marsdel who is constantly dying of boredom. Character development is subtle with Dashton Rafferdy evolving the most over the course of the novel, but all three protagonists—including Ivy Lockwell, Rafferdy, and Eldyn Garrit—possess substance, and are extremely likeable to boot. Villains are a bit generic, but not everyone is who they appear to be…

Of the latter, the island of Altania with its rules, social classes and affectations may seem familiar, but I appreciated the effort Galen put into rendering the world as his own. Specifically conjuring up original mythology; history—Queen Elsadore, Altania’s first great magician in Gauldren, Myrrgon, Xandrus, Slade Vordigan, St. Andelthy, Queen Béanore, etc—texts like the history Lex Altania, The Sundering of Vaelus and Cyrenth romance, and the news publications The Comet, The Messenger, The Fox and The Swift Arrow; politics in the New Act for Rationality in the Commission of Naval Vessels, the Rules of Citizenship, and enclosure; currency (regals); and even going so far as devising a system where day and night is measured by long & short umbrals and lumenals. As fascinating as the world-building can be though, it does play second fiddle to the characters and the drama that constantly surrounds them.

Magick meanwhile, is understated and not anything that readers of fantasy haven’t seen before, but you can expect magicians, witches, illusionists, the Vigilant Order of the Silver Eye, the Wyrdwood—a primeval forest full of a dark power—binding spells, Greatwolves, magical gateways, Ashen, and Harry Potter-like riddles:

When twelve who wander stand as one
Through the door the dark will come.
The key will be revealed in turn—
Unlock the way and you shall learn.

Plot-wise, “The Magicians and Mrs. Quentis slow-moving, with the first ‘Book’, Invarel, mainly concentrating on set-up and exploring the social situation of each character including a romance that develops between Ivy & Rafferdy which can never happen because of their unequal status—Rafferdy is the son of a lord and rich, the Lockwells are not—and Eldynn’s quest to get his family out of debt and earn back the Garritt family fortune. The second ‘Book’, Heathcrest, focuses solely on Ivy and is when Mrs. Quent finally shows up in the picture along with a subplot involving witches, revolution and the Wyrdwood, while Book Three, Durrow Street, deals more with the revolution against Altania and magick, including the Vigilant Order of the Silver Eye and the Ashen—creatures “as old as the darkness between the stars, and as hungry.” While the plotting in “The Magicians and Mrs. Quent” is not overly complex and is at times predictable—not to mention plagued by the occasional coincidence or deus ex machina—I thought the story offered a riveting blend of drama, romance, mystery, thrills, misdirection and fantasy.

One element that could go against “The Magicians and Mrs. Quent” is Galen Beckett’s tendency to closely wear his influences on his sleeve. In other words, the comparisons to Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë aren’t just reasonable; they are unavoidable, especially in Books One and Two, the latter of which reads very similar to Jane Eyre. Now there’s nothing wrong with wearing your influences, but for future efforts Galen might want to think about establishing his own style and being a little more original. Another drawback the book might have to deal with is being stereotyped as a novel that can only be enjoyed by women. For instance, if you look on the back cover of “The Magicians and Mrs. Quent”, you’ll notice that only female authors provided blurbs including Robin Hobb, Jacqueline Carey, Sarah Ash, Delia Sherman and Ellen Kushner. True, “The Magicians and Mrs. Quent” does possess a strong female sensibility and is noticeably lacking in machismo, but that doesn’t mean the book can’t be enjoyed by readers of either gender. I know I did, and immensely…

CONCLUSION: I’m not the biggest fan of Jane Austen or Charlotte Brontë, but I can appreciate a well-written novel. So even though Galen Beckett’s debut possesses more than a passing resemblance to Austen & Brontë’s classics, the wonderful characterization, rich worldbuilding, a satisfying story and elements of the extraordinary combined with the obvious talent of the author were more than enough for me to overlook the novel’s minor shortcomings and just appreciate “The Magicians and Mrs. Quent” for its superior craftsmanship. More than that though, “The Magicians and Mrs. Quent” is remarkably charming, witty, and entertaining, and I fondly look forward to the moment when I can sit down and savor Galen Beckett’s next novel…


Tia Nevitt said...

This looks like a novel I must have.

Robert said...

It's a great book Tia :) As of now, it's one of my favorite releases of the year...

Anonymous said...

Wow! Sounds splendid! ;)

I love your reviews Robert!
Gonna grab this one right away.

Thanks again!

Tell the fam rean said hi!

Robert said...

No prob :) I hope you enjoy the book!

Chris, The Book Swede said...

When I saw the title of this one in my feed reader, I knew it oozed quality. Some titles just speak of goodness :)

Looking forward to the UK release, which surely has to happen soon!

I quite enjoy Jane Austen, too :D Haven't gotten around to reading any of the Bronte sisters, yet, though.

Robert said...

I'm sure about the UK release, but I imagine someone is putting out the book...

My sister loves Austen :)Only reason why I tried it out...

Anonymous said...

You're aware of course that this is not the author's first book? Galen Beckett is a pseudonym for Mark Anthony, author of The Last Rune series as well as other books.It will be interesting to read this one as relationships & character interaction didn't seem to be his strong pts. Interesting review.

Robert said...

That's actually news to me Elizabeth. From the jacket flap to the author blurbs and the press release, all describe the novel as Galen Beckett's debut. In fact, I have the book listed as my favorite debut in my upcoming year-end feature! Of course that explains why it was such an accomplished novel ;) Well thanks for the info Elizabeth and I'll be sure to check out The Last Rune series...


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