Sorcery and Cecilia (Or, the Enchanted Chocolate Pot) opens with a date, so readers are immediately made aware that the story's set in England, 1817.Sorcery and Cecilia (Or, the Enchanted Chocolate Pot) opens with a date, so readers are immediately made aware that the story's set in England, 1817. However, just a bit into it, casual mention is made of a magical academy. The England in this book is an England where magic exists, is acknowledged, and is accepted. For readers who enjoy both historical fiction and magic, this book is truly a delight. The magic fits in seamlessly with the setting and storyline, so that it doesn't disturb our formed ideas of what life was like back in the 1800s. The novel's tone successfully recalls to mind classics such as Jane Austen's, but in a modern way. I really appreciated that the authors phrases and exclamations relevent to the time period. Small tidbits like that really add to the effect of a book.
The first time I read this book was when I was thirteen; even years afterwards, I couldn't think of a modern book that reminded me of the classics as much as this book did. Even the summary on the back shows how set apart it is from other YA fiction, by imbuing humor and curiousity in a very matter-of-fact tone ("Speaking of Oliver, how long can we make excuses for him? Ever since he was turned into a tree, he hasn't bothered to tell anyone where is is"). Maybe the overall effect is attributed to how the authors started the novel as just a game! The fun they had in writing it seems to show through.
Caroline Stevermer writes as the character Kate, who's in London for her debut. Her experience becomes a bit more exciting than other girls in their seasons, as she unwittingly steps into the middle of a magic feud. Cecy--Kate's cousin, written by Patricia Wrede--has to remain in Essex, living vicariously through Kate's letters. Soon Cecy's life becomes anything but humdrum, however, as magical intrigue and mystery begin to occur around her, as well.
The two main characters express a strength in them while remaining feminine, which I truly commend the authors for. Many writers seem unable to deal with the idea of a strong woman: they don't want to make her too dainty, for fear of reproach, so they decide to make her a tomboy instead. There! Now she's a strong woman, automatically! I've seen this with so many historical fiction females. Kate and Cecy, as characters, are believeable and don't seem strained at all.
While the plot's strong and the characters aren't unlikeable, there's a bit of contrivance in there. While Kate and Cecy are smart and likeable, there's really not much difference to them. Cecy has some talent at making charm bags, as she finds out, but other than that, they don't have traits to separate their identities. It's as if they're both the same person, in two different places, writing to each other. The same is true of the male leads, who are both reminiscent of Mr. Darcy or Mr. Rochester. The plot becomes a bit cliche after the climax, complete with the oft-seen character-tells-off-those-who've-done-her-an-injustice scene, and...from the moment the male characters are introduced, you can tell what's probably going to happen in the end. I'm fine with a sprinkling of the inevitable when it comes along with good writing and plot, though; aren't you?...more
Aza's used to the stares and discrimination she gets for her looks being unappealing, but that doesn't make it any easier to deal with. Her singing voAza's used to the stares and discrimination she gets for her looks being unappealing, but that doesn't make it any easier to deal with. Her singing voice is beautiful, but others judge too much on looks. She's taken to purposefully remaining behind the scenes at her family's inn, cleaning rooms rather than interacting with the people so she can avoid that feeling of being scrutinized.
One day, the gnome zhamM walks in on her singing, and takes a liking to her. Aza ventures to ask him if he could look into the future for her. zhamM can only tell her that they'll meet again in the Gnome Caverns, at a time when she'll be in great danger.
It's hard for Aza to imagine she'll ever even leave the Featherbed, but by some stroke of fate, Aza eventually finds herself at Ontio Castle, made into the queen's lady-in-waiting. Everything's more perfect than Aza could've imagined her life to be and zhamM's prediction of danger seems more even more unlikely now, but then Aza's entangled in a deception that threatens her newfound happiness.
I've read Ella Enchanted and The Two Princesses of Bamarre when I was a kid, and loved them, but I hadn't re-read them or anything else by Gail Carson Levine since then. My remembrances had me eager to read something else of hers after all this time, and I was just as captivated with it. It seems like Levine has a magic with her writing, which is fitting since her tales themselves deal with magic and fantasy.
It was really refreshing to read about a character who's not conventionally attractive. There seems to be a fear to have female characters in books, TV and movies be anything less than pretty which sets an impossible standard for every girl out there. Even though it's fiction, it's aggravating that the majority of it is represented by girls all with perfect figures and features, when the population of the world is so diverse in its looks. There should be equal representation of all, because everyone wants someone to identify with.
The book gets across its message without being like a moral lesson and it's something every girl can relate to. That girl who looks so pretty could have dysmorphia, for all you know; even though she looks pretty, she could be struggling with the conviction that she's the ugliest thing on earth. There's a character in Fairest like this (I won't say who just in case) and it makes Aza realize that she's better off than this girl because although this girl is pretty, her constant need to look perfect has her in a frantic state of mind constantly. The book shows that although it's true that good looks can give some advantages, being too caught up in the quest for beauty just causes continuous negativity, as Aza realized when she thought how everything went wrong.
Ultimately Aza starts to appreciate her looks for what makes them different, and realizes she'd been her own worst critic...as we all are. So I hope that helps younger girls who read this to maybe think a little differently about how they see themselves.
I did think that there was one part in the book where a character's plans and motives could be seen as a little confusing to readers, especially as it's a rushed moment, but other than that, I can't think of any criticism. I'm looking forward to reading still more from Gail Carson Levine and revisiting Ella Enchanted and The Two Princesses of Bamarre....more