Cecilia (Pat), with Aunt Charlotte in Essex Rushton manor, exchanges letters with cousin Kate (Caro), chaperoned by Aunt Elizabeth in London's Berkeley Square for alluring Georgina's season. Kate is klutzy, trips on marble floor, trails hairpins, but her letters are indistinguishable in style from Cecy. Mistaking Kate for "odious marquise" Thomas of Schofield, a mysterious Miranda tries to poison Kate with drink from hot chocolate pot at Royal College of Wizards investiture for their country neighbor Sir Hilary of Bedrick Hall. When their shy friend Dorothea attracts men unwillingly, her step-mama Miranda Griscomb nee Tanistry, is obviously villain.
Thomas rescues brother Oliver, his "roundaboutation and arrogance" p87 annoys Kate, but the attraction is inevitable. When he tries to protect her, she disregards his message p153; he does not explain he is free of bewitching by Miranda. James, recently departed from the army, is introduced to Cecy by his mother and Rushton neighbor, Lady Tarleton; the romance is clearer to the reader than to either corresponding cousin.
Humor is delightfully light. Enchanted chess set "display their clothes, jostle for position, and, very, occasionally, crawl back into their velvet case to sleep .. just like real people" p276. Language style is reminiscent of Jane Austen, plus invented phrases "epicyclical elaborations", but action is livelier, deadly dangerous: transformation into trees, space-time tunnels, sorcerous power draining. (view spoiler)[
When Miranda traps and tries to absorb the magic and youth of our hero(ine)s, Cecy breaks the power-draining chocolate china-pot, recognizes Greek chanting, asks James for "release" = "apheteon", even remembers accompanying gesture, reversing spell, to kill Miranda with old age. Besides cousins' double wedding, Aunt Elizabeth marries her old flame and Cecy's magic teacher, helpful Michael Wrexton. (hide spoiler)]
p153 hetaera = courtesan, mistress, esp. in ancient Greece["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>