Sorcery & Cecelia: or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot by Patricia C. Wrede
My rating: 3 of 5 stars (7/10)
In a slightly alternative England just after the Napoleonic Wars, where magic and wizardry are real, two cousins start exchanging letters. Kate Talgarth has gone to London for the Season with her beautiful sister Georgina. Her cousin, Cecelia Rushton, remains at home in the country. Mysterious things soon start happening to both of them, starting with a strange woman trying to poison Kate with hot chocolate under the belief she is a man named Thomas - and they soon find themselves caught up in a series of strange, dangerous and magical events.
That's not much of a description compared to the other books I've reviewed, but this one is different. It grew from the authors playing the "letter game" and since the plot only developed between Wrede and Stevermer as the letters were exchanged, it does the same for the reader.
I really wasn't sure what I was going to think of this book when I started it. I had heard about it before and how it had grown out of "the letter game", where each author had taken one of the principal characters (Wrede is Cecelia and Stevermer is Kate) and written the letters in persona. Their one rule was that each writer must not reveal her idea of where the plot was going to the other. To a certain degree, this sounds like a brilliant idea. But it also reminded me of online fanfic round robins which I know from experience can go strange and dangerous places, developing terrible plot and logic holes as they go. These authors didn't even have an established universe they were playing in.
At first I was afraid my fears were being realised as I had trouble figuring out who was who and how all the characters were connected to each other. Whatever was going on also seemed rather confusing. However, the book soon took off as more pieces were revealed. I did find it a little frustrating that the two male leads - James and Thomas - were so darned secretive and unable to give any proper explanations. However, since those desired explanations hadn't been invented before the book began, it was inevitable that each author would be dropping hints for the other to pick up on. When the explanations did start coming, they all worked and the story concluded itself very nicely. I did see in the authors' note that they got together once they had decided to submit the book for publication and tidied up any few loose and/or shaky ends.
Kate and Cecy are fun characters, and the reader gets to know them better as the story progresses. However, I felt all the other character were sketched rather than drawn. I suppose part of that could be because we only see as much of them as the girls put in their letters. In the same way, the romances seemed a little forced. Both women found their man "odious" a long way through the book and then they were in love and getting married. It was there, but the progression wasn't as smooth as it might have been.
My grumble done, I still recommend the book. If, like me, you feel a little confused at first, stick with it. The story unfolds neatly and by half way I was reading every moment I could to find out how everything turned out. I will certainly be reading the sequel, which my friendly librarian has reserved for me. (Aren't I lucky, having a friendly bookstore owner and a friendly librarian, even if the former takes a lot of my money!)
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