Title: Bewitching Season
Author: Marissa Doyle
Genre: Young Adult, Victorian Historical Fiction with some supernatural magic goings on
Stand alone or series: As it is, a stand alone novel, but has the makings of becoming a series. A book 2, following twin sister Penelope Leland, is in the works!
Summary: (from Macmillan.com)
In 1837 London, young daughters of viscounts pined for handsome, titled husbands, not careers. And certainly not careers in magic. At least, most of them didn’t.
Shy, studious Persephone Leland would far rather devote herself to her secret magic studies than enter society and look for a suitable husband. But right as the inevitable season for “coming out” is about to begin, Persy and her twin sister discover that their governess in magic has been kidnapped as part of a plot to gain control of the soon-to-be Queen Victoria. Racing through Mayfair ballrooms and royal palaces, the sisters overcome bad millinery, shady royal spinsters, and a mysterious Irish wizard. And along the way, Persy learns that husband hunting isn’t such an odious task after all, if you can find the right quarry.
The year is 1837, and twin sisters Persephone and Penelope (Persy and Pen for short) are seventeen and gearing up for their society debut. While the girls are identical (down to the dimple in their left cheeks…oh oops, that’s a different series *wink*), in terms of personality they are different as night and day. Penelope is vivacious, graceful and a social butterfly–she is eager for her coming out, and to dance at balls with handsome young men. Persephone, on the other hand, is more introverted and studious, and prefers to read instead of dancing the night away. Persephone also happens to be our narrator, as the story is told from the third person perspective, but we are privy to Persy’s thoughts.
One thing the twins do have in common, however, is a propensity to magic. Persy as the more studious sister has greater control over her magical abilities than Pen, but both are magically gifted. Under the tutelage of their governess Miss Allardyce (Ally for short), both Persy and Pen have grown into two charmingly intelligent–and magically adept–young ladies. Still, despite the words of encouragement from her sister Penelope and Ally, Persephone remains intimidated and withdrawn. Things get even more complicated for the self-conscious Persy when old childhood friend, Lochinvar (Lord Seton, formally) comes calling on the family–and Persephone cannot help but notice what a handsome man he has become, and how her very secret crush on him hits her full force. Shy girl that she is, Persephone clams up in front of Lochinvar and refuses to speak–then, when she sees her sister Penelope chatting away and Lochinvar’s serious conversation with her, Persy fears that she has lost her one crush to her sister. Romantic shenanigans ensue.
Meanwhile, preparing for the twins’ outing, Miss Allardyce leaves to London ahead of the Lelands, and pays her own family a visit. A highly educated and capable woman, Miss Allardyce grew up the daughter of a happy family that runs a reputable book shop. Upon her return to the shop, her happy reunion with her mother, father and younger sister is cut short as a strange customer in the background worries Ally. She leaves the shop, only to be abducted by the strange man, who in fact is a warlock…and has sensed Miss Allardyce’s power as a witch.
When Persy and Pen arrive in town with their family and Miss Ally is nowhere to be found, the girls are suspicious. The note left behind by their governess reeks of fear, which both Persy and Pen are able to sense when they touch the letter. Enlisting the help of their younger brother Charles (Chuckles, to the affectionate older sisters), the twins vow to get to the bottom of the mystery, as each clue uncovers a larger, more sinister plot.
I found Bewitching Season to be a solid debut from author Marissa Doyle. The blend of Victorian romance with the supernatural elements works surprisingly well together. The magic employed was not of the flashy wand waving variety, but rather felt more realistic–Persephone describes her magic as a focusing of her willpower. The Latin phrases they use to say their spells are not so much ‘magic words’, but rather an effective, practical way for the girls to learn to focus their energy.
The romantic aspects of the story were cute, if completely predictable. I have a strong tolerance for unreliable narrators, but even I found myself getting a bit impatient with Persy as the story moved on. The mess Persephone gets herself into because of her dratted shyness and over-rationalizations are cutesy at first, but becomes incredibly frustrating later in the book (Persy, unfortunately, has more than a few TSTL heroine traits). Still, she is saved from the pit of Irredeemably Irritating Heroines because of the wicked showdown at the end of the book (also, I remind myself that the target audience is a younger female reader). Penelope takes a backseat here to Persephone, and I wish she had a larger role (I’ve always been more of a ‘Jessica’ over ‘Elizabeth’ kind of girl)–but not to fear! Ms. Doyle’s next release will focus on Penelope and her own adventure. I enjoyed the rest of the cast as well–especially Chuckles as the annoying yet lovable little brother, and Lochinvar as the determined suitor. Miss Allardyce, from what we see of her, is also a wonderful, strong character–although the resolution to her story with Michael Carrighar (the warlock holding her hostage) didn’t quite sit right with me.
So far as plotting goes, this is a tidily written story that moves quickly and evenly. However, I wasn’t completely sold on the overall villainous plot. When readers finally discovery the truth of the mystery of Miss Allardyce’s disappearance and the nefarious scheme that is afoot, it all seems a bit silly and not nearly nefarious enough (I’m reminded of the Futurama episode “The Devil’s Hands are Idle Playthings” when the Robot Devil sings, “Ah, my ridiculously circuitous plan is one-quarter complete!”).
And yet, despite these critiques, I still found Bewitching Season to be a charming, compulsive read. I think this book will resonate well with a younger audience, and I will be purchasing the next book in the series.
Notable Quotes/Parts: While the romantic quibbles between Persephone and Lochinvar are cute, my favorite scene has to be the final battle between Persy and Carrighar…
Additional Thoughts:…and while we’re on the subject of cool final battles, a good ol‘ sorcerer’s duel is always appreciated. One of my faves? The Ultimate: Vincent Price versus Boris Karloff in The Raven.
Verdict: Bewitching Season is a fun, lighthearted romp, sure to please younger fans of the romantic and fantastical persuasion. While not without its flaws, I enjoyed this debut from Marissa Doyle and look forward to reading her next book.
Rating: 6 Good, Recommended
Reading Next: The Iron Hunt by Marjorie M. Liu