Author: M.J. Putney
Genre: Young Adult, Historical, Fantasy, Romance
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
Publication Date: March 2011
Paperback: 306 Pages
Lady Victoria Mansfield, youngest daughter of the earl and countess of Fairmount, is destined for a charmed life. Soon she will be presented during the London season, where she can choose a mate worthy of her status.
Yet Tory has a shameful secret—a secret so powerful that, if exposed, it could strip her of her position and disgrace her family forever. Tory’s blood is tainted . . . by magic.
When a shocking accident forces Tory to demonstrate her despised skill, the secret she’s fought so hard to hide is revealed for all to see. She is immediately exiled to Lackland Abbey, a reform school for young men and women in her position. There she will learn to suppress her deplorable talents and maybe, if she’s one of the lucky ones, be able to return to society.
But Tory’s life is about to change forever. All that she’s ever known or considered important will be challenged. What lies ahead is only the beginning of a strange and wonderful journey into a world where destiny and magic come together, where true love and friendship find her, and where courage and strength of character are the only things that determine a young girl’s worth.
Stand alone or series: Can be read as a standalone novel, although I believe there are more books planned in the future
How did I get this book: ARC from the Publisher
Why did I read this book: Time travelling and magic are two of my favorite things. Also, the pretty cover and Ana’s love for the author definitely had me curious to give Dark Mirror a try. When we were approached by the publisher to organize a spot on the book’s blog tour, of course I had to acquiesce!
Lady Victoria Mansfield, the daughter of an Earl, has had a lovely sixteen years of life and faces an even more prosperous future. Gearing up for her societal debut, Tory is excited at the prospect of growing up and hopefully falling in love with a fine gentleman, as her elder siblings already have before her. But before her life as an official lady begins, Tory’s latent magical ability awakens – she has the ability to levitate, which is a disaster for a well-bred lady. In early nineteenth century England, the aristocracy has turned its back on magic in the elite classes (as magery, though essential, should be relegated to commoners). Tory vows to keep her magic hidden, but when her young nephew takes a fall on bluff and his life is at stake, she has no choice but unveil herself as a mage in order to save his life. Shunned by her family, Tory is immediately sent away to Lackland Abbey, a boarding school for aristocratic mages where she will be “cured” of her magical abilities.
But Lackland, as it turns out, isn’t quite what it seems. Placed in the small village at Dover overlooking the English Channel, Tory and her classmates fear that Napoleon will bring war to England. Soon, she finds herself enlisted with others with magical abilities, and she strives to learn and expand her powers – for if war is coming, she wants to be able to fight. Just when things start to make sense, however, Tory stumbles through a strange, powerful mirror and is transported to a different England, on the precipice of the second world war. Her abilities have led her to a unique moment and position in history, and it is up to Tory and her friends to work together and help in whatever small way they can to fight.
Dark Mirror is the first book I’ve read from author M.J. Putney, and my feelings for the novel are somewhat mixed. I loved the vision of early 19th century England aristocracy, pigheadedly refusing magic in its ranks because of some ridiculous notions of having “tainted blood,” born truly of jealousy and spite. I liked the allegory of these teens born with magical ability – abilities that they inherit through no fault or action of their own – as it relates to the actual social structure of aristocracy and the ton. No one “chooses” to be born a peasant or lord, just as these children certainly did not choose to be born with their abilities. And yet, society ostracizes them. It’s a familiar tale, and one that Ms. Putney handles very well in Dark Mirror. [1. Another parallel that came to mind when reading this theme, although this is just my interpretation and in no way present in the novel, was the comparison between being born with unwanted magical abilities, to homosexuality, for example (much in the way that Stan Lee’s X-Men evokes the same sort of comparisons). This painful idea that there is a “cure” for magical ability, which is an essential part of each of these characters, emphasizes the theme, too. But I digress.] The manner in which magic is portrayed, causing effort to exert and requiring strict control, is also very well thought out and described seamlessly and believably. I also appreciated the range of magical ability and in particular how these characters are able to help out in the war effort. They aren’t psionic mages with the ability to cause explosions or stop aircrafts in their tracks or put up forcefields. Rather, their greatest abilities are to control the weather to aid a smooth evacuation of soldiers, and even that is a taxing effort. I liked this conservatism with magic and power – especially considering how young and new to their abilities these teens are.
From a character perspective, things are a little less well rounded. The characters are generally pleasant, if a bit high on the too good to be true metric – Lady Victoria is sweet, and mild tempered, and brave, and pretty, and of COURSE does the right thing as well as possesses a rare gift for power, and…you get the Mary Sue picture. Characters aside, my biggest problem with Dark Mirror was with the inherent nature of the story. I’m not convinccend that time traveling to 1940 England was necessary at all to the plot. I liked the future storyline, but thinking about the book holistically, I’m not quite sure why it had to happen in the first place. Why couldn’t these students simply have banded together in their own time against the invading Napoleonic forces, for example? Especially as the time travel happens only in the second half of the book, it felt a little scattered to this reader. But, of course, this is just my opinion.
From a writing perspective, a few things niggled, too. There’s a heavy reliance on exclamation marks in the narrative (which always weirds me out), and a heavy tendency towards explaining (e.g. Hitler is the leader of the Nazis, the National Socialist party in Germany, and they are planning their ongoing invasion and capture of Europe – as one character tells another in the book). Granted, this is meant to be a young adult book and will probably be read by much younger audiences, but I loathe when authors feel the need to hand hold or explain every single detail and nuance to readers.[2. We – all of us, including young adult readers (who are reading things like Huckleberry Finn and Hamlet and Ulysses in high school classes) – are smart. When things are explicitly explained to us, it gives us the impression that you don’t think we are smart enough to figure out details on our own. We can figure things out on our own. End rant.]
Ultimately, I enjoyed Dark Mirror and I’ll probably pick up the sequel (if there is one), in hopes that the storytelling improves.
Notable Quotes/Parts: From Chapter 1:
Lady Victoria Mansfield flew high, high over her family’s estate. Arms and legs outstretched, long skirts fluttering around her knees as she gloried in her freedom and in the soft, scented wind.
She laughed with delight as she saw the familiar Somersetshire hills from above. Here was the vast stone length of her home, Fairmount Hall, there the beautiful gardens that ran to the bluffs. Waves crashed far below and gulls soared at Tory’s height, their cries haunting.
She swooped down to investigate the round stone dovecote. Doves squawked in protest when she flew inside. Startled, she almost plunged to the ground.
Concentrate on staying aloft. With a giddy rush, Tory swooped up again, soaring through the door of the dovecote and into the sky. Perhaps she should fly to the nearby estate of the Harford family. The Honorable Edmund Harford was the eldest son and heir to his father’s title and property.
She’d always admired Edmund. He was back from university for the summer and she wanted him to see that she had grown. Perhaps he’d think she was almost as pretty as her older sister, Sarah.
Tory banked into the wind and turned east toward the Harford estate.
A horrified cry shocked her awake.
Jolted from sleep, Tory realized she was floating a yard above her rumpled bed, terrifyingly unsupported. Her mother, the Countess of Fairmont, stood in the door, her expression horrified. “Victoria,” she breathed. “Oh, please, no!”
Tory glanced up into the canopy above her head. A spider had spun a web in the corner, and the ugly creature was looking right at her.
She shrieked and crashed down on the bed, her breath whooshing out as she flopped onto her stomach.
Shaken and afraid, she pushed herself up with her arms. She couldn’t really have been flying!
“You were flying.” Her mother closed the door, her white-knuckled hand locked around the knob. “Don’t ever do that again!” she said, voice shaking. “You know how society feels about mages. How…how your father feels about them.”
“I can’t be a mage!” Tory gasped, shocked by the impossibility of her mother’s words. “I’m a Mansfield. We’re not magical!”
At least, not that Tory had ever heard. Seeing the countess’s guilty expression caused her to ask incredulously, “Mama, have there been mages in our family?”
Such a thing wasn’t possible. It just wasn’t! Magic corrupted, and she wasn’t corrupt. Yes, she’d felt herself changing as she grew to womanhood. Strange dreams, new desires. But those were just growing pains. Not magic!
Tory refused to believe her mother could be a mage. Lady Fairmount was considered the greatest lady in the county, an example to all well-born young ladies.
And yet… guilt was written plain as day on the countess’s lovely face. When she refused to reply, Tory’s world began to crack beneath her.
“Do you have magical ability?” she said, shocked and desperately unwilling to believe such a thing. Yet looking back… “You always knew what we were doing. Geoff and Sarah and I thought you had eyes in the back of your head.”
“There were rumors,” her mother whispered, tears shining in her eyes. “About my Russian grandmother, Viktoria Ivanova. The one you’re named for. She died when I was very small so I didn’t really know her, but…it’s possible she brought mage blood into the family.”
Tory’s namesake had poisoned the blue-blooded Mansfield family with magic? And Tory might suffer for that? It wasn’t fair!
Feeling utterly betrayed, she cried, “How could you not warn me? If I’d known I might have magic, I could have guarded against it!”
“I thought you children had escaped the taint! I have very little power. Scarcely any at all. It seemed better not to worry you about what such an unlikely possibility.” Lady Fairmount was literally wringing her hands. “But…you look rather like Viktoria Ivanova. You must have inherited some of her talent.”
Tory wanted to howl. Voice breaking, she said, “I’ve never floated like this before. It’s just a freak, something that will never happen again, I swear it!”
The countess looked deeply sad. “Magic appears when boys and girls grow to adulthood. It’s hard to suppress, but you must try, Victoria. If your father finds out, he’ll certainly send you to Lackland.”
Tory gasped in disbelief. Though children of the nobility who had magic were often sent to the prison-like school called Lackland Abbey, surely she wouldn’t be forced to leave her friends and family!
“You’ve managed to hide your power from everyone, and so can I. I’m another whole generation away from Viktoria Ivanova,” Tory drew a shaky breath. “No one will ever know about me, either.”
“The ability to fly is not minor magic,” her mother said, expression worried. “You may find it harder to hide your abilities than I have.”
“I wasn’t flying!” Tory protested. “I always toss and turn when I’m sleeping.” Knowing how feeble that sounded, she continued, “If I am cursed with magic, I’ll learn to control it. You always said I was more stubborn than Geoffrey and Sarah put together.”
“I hope you succeed,” her mother said sadly. “If your ability becomes known, I don’t think I’ll be able to save you from Lackland Abbey. God keep you, my child.” Silent tears fell unchecked as she backed from the room, closing the door behind her.
Leaving her daughter alone in a shattered world.
Tory struggled not to panic. She couldn’t go to Lackland Abbey. Even when students were cured and sent home, they were considered tainted, like the madmen at Bedlam Hospital.
Additional Thoughts: Make sure to check out our Blog Tour & Interview with M.J. Putney for a chance to win a copy of Dark Mirror!
Rating: 6 – Good
Reading Next: Eona by Alison Goodman