Old School Wednesdays is a weekly Book Smuggler feature. We came up with the idea towards the end of 2012, when both Ana and Thea were feeling exhausted from the never-ending inundation of New and Shiny (and often over-hyped) books. What better way to snap out of a reading fugue than to take a mini-vacation into the past?
Logo designed by the wonderful KMont
In March 2013, we asked YOU for your favorite old school suggestions – and the response was so overwhelmingly awesome, we decided to compile a goodreads shelf, an ongoing database, AND a monthly readalong/book club.
This month’s OSW Readalong pick is Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer!
For every readalong book, we’ll structure this a little bit differently than our usual Joint Review fare – first, we’ll give our (brief!) opinions regarding the book, then we’ll tackle some discussion questions. Finally, we’ll ask YOU to join in.
Title: Sorcery & Cecelia (or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot)
Author: Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer
Genre: Historical Fantasy
Publication date: First published 1988
Paperback: 326 pages
A great deal is happening in London and the country this season.
For starters, there’s the witch who tried to poison Kate at the Royal College of Wizards. There’s also the man who seems to be spying on Cecelia. (Though he’s not doing a very good job of it–so just what are his intentions?) And then there’s Oliver. Ever since he was turned into a tree, he hasn’t bothered to tell anyone where he is.
Clearly, magic is a deadly and dangerous business. And the girls might be in fear for their lives . . . if only they weren’t having so much fun!(
Stand alone or series: First in the Cecelia & Kate series
How did we get this book: Bought
Format (e- or p-): Ebook
REVIEW & DISCUSSION
Ana’s take: I was so happy when Sorcery and Cecelia was the pick for this month’s readalong as I had the book sitting on my Kobo for ages. And it was everything I hoped it would be: light, funny, romantic, adorable. It also helps that I read it at the right time too just after I had finished two dark and heavy books and needed a pick me up. This was perfect and it might just be my favourite readalong book so far.
I loved it because it was a good example of epistolary novel, I loved it because the two main characters Cecelia and Kate were so awesome and good friends (and cousins) to each other and I loved it because it was so silly (I mean, an enchanted chocolate pot as a source of power? ) but incredibly witty too. And I loved the two romances too – predictable as they were and all the more fun because of it.
Thea’s Take: Like Ana, I was thrilled when this book was voted the OSW Readalong pick for August – this is the first book I’ve actually voted for that has won the OSW Poll! I adore Patricia C. Wrede’s fantasy, and her MG Enchanted Forest series is among my favorites of all time. Needless to say, I had some pretty high expectations when I started Sorcery and Cecelia – but you know what? The book absolutely delivered the type of lighthearted, escapist, frothy regency fantasy I was yearning for. I loved it. LOVED it.
1. Sorcery and Cecelia is a blend of “Historical” romance and Fantasy. What did you think of this mix – do you think it was successful?
Ana: Note the “quotes” around Historical: it’s because this is clearly more wallpaper Regency Romance more than a well-researched historical novel. And that’s ok – in this context, taking in the magic background, the novel is is what it is and I accepted it. So in that sense, it is a good mix – I especially loved the way that the Fantasy elements were slowly introduced in the novel then became exponentially more important to the plot as they became more important to the two characters. For example, in the very first letter, it is all about mundane things then in the very end, Cecelia mentions that their neighbor is a Magician – just dropping this morsel of information as an addendum because at that moment it wasn’t really something that was that important to her life.
Thea: I agree with Ana on all counts: I think the mix of fantasy and regency “historical” romance is executed to perfection. On the fantasy end of the spectrum, I was enamored with the gradual and conservative blend of magic that works its way into the narrative. When you start the book, it reads like a YA regency romance – there are two best friends, cousins, that are sending each other letters as one is presented to society (Kate), while the other is left behind at home (Cecelia). As Kate is invited to parties and gatherings, she literally stumbles upon a magical plot, involving an enchanted chocolate pot of all things. The plot thickens as Cecelia discovers that the events happening outside of London in her own country town are related to the intrigue in which Kate has been ensnared – with romantic entanglements along the way, naturally. In many ways, Sorcery and Cecelia reminds me of one of my other favorite historical romantic fantasy novels from childhood, Sherwood Smith’s Crown Duel and Court Duel (more the latter, actually), with it’s epiostilary style, alluring blend of romance, intrigue and magic.
Did that answer the question? I hope so.
2. The characters – especially Kate and Cecelia – are the glue that keep the novel together. What did you think of the dual protagonists, their relationship, and their interactions with those around them?
Ana: Their relationship and support and love for each other was easily one of the best things about the novel. I loved their arc and how their story progressed.
I love how the story and the characters were continuously making fun at the frustrating trope of folks NOT TELLING PEOPLE what they need to know in order to be safe and how Kate and Cecelia were totally sensible about it, simply taking matters into their own hands and just sorted everything out. In the meantime they ended up finding their own worth and their own voice. And luuurve.
As for their romantic entanglements: I am a sucker for this type of story, of the plucky heroine that confounds their romantic counterparts. I also quite enjoy the broody (but not assholey) type of hero so I completely loved the Odious Marquis of Schofield and James (who was so terrible at being a spy).
Thea: Agreed, agreed, agreed! I loved the relationship between cousins Cecelia and Kate (if I’m being honest, Cecelia is my favorite, but I do love Kate, too). I loved the way that the cousins completely trust, confide in, and rely on each other; I loved the thread of trust and love between the two girls, who are essentially sisters, that runs through both of their many letters.
On the romance front, I actually love the sweet, if predictable, way that each heroine meets their romantic match. I most especially enjoyed the way both girls disclose through writing their relationship to the men, and how their clearly unreliable descriptions of their relationships change over time. The so-called “odious” Marquis is hardly odious to Kate; the insufferably obvious James Tarrington’s affections go painfully unnoticed by the oblivious Cecelia (but are so very obvious to readers). It’s rare that I read a dual-POV narrated book and am equally eager for both characters’ narratives – but such is the accomplishment of Wrede and Stevermer’s Sorcery and Cecelia.
Finally, I must express how much I appreciated the open-mindedness both characters have regarding other female characters (namely the beautiful characters Dorothea and Georgina). Instead of mercilessly or maliciously making fun of these girls, both Kate and Cecelia befriend and are even fiercely loyal to them. I appreciate that very much.
3. This is the second epistolary book in our readalong series (the first was Terrier). What did you think of the narrative method in this particular book? Did it work for you? If you also read Terrier, how does Sorcery and Cecelia compare in your opinion?
Ana: I loved it – and think the authors here did a better job at it. As you probably know by now I am a sucker for epistolary narratives and I think this one got it just right for me. It wasn’t blogged down with too many details despite dialogue being replayed word by word which I am always like: who can remember all of those details?
I also loved to learn how the whole thing came to me: the two authors playing a letter game and making it up as they went along. Adorable.
Thea: Actually, in general I’m not a huge fan of epistolary novels. I appreciate a good unreliable narrative, but the pretense of letter-writing or journal entries is often a hard illusion to keep for the duration of a full-length book. In the case of Sorcery and Cecelia, the epistolary undeniably works. In my opinion, Kate and Cecy’s letters are pretty damn near flawless – I loved little touches, such as one girl writing multiple letters to be delivered in a single package, or the delayed response period both Kate and Cecy experience (you know, pre-email days and all).
In comparison to Terrier? No contest. The Enchanted Chocolate Pot is clearly the superior book. AND this is to say nothing of the fact that it was penned by two separate authors! That’s pretty impressive.
4. Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer are very prolific writers – is this your first book written by these authors or have you read others? How does Sorcery and Cecelia stack up if the latter?
Ana: This was my first book by either author and it was so good I want to read more from them. Any recommendations where to go next?
Thea: YES! I love Patricia Wrede – my favorite books of hers are Calling on Dragons and Searching for Dragons (both in the Enchanted Forest series – books that I give to any niece, nephew, or other young MG reader and lover of fantasy to this day). Cimorene and Mendanbar FOREVER! I’ve also reviewed Wrede’s more recent The Thirteenth Child here on The Book Smugglers, which I similarly enjoyed (albeit with a few reservations).
I haven’t yet had the pleasure of reading Caroline Stevermer’s work, although I have my sights set on A College of Magics (and have had my eye on this book for a while).
5. What is your favorite thing from this book? What weren’t you enthusiastic about? Will you keep on reading the series or if you have read the series already, do you recommend us to keep on reading?
Ana: I loved this book! It was adorable and so charming and at moments I placed my hand on my chest (kissy moments) which is always a sign that the romance worked for me. My favourite thing was Kate and Cecelia’s friendship. There wasn’t anything in particular that didn’t work for me.
Will I continue reading? I am not sure: I’d like to but heard mixed things about the rest of the books and I don’t want to taint such a positive experience.
Thea: I, too, adored this book. It was exactly what I needed to read at this precise moment, and I absolutely will continue with the series in the future. I mean, now that Kate, Cecelia and I are best friends, why wouldn’t I?
Ana: 7 – Very Good verging on 8
Thea: 7 – Very Good
Now over to you! Please feel free to engage with the questions (and our answers), come up with your own talking points, and/or leave links to your reviews!