Monday, May 16, 2011

Musings: Mairelon the Magician

Mairelon the Magician
I loved Patricia C. Wrede's Enchanted Forest Chronicles growing up, but I strangely never knew she had written anything else.  I certainly did not know that she wrote a duology set in a magical Regency England, way before setting fantasy books in historical time periods was cool. So when I heard about Mairelon the Magician about a month ago, I bought it (and its sequel) almost immediately.

Kim is a 17-year-old girl who dresses like a boy, making her independent way by stealing and spying in London.  She's done well so far, but she has some people she'd rather avoid, like Dan Laverham.  She's hired by a shady-looking gentleman for a ridiculous amount of money to find a silver bowl in Mairelon the Magician's wagon.  She looks for it, but is caught by Mairelon himself, who instead of turning her into the authorities, offers to take her in as an apprentice.  Kim agrees, wanting to put as many miles as possible between her and Dan Laverham, and they go off together along with Mairelon's faithful sidekick, Hunch.  But people are still after that silver bowl and Mairelon, she finds, is trying to solve a mystery of his own.

I have read many, many books set in Regency England before and consider myself pretty familiar with the slang and colorful language of the day.  But this book exhausted me on that front.  Kim doesn't say one sentence that doesn't have at least 50% slang in it.  Considering that this book is aimed at middle grade readers, I have no idea how they would understand anything she said.  There is dialect used by many other characters, too- Hunch, Miss D'Auby (a French emigree) and all sorts of innkeepers.  I have mentioned my dislike of dialect before, but at least in that case, it was only secondary characters that used dialect.  In this one, it was the main character and I got tired of it real fast.  For example:
"He thought he'd gammoned me proper," Kim said.  She took a perverse pleasure in betraying the toff who'd gotten her into this.  "But if it was just a bet, why'd he let me talk him up to five pounds?  And why was he so nattered over that whicher-bubber?"
I understand what she means, yes, but is all that necessary?  (And what the heck is a whicher-bubber?  Here it is referring to a silver bowl, but I have no idea why.)  And, more importantly, would a 12-year-old understand it?  I don't know.

It's unfortunate, really, because I think I would have liked Kim more if she was easier to understand.  But she wasn't, and I never felt that close to her.  That, perhaps, is also due to the fact that there is probably a cast of 20 people in this book.  And many of them use slang.  So they all got very confused in my head and I couldn't really tell them apart.  One of them in particular, named Freddy, was very similar to one of my favorite Heyeros, Freddie Standon of Cotillion.  He was a bit of a dim bulb at times, but very sweet and manages to punch a villain in the face and down him, even though he isn't exactly a boxing champion.  And that's exactly what Freddy in this book does, too.

I am being very negative about this book, and I think that's because I had such high hopes for it.  I was really looking forward to a fun adventure through Regency England.  And actually, I did get that.  The last few chapters in particular are pretty hilarious (and quite Heyer-esque), with an attempted robbery gone very wrong.  The book's pace is also very fast; before I had time to digest what just happened, we were off to discover something else.  So I do have hopes for the sequel of this book, Magician's Ward, which I hear is more tightly-woven and hopefully has fewer characters and less slang.  And it's silly, really, to expect at 28 to have the same magical reaction to an author that you had at 10.  But I know Patricia Wrede can write, and write better, than she did here, and I hope to see more of that in the second book.


  1. With all that slang, I know that there is no way that I would ever get through this book, and like you mention, I don't know how the targeted age range would even know how to respond to it either. It's too bad though, because the plot of this one does sound interesting, but then again, I didn't really enjoy Sorcery and Cecelia, the book Wrede wrote with Caroline Stevermer. No, I think I will probably pass on this one, but I did like reading your review!

  2. Slang doesn't appeal to me either. Sorry it didn't work for you.

  3. Heh, I read this in... hmm, early high school first, I think? And then again not that long ago. I really, really enjoyed it both times. And I think part of what I liked so much was the dialect, Kim's use of language I couldn't quite understand but just had to go with. I've always kind of enjoyed that, though. Generally, dialect doesn't often bother me unless it's completely, totally unnecessary, and I felt in this case that it was totally necessary to who Kim was and where she was.

    I think you might find the next book a bit easier to deal with on that front. It's fairly influenced by My Fair Lady (I'd say Pygmalion but it's not that cutting) and therefore Kim spends a lot of time learning to speak proper English. Though it's not harped on enough to make it boring, I didn't think. I personally didn't enjoy the second book as much as the first the first time I read them, but the second time I did, because I had a much better comprehension of Regency societal rules, which helped with my frustration on Kim's part.

  4. Slang can definitely be a problem with books, especially those future dystopias, when they've got all kinds of new words for things. Perhaps authors want to emphasize how different the world is of the protagonist, but I agree that it creates distancing. On the other hand, truly, who of us doesn't get nattered over whicher-bubbers? (whaaa?)

  5. Zibilee - I didn't enjoy Sorcery & Cecelia, either, so I guess I should have kept that in mind before impulsively buying these books, but oh, well! Lesson learned :-)

    Vivienne - I can see using *some* slang, but not as much as shows up here!

    kiirstin - Haha, I guess you liked the book for the exact reason I disliked it! It just gave me a headache, I admit, trying to figure out what was being said, and having so many different modes of speech happening. I also think I probably know *too* much about Regency societal rules to think that Kim would come out a proper lady without feeling seriously constrained by her surroundings, or without everyone around her judging her, so I am not sure if I'll like the second book much, either...

    rhapsody - It's true. Whicher-bubbers always natter me.

  6. Not my cuppa..nah, I tried to be decisive these days and just so no, lol

  7. I think the use of so much slang would really detract me from the story.

  8. I'm fond of these books but I don't think they're up to Patricia C. Wrede's highest standard. Have you already read Sorcery and Cecelia? I love it and reread it all the time, and it is set in Regency time. Its sequels are missable, but the original is so, so great.

    ("Whicher-bubber", I assume, is along the lines of "whatchamecallit".)

  9. Kathleen - Definitely detracted from it for me!

    Jenny - I admit I really did NOT love Sorcery and Cecelia. In fact, I didn't like it much at all. I just thought the characters were pretty much interchangeable and not that interesting and the romances were kind of random. I just keep learning that generally, I should stick to Georgette Heyer for Regency!
    Good call on "whicher-bubber"!

  10. All of that slang would drive me batty! I still can't get through A Clockwork Orange because of the language.

  11. Slang can sometimes be a good thing when it's used in moderation to help convey a sense of time and place, but not when it makes it difficult to understand what the characters are saying. I hope you have better luck with the second book!

  12. Anonymous5/18/2011

    not sure the book for me Aarti ,but must say I love the cover of the book a wonderful cover ,all the best stu

  13. I was also pretty disappointed with this book. I picked it up with high expectations because I love the Enchanted Forest series but this book was not half as wonderful as that one. I don't recall being bothered by the dialect issue but just the characters were kind of bland, lacking the kind of spirit I had come to expect from Wrede's characters. The sequel is a little bit better but still not as good as her other books.
    Have you read The Enchanted Chocolate Pot? If not than you must. It's just so much fun.


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