Extent: 304 pages
Pub Date: 1st August 2010
At twelve years old, any proper young lady should be sitting quietly at home practising her embroidery, learning French and keeping her opinions to herself. But Kat Stephenson is no ordinary young lady.
Kat's father may be a respectable vicar, but her late mother was a notorious witch, her brother has gambled the whole family into debt, and Kat herself is the newest target of an ancient and secretive magical order.
In the first thrilling instalment of The Unladylike Adventures of Kat Stephenson, Kat sets out to win her older sisters their true loves, battling highwaymen, practising magic and breaking all of Society's rules along the way.
Well, Caroline Bingley would turn in her papery grave if she knew such an unaccomplished young lady had been let loose on fictional Regency England; I can hear her now, thrashing about on my bookshelf. But Caroline can go swallow her bonnet because I'm a huge fan of Jane Austen and an even huger fan of kick-butt heroines and A Most Improper Magick combines the two sending it straight onto my list of all-time favourite books.
And that's no exaggeration, Stephanie Burgis has mastered a style of writing that would make many authors intensely jealous, taking a 200 year old period of history and bringing it bang up to date. I think the best example of this lies in the dialogue which very cleverly mixes the beautifully articulate speech of 19th century gentry with the frank and forward speech of today, keeping the book relevant to the modern audience but maintaining the flavour of the time it is set in. It's the balance, so cleverly woven, between two opposites that is so impressive and this is most obviously demonstrated in the way Steph faces off an often witty and tongue-in-cheek narration - very reminiscent of Austen's commentaries - with moments of genuine tension and an underlying threat. This is instrumented largely by an ingeniously contrived cast of characters: the comically disapproving stepmother whose most pressing task is to find husbands for her stepdaughters whilst trying to cover up the scandal they generate is balanced by the dark and menacing presences of the antagonists who leave you squirming in Kat's helplessness and willing the heroine to find the courage to overcome her adversaries.
Kat herself is an extremely likeable character. I promise this is the last time I'll mention Jane Austen but Elizabeth Bennet has to be one of the world's favourite literary characters and Kat Stephenson is very similar with her stubborn defiance and independent spirit. She's fiery and frank and won't let Society stereotype her but she's also caring for her sisters and fights for the good guys making her a pretty formidable heroine. I particularly like the way that, despite being the youngest, Kat is the one that knows what is best for everybody and is constantly trying to prevent the other characters messing things up for themselves.
Stephanie Burgis is really an author to look out for in the future with her incredible ability to balance a plot with wit and tension, create well formed characters that dominate the page and weave a really engaging story that keeps you turning the page. Much to my joy she has brought Regency England to life again but given the girls the fire and independence you wish they had. I cannot wait for the next book, A Tangle Of Magicks, to be released in August.