Saturday, 6 August 2011
Review: A Tangle of Magicks - Stephanie Burgis
Extent: 304 pages
Pub Date: 1st August 2011
After her antics in A Most Improper Magick, Kat Stephenson is back to cause more chaos! Stepmama drags the family to Bath to find Kat's sister a new suitor. But, unknown to most of its gossipy visitors, Bath is full of wild magic. When Kat uncovers a plot to harness this magic in the Roman Baths, she finds her brother Charles is unwittingly involved. Kat must risk her newfound magical powers as she defies the Order of the Guardians to foil the plot and clear her brother's name.
Hoorah! Kat is back, perhaps not with a vengeance, but certainly to whoop some more bad guys into shape. I was hoping Kat would end up in Bath one day because of its popularity in the Regency period but actually, Stephanie Burgis has given a much better reason for the action to take place in Bath: it is full of wonderful myth and mystery that I didn’t know the half of before I read A Tangle of Magicks. I knew it went back to the Roman period but Steph takes us back long before that to the times of a much older magic and skilfully stitches together fact and fiction to create a setting that is so realistic that I am now convinced that Bath is actually brimming with magic.
My favourite characters are back – I’m a massive fan of Stepmama who I can always picture quivering with rage yet trying to maintain some dignity – and Papa and Charles have much bigger roles which I was glad to read, even if they are pretty ineffective and good at making a situation worse. Kat’s poor old sister, Angeline, who was pretty unstable in A Most Improper Magick seems to have become suicidally rebellious and Kat is back in her role as the family juggler, trying to keep everyone’s problems in the air. I think my favourite characters, however, have to be the baddies. Stephanie Burgis spins such a good baddy, she knows exactly which buttons to press to make me completely insane with rage. The extremely slappable Lady Fotherington is back with a new ally in Lord Ravenscroft whose ploy is to manipulate everyone into believing Kat is some kind of chronic liar. Cue my endless frustration as everyone dismisses Kat’s true accounts of what happens as falsehoods but their plan actually backfires as it inflames Kat’s heroism. This is what I love about Kat, she’s a real roll-up-your-sleeves-and-get-on-with-it sort of heroine who doesn’t need a man to rescue her every two paragraphs. The ignorance of the adults also leads Kat to find an unexpected ally in her step-cousin Lucy, who at first is rather annoying and girly but actually comes to find Kat’s brand of courage – it’s so refreshing for Kat to find someone who actually believes her for once and isn’t ashamed of her magical antics.
The best thing about Stephanie Burgis’ writing is the way she can mix humour with tension and frustration with warmth. She has a writing style that really zings and keeps you paying attention as one moment your heart is pumping and the next it’s melting. There’s plenty of the tongue-in-cheek shock and scandal humour that always has me giggling. The ending is pretty tense and dramatic but Kat’s courage takes the real victory and finally there is vindication when the bad guys are caught out – at last I was able to start breathing properly again as my frustration subsided. It’s a shame you can’t pull characters out of a book and give them a slap around the face from time to time.
Well, I’m now planning my trip to Bath so that I can go and embarrass myself in the Jane Austen Centre but really there ought to be a Stephanie Burgis Centre too! A tour of Kat Stephenson’s Bath anyone?
If you want a Kat taster, Stephanie Burgis has just posted a great mini-adventure on her website. Read Duelling Magicks here.
Read my review of A Most Improper Magick, the first book in The Unladylike Adventures of Kat Stephenson, here.