Set in the same world as Sorcery and Cecilia — also known by the delightful title of The Enchanted Chocolate Pot — this new book called Magic Below Stairs follows the adventures of one Frederick, an intelligent orphan boy chosen to be a footman in Lord Schofield’s house — yes, Kate and her dashing Lord Schofield are minor characters in this adventure — because he fits the livery from the previous servant who was sent away without references.
From that unassuming start, Frederick quickly rises in the household, even being allowed above stairs, because of his quick wit, hard work, and skill at folding a cravat that is simultaneously stylish and allows the wearer to breathe and turn his head from side to side — a rare skill indeed. Frederick is grateful for his new position, but when the brownie Billy Bly, who had protected him from the wrath of the headmaster at the orphanage, shows up at the Schofield country house to warn Frederick of a curse on the house that will kill not only Lord and Lady Schofield but their unborn child, Frederick realizes that it’s up to him and Billy Bly to save the house from a disaster too big to contemplate.
Magic Below Stairs is a fun, light book for grade school readers. At 199 small pages of large text, an adult could easily read this in a few hours. Frederick and the plucky serving maid Bess are sweetly drawn, though not complex characters. This is my main criticism of Magic Below Stairs, the overall lack of complexity. While Frederick does deal with some deep issues of grief, abandonment, and loneliness, none of the characters really show any emotional or character development. The plot is amusing, and the depiction of the curse is gritty and made my skin crawl, but this is overall a light read that will delight young readers and amuse older ones. It also made me want a brownie as a companion.
The conclusion of Magic Below Stairs makes it obvious that this is the start of a new series, and I will definitely be picking up other installments in the series. While it doesn’t have the emotional heft or complexity to earn a place on my permanent shelf, this is definitely worth reading by anyone who loves Regency-era fantasy, or BBC comedies about the lives of servants.