Sorcery and Cecelia (The Enchanted Chocolate Pot) by Patricia C. Wrede
To best understand Sorcery and Cecelia one has to first flick to the back of the book in order to read the authors’ afterword in which they explain the format and history of their story. After hearing of a game called “The Letter Game,” Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer decided to have a go — each took on the persona of two young women in a more magically flavoured 1800’s, and wrote to each other concerning their activities. Patricia Wrede plays the role of Cecelia Rushton, living in the country and somewhat envious of her cousin Kate Talgarth (Caroline Stevermer) who is being presented to Society in London. And so the correspondence began, each woman drawing on the magical angle of their created world as well as a ‘Jane Austen’ flavour, so tell each other of the gradually more dangerous escapades that they both get up to.
Kate in London is well into the process of socialising and mingling, despite being overshadowed by her far more beautiful sister Georgy. But whilst watching a neighbourhood wizard Sir Hilary being installed at the Royal College of Wizards, she comes across a little door in the building that leds to a cloistered garden, where a woman named Miranda Griscombe tries to kill her via chocolate poured from a bright blue chocolate pot! It becomes increasingly difficult when her cousin (Cecy’s brother) Oliver disappears while at a night time function, and everywhere she goes she seems to run into the odious ‘Mysterious Marquis’, a one Thomas Schofield, whom seems to be the target of Miranda’s malice.
Cecelia meanwhile has come into contract with Dorothea Griscombe (any relation to Miranda?) who unintentionally seems to attract men to her like flies to honey, in particular James Tarleton, who prowls around behind bushes and under trees with very little skill at such activities. Finding herself quite accomplished at the magical arts, despite her Aunt Elizabeth’s hearty disapproval, Cecelia begins to take lessons, ‘borrowing’ several books from Sir Hilary’s library which may lend clues to Kate’s situation in London…
Such does the story go, expanding with each letter, with each girl helping the other along, though in the entire course of the tale neither of them come face to face. It is a highly original way of telling a story, and for the most part works very well in presenting a tale. If there is one trouble, it is that we are never in any concern over the girls’ safety in their escapades, as we know that they remain intact in order to write the letters chronicling their dangers. Furthermore its difficult to keep track of the myriad of characters that keep pouring into the storyline and their relationships with one another — three-quarters of the way through the book I gave up and began again from the start!
But Sorcery and Cecelia (why Kate is excluded from the title is a mystery since I found her story and attitude far more enjoyable than Cecelia’s) is a funny, witty, exciting read, filled with magic, interfering aunts, enchanted chocolate pots, romance, adventure and a certain tone that reminds us continually that it is real letters that we are reading — we never really find out what the story was behind that goat that the girls are continually alluding to!
A magical marquis, his suspicious friend, and a pair of strong-willed and mischievous young ladies get entangled in Regency-era England. Their story is told entirely in epistolary form, as lifelong friends Kate and Cecilia exchange letters. Kate is experiencing her first Season in London, while Cecy is left home in the country. But life gets unexpectedly complicated when both Kate and Cecy meet up with Thomas (aka the Mysterious Marquis) and his friend James, who are trying to stop a dark magical plot that endangers them all. Vauxhall and vouchers to Almacks are mixed with spells that turn people into trees and a magical blue porcelain chocolate pot.
Sorcery and Cecelia is noteworthy for having its genesis in a Letter Game between the two authors, each of them writing to the other in the character of one of the girls, and neither of them knowing what the other would be writing back to in response to their latest letter. With some post-game trimming and polishing, they actually ended up with a publishable novel.
Given that each author was writing as a specific character, it’s interesting that both of the girls’ voices sounded so much alike to me. It was a little difficult to distinguish between Kate in the city and Cecy in the country, except that Cecy has discovered she has some magical skills and Kate has somehow found herself in an engagement of convenience. Notwithstanding the post-game editing, I could also see several bits and pieces of the plot that didn’t really lend themselves to the work as a whole, and the plot occasionally got rather confused and muddled (and I don’t think it was just me).
However, the story overall was enjoyable, with some nice bits of magic and witty dialogue between the characters, and some of the humor was truly delightful. Cecy writes to Kate:
Aunt Elizabeth and I called at the vicarage yesterday and spent a stimulating afternoon listening to the Reverend Fitzwilliam discourse on the Vanities of Society and the Emptiness of Worldly Pleasures. Aunt Elizabeth hung on every word, and we are to return and take tea on Thursday. I am determined to have the headache Thursday, if I have to hit myself with a rock to do it.
There are even a few deeper moments, like when Kate is examining a magical chessboard with enameled pieces:
I bent close to admire the detail of the white queen’s cloak (I could see the black-tipped ermine) and jumped. “Oh, it moved!” I exclaimed — for as I watched, the queen had taken a step to her left, to a black square, where her cloak showed to best advantage. As I stared, the white knight beside her stepped aside politely to clear the next square. “That’s not a proper knight’s move,” I protested. “They’re just wandering around at random.”
Lady Sylvia smiled. “This is the King’s pride and joy,” she explained, “but the enchantment merely animates the pieces. It doesn’t instruct them in the finer points of play.”
“How dreadful,” I replied, “to be caught up in a game and have no idea of the rules.”
“It’s not a plight unique to this chess set,” Lady Sylvia observed dryly.
Sorcery and Cecelia is a light read, but clever and enjoyable, with just a little romance.
Cecelia and Kate — Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer. (1988-2006) Publisher: 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!