fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewsfantasy book review Galen Beckett The Magicians and Mrs. QuentThe Magicians and Mrs. Quent by Galen Beckett

From the back flap:  “What if there were a fantastical cause underlying the social constraints and limited choices confronting a heroine in a novel by Jane Austen or Charlotte Brontë? Galen Beckett, … began The Magicians and Mrs. Quent to answer that question… ”

I was excited to receive a copy of The Magicians and Mrs. Quent, Galen Beckett‘s “debut” novel. There’s something exciting about a new author — they’re fresh, and when you hold one of their books in your hands (especially a beautiful one like The Magicians and Mrs. Quent), you hope that maybe you’re about to discover a brand new talent.

Imagine my disappointment when I turned over the title page and read that the copyright to The Magicians and Mrs. Quent belongs to Mark Anthony. I immediately went to both authors’ websites. Galen Beckett‘s talked about his debut novel. Mark Anthony‘s said (and still says as of 9/22/08):

“So what is the new book? Well, not to be too cagey, but that’s something I can’t answer quite yet. I can tell you that it’s not another book in The Last Rune series — that tale, wonderful as it was for me, has come to a close. I can also tell you that the new book is a fantasy. However, it’s fairly different than my previous books. So different, in fact, that my publisher has decided to launch the book under a new pen name.

And that’s where all the cloak-and-dagger stuff comes in. I’ve been asked by my publisher not to publicly reveal my alter ego just yet, so as not to spoil the secret. The good news is that I will be able to talk more freely about the new book once it’s out. So keep checking back. As soon as I’m at liberty to reveal my other writing identity, you’ll see the news right here.”

(So, I guess I’ve just outed Galen Beckett and Mark Anthony.)

Despite my disappointment, I still began TMAMQ with anticipation — I enjoy a 19th century style English novel, so I knew there was potential here. I won’t summarize the plot for you, since the publisher’s blurb (above) does that nicely.

The first third of the book is almost a re-telling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, in both style, plot, and character stereotypes. There are three sisters living with their batty mother in a low but genteel house which will transfer to their relative Mr Wyble when the mother dies. Ivy, the eldest, is bookish, intelligent, and rational. Rose is dreamy and strange. Lily is boy crazy and silly. Mr Wyble is a lawyer who is constantly trying to ingratiate himself with people who he thinks are better than him. He says things such as:

While my schedule would have permitted me to pay  you a visit around the middle of the month, another opportunity was presented to me, which, I am sure once the particulars are heard, you must judge was the wisest investment of my time. Recently I had the good fortune to be of service to Lady Marsdel, a most noble personage of the highest degree. In her extreme — dare I say, almost overpowering — generosity, she invited me to an affair at her house in the New Quarter. There I was happy to make the acquaintance of many remarkable and important persons.

I’ve read that before — it’s Mr Collins. There are also character analogues to Jane Austen’s Mr Wickham, Mr Darcy, Mr Bennett, and Lady Catherine De Bourgh. And
In addition to these character and style similarities, there are plot  borrowings, too: Ivy gets ill while visiting Lady Marsdel’s (Lady Catherine De Bourgh’s) house and has to stay for days to recover, Dashton Rafferdy (Mr Darcy) struggles with his feelings for Ivy (Elizabeth Bennett) but knows he can’t marry her because of their difference in social status.

Much of the second part of TMAMQ comes from Jane Eyre and the style abruptly changes from light social sarcasm to gothic romance. Ivy goes to be governess to Mr Rochester’s — I mean Mr Quent’s — wards at Heathcrest Hall. A local man accuses her of being a witch. There are strange things happening at the manor and Mr Quent and his housekeeper are keeping secrets (and a secret room). I won’t tell you the rest of it so that I won’t spoil the plot in case you haven’t read Jane Eyre (or in case you missed the title of Mr Beckett’s book).
Beckett’s best drawn character, Eldyn Garritt, and his plot come from Charles Dickens.

Beckett’s writing style is not on par with his influencers, but it’s very pleasant nonetheless. But much of his plot and his characters, though interesting, were not impressive because I’ve seen them all before. I understand that his purpose is to write pastiche, but I was hoping for something fresh. There are some engaging elements here, though: ancient patches of forest threaten to rise up and overtake Altania (fantasy England), a group of men plot to overthrow the government and let in a new ruler (it’s not clear which side we should be on), the “Ashen” are some sort of aliens who want to suck out everyone’s souls, unknown planets are appearing and aligning, Eldyn can wrap himself in shadows, and a mysterious stranger occasionally shows up to give Ivy a clue or encouragement (but I never figured out why he didn’t just give her the answers). Perhaps most interesting is that in Ivy’s world, days and nights vary in length so that she must consult an almanac if she wants to know how long the night will last (alas, we’re given no scientific explanation for that). But none of these fantastical elements seem to fit together — it feels like they are some random interesting ideas that were thrown in in order to present a fantasy novel in a 19th century style. The ending was wrapped up too quickly and conveniently without much explanation of how these pieces fit. Perhaps they’ll all come together in the sequel, but for now I’m left confused.

Mr Beckett can certainly write, and he’s got this style down, but I’d like to see him do something original and meaningful — something that doesn’t leave me scratching my head. The back flap of the novel suggests that we’re going to learn the “fantastical cause underlying the social constraints and limited choices confronting a heroine in a novel by Jane Austen or Charlotte Brontë,” but Beckett never answers the question — he doesn’t give us anything new. The “social constraints” that Ivy faces seem to be the same constraints that Jane Bennett and Jane Eyre faced: pride and prejudice.

The Magicians and Mrs. Quent — (2008-2012) Publisher: In this enchanting debut novel, Galen Beckett weaves a dazzling spell of adventure and suspense, evoking a world of high magick and genteel society — a world where one young woman discovers that her modest life is far more extraordinary than she ever imagined. Of the three Lockwell sisters — romantic Lily, prophetic Rose, and studious Ivy — all agree that it’s the eldest, the book-loving Ivy, who has held the family together ever since their father’s retreat into his silent vigil in the library upstairs. Everyone blames Mr. Lockwell’s malady on his magickal studies, but Ivy alone still believes — both in magic and in its power to bring her father back. But there are others in the world who believe in magick as well. Over the years, Ivy has glimpsed them — the strangers in black topcoats and hats who appear at the door, strangers of whom their mother will never speak. Ivy once thought them secret benefactors, but now she’s not so certain. After tragedy strikes, Ivy takes a job with the reclusive Mr. Quent in a desperate effort to preserve her family. It’s only then that she discovers the fate she shares with a jaded young nobleman named Dashton Rafferdy, his ambitious friend Eldyn Garritt, and a secret society of highwaymen, revolutionaries, illusionists, and spies who populate the island nation of Altania. For there is far more to Altania than meets the eye and more to magick than mere fashion. And in the act of saving her father, Ivy will determine whether the world faces a new dawn — or an everlasting night…

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  • Kat Hooper

    KAT HOOPER, who started this site in June 2007, earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University (Bloomington) and now teaches and conducts brain research at the University of North Florida. When she reads fiction, she wants to encounter new ideas and lots of imagination. She wants to view the world in a different way. She wants to have her mind blown. She loves beautiful language and has no patience for dull prose, vapid romance, or cheesy dialogue. She prefers complex characterization, intriguing plots, and plenty of action. Favorite authors are Jack Vance, Robin Hobb, Kage Baker, William Gibson, Gene Wolfe, Richard Matheson, and C.S. Lewis.

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