Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer first published Sorcery and Cecelia under that title in 1988. In recent years, thanks to reprints with shiny new cover art by Scott M. Fischer in the case of the edition I read as well as two new sequels, this book has regained popularity and visibility. Aside from that, one of the most important things to know about this book is its alternate title: The Enchanted Chocolate Pot: Being the Correspondence of Two Young Ladies of Quality Regarding Various Magical Scandals in London and the Country.
Wrede and Stevermer wrote this book as a writing exercise of sorts called the Letter Game. Patricia C. Wrede wrote as Cecelia while Caroline Stevermer responded with Kate’s letters. They did not plan the plot before they began writing.
Almost every review I have found online describes Sorcery and Cecelia as a cross between the books of Jane Austen and those of J. K. Rowling. The comparison does make sense, but I might venture to say I liked this book better than any of the Harry Potter series.
The year is 1817 in an England where magic is as much a part of life as letter writing. The latter is of particular importance to Kate and Cecelia as the cousins spend the novel in separate parts of England. While Kate and her more glamorous sister Georgina are in London enjoying a proper Season, Cecelia, much to her consternation, is left to languish in the country with her brother Oliver for company (at least until he’s turned into a tree).
Problems begin for both cousins when Kate accidentally intercepts a rather nasty pot of chocolate in a London garden that was, apparently, meant for the eccentric Marquis of Schofield. If only he would explain exactly why.
Meanwhile, in the country, Cecelia finds herself following a shady figure spying on Cecy’s new (and surprisingly popular!) friend Dorothea. When Cecelia repeatedly catches him in the act of spying, James Tarleton repeatedly refuses to offer any information.
As the girls learn more about these mysterious men, and the mysterious events, it becomes clear that something big is happening–big enough that evidence of the plan can be seen in both London and the country. The only question is what, exactly, is going on and if Kate and Cecelia can stop it in time.
Being an homage to Jane Austen, this novel has not one but two romances. Which couple is better has been a hot topic since the book came out. The librarian who recommended the book to me feels very strongly that the Mysterious Marquis and Kate are a more enjoyable match to observe. For my part, I preferred Cecelia and James.
This novel avoids all of the traps that can make an epistolary novel awful. There is no repetition, there is dialogue, the narrative reads like a, for lack of a better word, normal book in that the narrative flows in a fairly traditional way. There is neither too much information nor too little. And, most importantly, the novel is filled with suspense, action, humor and romance that shines through both Cecelia’s and Kate’s letters.
But then from two talented and well-known fantasy writers, what else can a reader expect but perfection?
Sorcery and Cecelia is the first in a series of books featuring Kate and Cecelia. Their stories continue in The Grand Tour (2004) and The Mislaid Magician or Ten Years After (2006).
Possible Pairings: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger, A Room With a View by E. M. Forster, The Clockwork Scarab by Colleen Gleason, My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, Jodi Meadows; A Breath of Frost by Alyxandra Harvey, The Invention of Sophie Carter by Samantha Hastings, Darker Still by Leanna Renee Hieber, The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg, Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, Beauty by Robin McKinley, The Keeper of the Mist by Rachel Neumeier, Newt’s Emerald by Garth Nix, The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope, Iron Cast by Destiny Soria, Born Wicked by Jessica Spotswood, A Well-Timed Enchantment by Vivian Vande Velde, Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White