If you enjoyed Patricia C. Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles (the first of which was reviewed on 09/25) then you’ll love her Magic and Malice series, aimed at a slightly older YA audience. The pair of novels—Mairelon the Magician and The Magician’s Ward—take place in Regency London, and follow the adventures of street thief Kim, as she gets embroiled with a world of magic, mystery, and (you guessed it) malice after falling in with a street magician who turns out to be a real wizard in disguise.
When Kim is commissioned by a shady gentleman to poke about in the cart of Mairelon the magician, she doesn’t expect to find herself in the hands of a real wizard. But instead of turning her in, Mairelon takes her into his service as he chases down a stolen set of magical silver. She helps him spy around while he teaches her to read, write, and speak properly, until discovering her own magical talent. In the second book, he assumes legal guardianship over her and she finds herself battling the strictures of polite society and wizardry lessons while they investigate the disappearance of several other wizards as well as a rash of mysterious thefts.
I found these books to be similar to the Mary Russell series that was discussed on 08/12—a young protégée is schooled in the ways of subterfuge and investigation by a master. But this is aimed at a middle-grade readership, and is a great deal more light-of-heart. In fact, the denouements of both books involve a lot of whodunit-style revelation placed in the middle of intense action between a multitude of characters that verges on farce comedy, with people popping up and turning out to be someone else and fainting and pointing guns and in general being very confused.
An interesting point about Kim is that even when Mairelon takes her on as his ward and she finds herself living a comfortable life that her former street-thief self couldn’t have imagined, she still holds herself apart. Though she knows a return to the streets would mean prostitution, she refuses to bend to the overbearing rules of London society when they ask her to be ashamed of her disadvantaged past. It’s a testament to her own willpower and dignity that she risks scandal and the displeasure of her benefactor to stay true to herself.
Featuring lots of romps through the English countryside and seedy taverns as well as tea houses and ballrooms, Mairelon the Magician and The Magician’s Ward are chalk full of humor and mystery. Highly recommended whatever your age (I enjoyed re-reading the series as much as my twelve year-old sister enjoyed reading it for the first time), these books score an easy AJ on the PSA!