Friday, July 6, 2012

Kat, Incorrigible and Renegade Magic by Stephanie Burgis

Have you ever really, really anticipated a book...and then not felt like reading it when it came?

I adore polite society fantasies, especially those of Patricia C. Wrede and I was breathless with anticipation when I heard that there was going to be a new one by Stephanie Burgis a few years ago. I finally got an ARC of it was about a younger girl and I had hoped for more of a teen one and...I didn't like the new cover and title and...I was just never in the mood.

However, I am in the midst of a reading slump and my simple cure for this is to sit myself down and force myself to read through my to read shelf. So I finally read it.

And the sequel.

And despite my original blah feelings, I really loved them!

Kat is definitely incorrigible, a bit of a tomboy, and fiercely determined to save her older sisters from themselves and the awful marriages her stepmother has arranged. She's also the possessor of unexpectedly powerful Guardian magic as well as a dose of witchcraft, a most improper and scandalous attribute. Not only does she have to deal with Society's (and her stepmother's) horror of magic, there's her mother's scandalous legacy, a nasty Guardian who has it in for Kat's family, and her useless gambling addict brother Charles. By the end of the second book, all is not resolved, but Kat's older sisters' futures are assured and Kat herself is hopeful that she may have something to look forward to.

While these books don't have much of the romance I expect in a polite society fantasy - they are middle grade after all - they have all of the delicious combination of magic, Society, truly awful rows, escapades, and climactic endings. There's a definite resemblance to Wrede and Stevermer's trilogy, with disapproving relatives who turn out to be supportive in a pinch, a useless brother who has to be protected, and a vaguely academic papa among other things, but Burgis brings a different perspective to these characters with her young protagonist.

There's a more serious vein running through these books than the light froth of the other polite society fantasies. Kat's magic is frequently fueled by her sense of helplessness. Not only are she and her sisters helpless against Society's prejudice against witchcraft and magic, there's also scandal and family imbroglios to avoid. Some of Kat's night adventures are dangerous indeed with no glossing over the real perils a young, unprotected girl faces in the streets. Kat's vague papa and brother are incapable and unwilling to protect her and her sisters, although her papa does awaken a little towards the end of the second book. Kat's desire to become a Guardian and protect not only her sisters but England itself, is her way of becoming independent of the society that has made her helpless.

I think I'm becoming academic, so I'll stop there, just saying that these books have a truly perilous feel running through them, although they're perfectly appropriate for middle grade readers.

Verdict: While these may not be the most popular of fantasies, they will certainly find a few enthusiastic fans. Occasionally I like to buy books for the minority (and myself) and these will definitely be my purchases in that area. I'm glad I finally got around to reading them and I look forward to recommending them to girls who like historical fiction, funny stories, a light touch of romance, and fantasy adventures.

Kat, Incorrigible
ISBN: 9781416994473; Published April 2011 by Atheneum; ARC provided by publisher; Purchased for the library

Renegade Magic
ISBN: 9781416994497; Published April 2012 by Atheneum; Borrowed from the library; Purchased for the library

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