Sorcery and Cecelia

by Patricia C. Wrede & Caroline Stevermer

Cover image

Series: Cecelia and Kate #1
Publisher: Ace
Copyright: May 1988
ISBN: 0-441-77559-4
Format: Mass market
Pages: 197

Buy at Powell's Books

The Letter Game is played by writing letters back and forth in character, making up the world as one goes along. Neither player may reveal their idea of the plot to the other; instead, the game is to play off of what the other player says, weave it into one's own story, and hand back plot development to the other player. It's similar to a round-robin story, but in the form of letters between the characters.

As revealed in the afterword, this book had as its genesis an actual letter game between the authors. This immediately endears it to me, since the style of writing is similar to some writing I do (without as much skill!). It also comes together as a fun novel, with plenty of plot and drama and a fun, quick-reading format.

Set in the era of Regency England (but with magic), the book opens with Kate going to London for the Season to be presented to Society. She's exchanging letters with her cousin Cecelia, who has stayed behind at home and won't have her coming-out until next year. It starts as two cousins sharing gossip and mutual encouragement, but drama starts early as a witch tries to poison Kate and apparenly mistakes her for a mysterious Marquis. Cecelia's life seems duller, but a new girl in the area is drawing the attention of all of the men, and there seems to be a link with Kate's misadventures. Before long, the girls are plotting with each other, sharing valuable information, and serving as a covert communications channel to foil the plots of evil wizards.

Since the story is told as a series of letters, voice is particularly important and both Kate and Cecelia are charming storytellers. This presentation provides the reader with more insight into their friendship than most novels, since it shows their phrasing, their small-talk, and their mutual encouragement. I liked that view; it's informal and often sweet, and it's easy to imagine both writers working to put events to paper before they forget and eagerly awaiting the reply. It also lets each character work in a partial vacuum, exchanging some news but sometimes not having the reply before they have to take the next step.

The plot is strongly character-driven rather than idea-driven, with both protagonists trying to untangle the purpose of mysterious events and discover the motives of the Marquis and one of the men living near Cecelia. There's a touch of romance, as one would expect from the setting, and a lot of careful attempts to work within the rules for young women but still affect events. Both girls are daring and clever, and willing to get in trouble, which makes them easy to root for and easy to like.

One of the hardest things about this sort of ad hoc writing is wrapping up all of the plot threads satisfactorily, and if one looks closely enough, one can find a few things to complain about. Oliver, Cecelia's brother, does a disappearing act halfway through the book, for example, and never shows up again in a meaningful way. The resolutions of the two entwined plots also has the girls playing a mostly passive role despite their activity up to that point; although this does fit the characters and the situation, it's a bit disappointing. But by and large, the story comes together nicely, and these are only minor quibbles.

Sorcery and Cecelia is light entertainment, a fun, short book that's just the thing if one wants something lighthearted for an afternoon of reading. Recommended particularly for those who enjoy fantasy and Regency romance crossovers, but a good book for anyone who likes letters, light romance, and novels of manners.

This book stands well on its own, and my impression is that it was intended as a one-shot, but it's since spawned a couple of sequels. I'm not sure if I'm interested enough to track them down.

Followed by The Grand Tour.

Rating: 7 out of 10

Reviewed: 2007-11-01

Last modified and spun 2015-08-01