Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Mrs. Quent and the Magicians

Sometimes I worry that good storytelling is dead.

So often, I find that gimmicks have replaced well-crafted plots, and that characters all display the bland plasticity of Ken and Barbie Doll. But then I read Galen Beckett's wonderful novel, The Magicians and Mrs. Quent.

Although it takes place in an alternate world, Mrs. Quent is written with a Victorian flourish. Characters such as Ivy, Mr. Rafferdy, and Mr. Quent might well have stepped directly from the pages of a Bronte novel. The language and dialogue are delightful, full of those sensibilities that made readers like myself fall in love with Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre.

Not that this book is simply a magical retelling of those novels. No, Mrs. Quent is definitely its own story set in its own peculiar world. The plot is intricate, weaving together three narratives from three main characters. And though the novel's social structure is reminiscent of Victorian England, Altania (the country in which the novel takes place) is as unique as Narnia.

Although the book doesn't shy away from the grimmer aspects of its plot, it manages to remain genteel throughout. For someone like me who does not enjoy reading about brutality and torture, Mrs. Quent offers a refreshing change. The book is engrossing enough for an adult to read, but mild enough for a preteen to enjoy.

If I have any quibbles with this novel, it is with its pacing. The book is divided into thirds with the first and final sections written in third person. The middle portion, written as a letter from the main character, Ivy, to her mentally ill father is interesting enough, but it chops up the narrative so much that the impact of the book's final chapters is significantly lessened. (Think of reading the first half of Sense and Sensibility, then switching to the Turn of the Screw, and finally finishing up the Austen novel.)

The Magicians and Mrs. Quent is one of those wonderful novels in which the reader can plunge herself into a whole new world and befriend the characters she finds there. I am rarely an on-the-edge-of-my-seat kind of reader, but I couldn't put this book down.

Yes, Mrs. Quent harks back to the days of the Victorian novel, and I have a feeling that - somewhere - the Bronte sisters and Jane Austen are smiling.

And I'm smiling, too.


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