Who would have thought that you could take the disparate legacies of Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, and J.R.R. Tolkien, and conflate them into a novel that not only makes sense, but pulls it off with panache? And yet Galen Beckett does exactly that with The Magicians and Mrs. Quent
(Incidentally, the dust jacket and even the author's website are frustratingly evasive as to Galen Beckett's gender. I assumed—even though Galen is usually a male name—that this meant the author was female, and I had to go to wikipedia to disabuse myself of this notion. So, in case you were wondering, "his" is
the correct pronoun.)Mrs. Quent
opens in a clear homage to Pride and Prejudice
, but it is quickly clear that this is no typical regency novel. The dialogue, the narrative voice, and even the feel of the society are very much Austenesque, but then there are the magicians, the otherworldly creatures, and the dark magic of the wild places in the finest traditions of epic fantasy. Halfway through, the book flips to a much more somber tone and we pick up the story as written in the hand of the protagonist, much in the spirit of Jane Eyre
As a fan of all of these influences, I was easily engrossed in the book, even when some of the references felt a little too similar. (Stern Mr. Quent is no less severe than Brontë's Rochester when our heroine enters his employ, and the two conceal a similar quantity of secrets in their Gothic homes.) That's part of the fun—catching the references to classic English literature. And the story itself is original enough; the manner of telling it just makes it that much more fresh and enjoyable.
If I was frustrated with any part of this book, it was the final section of it. The ending was satisfactory but not satisfying. All the major issues were resolved, but many of the climatic moments were glazed past or even skipped altogether and only referred to after the fact. And while the major problems were wrapped up, there were several persistent questions that were not even addressed. I realize there is a sequel in the works, but it was annoying to see an issue get solved without ever understanding why it was a problem or what the nature of the problem was. Not to worry, though. Galen Beckett has convinced me that he knows what he is doing, and these lingering questions will only make me more impatient for his next volume.