A Non-Review – The Magicians and Mrs Quent

Superwench has already reviewed The Magicians and Mrs. Quent by Galen Beckett, so I won’t do it again. This is more like a commentary.

When I tweeted about reading this novel, I got lots of return tweets (well, two or three) assuring me that I would love it. And I should have loved it. I certainly liked it, but it fell short of love for me. The reason? It relied rather too heavily on Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte. It kept distracting me from the plot when I would find myself pigeonholing each character into a slot first created by Austen and Bronte, or even Charles Dickens and Daphne du Maurier:

  • Ivy Lockwood = Elinor Dashwood, with a dash of Colonel Brandon’s intellectual love of reading (Sense and Sensibility)
  • Mrs. Lockwood = Mrs. Dashwood, due to her inability to manage her finances (Sense and Sensibility)
  • Lady Marsdel = Lady Catherine de Bourgh, with a dash of humanity (Pride and Prejudice)
  • Mr. Wyble = Mr. Collins, without his humanity (Pride and Prejudice)
  • Rafferdy = George Wickham, without Wickham’s proclivity for ruining young women (Pride and Prejudice)
  • Mr Baydon = almost a perfect copy of Mr. Palmer (Sense and Sensibility)
  • Eldyn Garrett = Pip, in that he lets everyone else dictate his life for him (Great Expectations)
  • Mr. Quent = Mr. Rochester (Jane Eyre).
  • Mrs. Darendal = Mrs. Danvers, but less vicious (Rebecca)

The first part of the novel is a fantasy inspired by Sense and Sensibility, with a dash of Pride and Prejudice. The Lockwell sisters are struggling to get by with an infirm father and a distracted mother. Two interesting gentlemen come into their lives (one of which might well end up gay), flirt with them, form attachments with them, and then leave. It was fun and engaging, but ends tragically and without warning, plunging the reader into Jane Eyre.

Here, it turns into a first-person Gothic romance. Mr. Quent is built up to be this huge villain, but then all of that is supposed to be a series of misunderstandings because he’s actually wonderful. Except, he isn’t. He was rather unkind and neglectful to the two children who live with him, and nothing can erase that for me.

It almost felt like Mr. Beckett had written two different books with the same character, and then tried to mash them together.

Make that three, because the third book is another voice altogether, more like the first book, except where it is different. Mr. Quent is almost wholly absent, but Rafferdy is back. And within this book — rather hurriedly — it becomes a true fantasy.

It was engaging enough to keep my interest, but I found parts of it frustrating. I think a lot of Eldyn’s problems with his sister could have been resolved if he has simply spoken truthfully to her. Rafferdy’s stubborn refusal to grow up got vexing. It was kind of fun to try to think of the original literary character who served as inspiration. A lot of people really loved this novel. And given the leisure, I would read the second novel.

Another Jane Austen-inspired fantasy is due out in August, and I have an advance copy. It’s Mary Robinette Kowal’s Shades of Milk and Honey, and the blurb claims to be the fantasy that Jane Austen would have written. I’m looking forward to reading it because Ms. Kowal is one of the few short story writers that I actually enjoy reading, but I’m beginning to wonder if I’ll ever truly love any novel that is too closely derived from Jane Austen’s. I may be too much of an Austen fan that no other writer can come close.

(And I guess this was kind of a review after all.)

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14 thoughts on “A Non-Review – The Magicians and Mrs Quent

  1. I’ve read a few other reviews of The Magicians and Mrs. Quent online which have pointed out the derivitive nature as a detraction for them as well. Personally, the derivitive nature made it more fun for me. I enjoyed being introduced to a new character and naming their counterparts. It was kind of like fitting a puzzle together.

    I’m with you about Mr. Quent, though. And I was never a Bronte fan, so the Jane Eyre feel of the middle of the novel bothered me. But I loved Mr. Rafferdy. I saw him as more like Willoughby than Wickham, though. I think that’s because both Rafferdy and Willoughby grow and mature and realize what is truly important in life throughout the course of their respective novels.

    And I, too, am looking forward to Shades of Milk and Honey.

    1. I thought the puzzle-fitting was kind of fun, too. But I totally was taken by surprise by the first-person gothic presentation of Book 2. I don’t think I ever got over it. 🙂

  2. Yes, I thought the author tried much too hard to shoehorn Austen and Bronte into that one book, to the detriment of his plot. It felt too much like a mish-mash. And the title completely gave away who Ivy was going to marry! Talk about a non-love triangle. 😛 😀

    1. I really was expecting a Mrs. Quent in the attic!

      That said, I didn’t like the title at all. I would have been happier with a title that hinted at the risings, or the fact that the woods are actually alive, or certain females’ magical link to the woods.

      Now I’m going to be trying to think of a better title!

    2. Well, I was a big dork who misread the title and got three quarters of the way through the book before I realized it was called The Magicians and MRS. Quent rather than The Magicians and MR. Quent. So because of my stupidity, the title didn’t ruin anything for me. 🙂

  3. The only thing I can come with is Into the Woods (Not) 😉

  4. Chicory

    Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte represent such opposite sides of Victorian writing that I am having a tough time picturing a mesh. I think it would lead to serious mood whiplash, which sounds like exactly what happened.

    1. Mood whiplash exactly! 🙂

  5. Mood whiplash — great term! and yes, that sums it up pretty well.

  6. Now I have to read this book just to see all this derivative mash-up! 🙂

    1. Tia Nevitt

      See? This wasn’t an entirely negative review, but here is a reader who wants to read the book because of the things many of us had trouble with.

  7. Wow, I’m so impressed with your Austen and Bronte knowledge! I’ve heard so many very good things about this. It will be interesting to read now.

    1. Tia Nevitt

      Thanks. I’m a Jane geek.

      It’s definitely worth reading. I’ll be interested in Katie’s review of the next book, when it comes out.

  8. Kat

    Tia, I didn’t like it either. For many reasons.

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