Title: Mairelon the Magician
Author: Patricia C. Wrede
Series: Mairelon #1
Kim is a street thief unable to resist the promise of five pounds to rifle through a street magician’s wagon to see if he has a particular silver bowl. But what she hadn’t counted on was the real magic trapping part of his wagon, nor the fact that the magician in question is an amicable sort who offers to hire her rather than turn her over to the police. Mairelon isn’t what he seems—but neither is Kim, who disguises herself as a boy to avoid the whorehouse. And as the mysteries deepen, both Kim and Mairelon will need all their wits about them . . .
As I re-read this yet again, I’m struck by how well constructed this book is. Everything just works. The period detail is amazing, especially Kim’s street lingo, which manages to take just about every proper noun and turn it into something strange, but not so strange it’s incomprehensible. It’s contrasted next to Mairelon’s more refined ways. The Victorian England is still hung up on manners and so forth, and Mairelon traipses between being gentry and being a commoner. Oh, and the actual gentry are hysterical. The ones that aren’t complete fluff-brains have their own plots going, and accidentally or on purpose Mairelon and Kim get a good window into them.
The characters are also very strong. Kim has reasonable doubts about the whole prospect of traveling with Mairelon, and frequently acts more for her own self-interest (as expected of someone who lived fending for herself for so long). Mairelon tries to teach her things like proper speech, reading, and magician’s tricks, but he also appreciates her existing skills, like lock-picking and burglary. Mairelon himself is also a compelling character. His blandness and apparent indifference can be a way to sidestep what others want him to do, and he’s extremely unconventional. The two of them make quite a pair.
And then there’s the mystery. Or should I say, mysteries. A lot of people have their own game going on, and some of it’s easy to spot, whereas others you only glimpse bits of it until it all comes together at the end. It’s not very obvious who all the villains are, or the want-to-be-villains, and everyone scheming gets in each other’s way at least once. Oh, and it’s funny. The attempted burglary that gets interrupted . . . repeatedly. Or the end. And Mairelon as well as Kim have a ton of dry commentary that makes me laugh.
This is very readable, and well worth the read. Magic, mystery, and history blend seamlessly, and the comedy of errors by some parties lightens the increasingly serious plots by the rest. I rate this book Highly Recommended.