The Twelfth Enchantment by David Liss (Random House, August 2011)-Imagine having no control over your present, or your future, and having to leave your fate in the hands of someone you detest? This is what Lucy Derrick faces in the opening of The Twelfth Enchantment. It’s 1812 in England, and after the death of her father 3 years previously, she was sent to live with an uncle by marriage who despises her and his cruel serving woman, Mrs. Quince. She’s also been promised to a man, a factory owner, Mr. Olson, who she would normally not give the time of day to, but with no prospects and no way to support herself, she feels she has no choice. That’s all about to change however, when an ethereally handsome young man shows up at her uncle’s door one day, telling her she must not marry Mr. Olson, and that she must “gather the leaves.” He seems to be stricken with a curse, and when a doctor is called, they’re directed to seek the assistance of one Mary Crawford, a lady of means that may have the power to destroy the curse. Little does Lucy know, Mary Crawford will help to open up another world to her, a world of wonder and magic, and show Lucy that she may have much more power over her own destiny since she originally thought.
Some of my favorite books ever (yes, ever) are David Liss’s Benjamin Weaver historical series (beginning with A Conspiracy of Paper), and I could kick myself for waiting this long to read THE TWELFTH ENCHANTMENT. Lucy Derrick is a girl of decent birth but no means, whose younger sister died before their father’s death, throwing the family into disarray, and whose older sister married a rather off putting man in the hopes of providing for Lucy, even if it’s just a modest stipend. Lucy is very, very cognizant of her situation, and keeping the one thing she perceives she has left intact, which is her modesty, is always at the forefront of her thinking, so when Lucy finds out that the handsome young man who came to her uncle’s door is indeed the rakish Lord Byron, she simultaneously thrilled and wary. She’s heard the rumors about him after all, but when he makes his best attempts to woo her, it’s all she can do to keep a clear head. Good thing she has Mary Crawford and her friendship as a distraction, though, and Mary is teaching her all sorts of amazing things, like how to do magic, and that Lucy has power she never thought she’d have. Soon Lucy finds out that the world’s fate lies in her hands and in a time when the old ways and progress butt heads, she’ll have to use everything at her disposal, and the help of any allies she can find, to win.
For me, The Twelfth Enchantment had everything that makes a book wonderful for me: rich, absorbing characterizations (Lord Byron is a highlight), abundant magic (and a take on faeries that was fascinating), a fully realized world, some girl power in a time where girls aren’t given much credit, and suspense (with a good amount of creepy thrown in) in spades. Fans of the work of Mary Robinette-Kowal’s Glamourist Histories will devour this, and I have my fingers crossed that we’ll see more of Lucy Derrick in the future!