Is Our Writers Learning? The Twelfth Enchantment

THE TWELFTH ENCHANTMENT by David Liss may not show up in the fantasy section: I found it in the library’s regular fiction section, as Liss is primarily a writer of historical thrillers (A Conspiracy of Paper was his first and very-good book). But it is a fantasy and a good one.
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•The story: Lucy Derrick is an impoverished orphaned young woman in the 1810s, pressured by her uncle into a marriage she doesn’t want. When Lord Byron shows up on her doorstep deliriously babbling some mystical message for her, Lucy discovers she has magic power. She finds herself drawn into a battle between forces who want a brutally industrial England and powers who want to turn back the clock to an agrarian, pre-industrial world. The big guns on both sides are faerie, but in this novel, they’re revenant spirits refusing to dwell in their barrows (this was an actual folk belief).
•What I learned: Liss does a very good job (and for the purpose of this blog category an instructional job) of making Lucy a hero while keeping her very much a woman of her time. Prior to the start of the novel, Lucy fell in love with a suitor her papa found unacceptable. They ran away to get married, but she fled back home when realized the man was a cad and a brute.
As a result, she’s tarred by scandal, and very conscious that one more scandal will make it impossible to marry—a terrifying fate for a woman of that era, more so when she has no resources of her own to fall back on. As a result, whenever she’s called on to act, there’s a constant refrain in her head: Will disappearing for a day create a scandal? If people see me with Byron, will I become a pariah? Can I save the country without destroying my reputation?
Of course, Lucy bucks up and does the right thing, but she stays in character as a Napoleonic era woman, and her plight makes the story much more interesting.
•Liss also does a good job working with the magic of the time (or what feels close enough to it to satisfy me). Lucy and her adversaries work with a mix of hermetic and folk magic. That keeps things relatively subtle and limited: They can control minds and hearts, cause sickness, cure sickness, but nothing compared to say a fourth-term Hogwarts student. It’s something I’ve never tried when writing historicals (in Affairs of Honor I go full magic spectacle; I Think Therefore I Die has low-level magic, but not at all a folk system); I may give it a shot later.
•There are always new angles. Nobody’s ever worked with the concept of fae as ghosts before that I’m aware of, and it gives this some freshness.
And of course, whether or not any of this actually affects my writing, it’s a solidly entertaining read.
The Twelfth Enchantment may turn out to be a very good lesson.


Filed under Is Our Writers Learning?, Reading

5 responses to “Is Our Writers Learning? The Twelfth Enchantment

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