Historical fiction? Check. Magic? Check. Awesome heroine? Check. Lord Byron?! Check! Did you ever imagine those four items to be in the same novel together? I sure didn’t, so I was in for a definite surprise when I started reading The Twelfth Enchantment by David Liss. Set in the early 19th century in a pre-industrial England, Liss weaves a tale of mystery, intrigue, and magic that leaves the reader wanting more, creating a plot that I was increasingly excited to be pulled in to.
Lucy Derrick’s entire life is about to change. Whilst in her house one evening with her family and her fiancée Mr. Olson, a sudden banging occurs at the door. A man whom the house’s inhabitants have never met before demands to speak to Lucy and put a stop to her engagement! After setting eyes on Lucy and speaking a prophecy involving the phrase, “Gather the leaves”, he proceeds to vomit pins, a sure sign of a curse. Fearful of whom this young man is and what he wants with Lucy, he is brought into the house to await a doctor who declares his condition is due to magic and that he is unable to help him. He can however, recommend someone who may have experience in this field. A Mary Crawford, (no, unfortunately not that Mary Crawford from Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, though we can see her as an enchantress of the magical sort), is beckoned to the house and with her persistence and guidance, she helps Lucy discover her magical roots. The two work together to find the source of the curse and destroy it. Lucy is amazed to discover how easy it was for her to learn magic, but is more amazed that Mary is not at all surprised at her skill. A budding friendship between the two woman begins, and it is through this friendship that Lucy learns more and more about her magic. She is told of a book, the Mutus Liber, which is said to give its possessor the ability to create the magic of the philosopher’s stone. She learns that this book is somehow involved in the fighting and picketing going on that is protesting the industrial revolution. Lucy soon finds herself caught between two worlds as her powers grow stronger. Will she be able to find and translate the Mutus Liber in time to stop the fighting? Will she discover the meaning behind the prophecy of “gathering the leaves” in time to do what she must?
While the book was incredibly clever and interesting I found myself getting lost in the politics of the story. The war between the real world and the magical world had to do with the industrial revolution and how it affected England. While not understanding the specifics and mechanics of the war was a bit confusing, I did understand the remaining plot lines and was able to still enjoy the book. I liked how the magic that was discussed in the book wasn’t “hocus pocus” magic. People didn’t just say spells and make things fly across a room. It was a more nature based magic, which I found to be an interesting and refreshing change from the more common types of magic we see and read about.
Our heroine Lucy Derrick is one of the most awesome fictional heroines I’ve ever encountered. She starts out as this weak girl who lets all the people around her demean her and put her life on a path that she isn’t happy with. With the guidance of Mary she begins to understand the woman she’s meant to be, and let me tell you, she becomes a force to be reckoned with. The way Liss writes her growth as a character is truly remarkable. When the book opens you feel the dread she feels about the way her life is going, and by the end of the book you feel the strength and confidence she’s gained. In the middle of the book you feel her doubt these magical powers she’s learning about, and by the end you can feel her completeness in knowing the full extent of what she can do and what she can learn to do. Liss did a great job at writing her story so that we as readers can relate to it and really get a sense of Lucy’s plight. May I also add that her love triangle is an ode, in my eyes, to Elizabeth Bennet’s in Pride and Prejudice? Being a huge fan of Jane Austen and the English Regency I also enjoyed the inclusion of Lord Byron and William Blake, both famous poets of the time, as supporting characters.
This is one book you need to add to your to-be-read pile. If you enjoy mysteries, you definitely won’t be disappointed. The mix of earthy magic and the story behind Lucy finding herself as a magician and a woman, while attempting to solve the prophecy made this a very engaging read. I can’t wait to check out the other works that Liss has to offer!
4 out of 5 Stars
The Twelfth Enchantment: A Novel, by David Liss
Random House, New York (2011)
Hardcover (416) pages
Cover image courtesy of Random House © 2011; text Kimberly Denny-Ryder © 2011, Austenprose.com