Retro Review: College of Magics by Caroline Stevermer

usual lifely updates: week was insane. spent about 15 hours just working on my thesis results. sick. blogging makes it all better. enjoy one of my old favorites! 

title:  A College of Magics

author: Caroline Stevermer

pages: 480

format: Paperback

isbn/asin: 978-0765342454

buy it: Amazon

rating: 5/5 [in the genre] or 8/10 [all books I’ve ever read].

recommended for:  Fans of historical romance and high fantasy.  People who miss Tamora Pierce.  Post-Potters who want a more mature read.  Lovers of the mystical, the surreal, and the legendary.  Girls who should have been born princesses of the medieval age.  Lovers of Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine.

Teenager Faris Nallaneen is the heir to the small northern dukedom of Galazon. Too young still to claim her title, her despotic Uncle Brinker has ruled in her place. Now he demands she be sent to Greenlaw College. For her benefit he insists. To keep me out of the way, more like it!

But Greenlaw is not just any school-as Faris and her new best friend Jane discover. At Greenlaw students major in . . . magic.

But it's not all fun and games. When Faris makes an enemy of classmate Menary of Aravill, life could get downright . . . deadly.

the basics
This is a really lovely, unique book (which, I keep forgetting, has a sequel!).  Set up in an alternate Earth where Paris and the Orient Express is juxtaposed against the fanciful Galazon and Aravill, it's the perfect blend of high fantasy and history...with the kind of romance I like, woven into the plot to make it better, not overshadow it.  It feels a little steampunk, a little Dianna Wynne Jones, a little Paolo Coehlo.  There's definitely something dreamlike about the writing.  It's sprinkled with poetry and songs; it's Victorian and ornate and lovely as a painting.  While still keeping you moving along, of course.  And I love Tyrian, the main love interest.  Looking for a more grown up Ella or Harry?  Faris is a quirky, clever heroine thrust into a similar situation: half magic school, half finishing school.  But Faris has to learn more than good manners to deal with the unnatural happenings and strange magics afoot.  Balls, vigils, secret magics, intrigues....I really want to re-read this now because it's just so fun and unique.

plot . 5/5
It's a little bit wild and crazy and all over the place, but if you don't mind a lot of information, it's super exciting.  You go through the eerie midnight vigil, the train ride, the strange happenings at Greenlaw.  It's like living a whole magical year with Faris.  Episodic, but not in a bad way.  More like Harry Potter in that sense, or an old Victorian novel.  There's always the thread of Menary's rivalry hanging in the balance, which blooms into the court intrigue that throws you into the final, very twisty ending.  I won't give it away, but it's one of my favorite (bittersweet) romance endings of all time.

concept . 5/5
It feels very much like a fairy tale.  I wouldn't be surprised if Stevermer was inspired by Gail Carson Levine. It also has some elements of steampunk, only with magic thrown in...a combination I can't help but adore.  It's a nice change from your typical medieval fantasy or typical urban fantasy.  Something in-between, glamorous, filled with ladies and gentlemen and masked balls.  The Wardens concept could have been fleshed out more, but I took it as it was.  If you can accept some ambiguity and uncertainty, it's great.  If you want all the answers, you may feel disappointed.

characters . 5/5
Faris is fun.  She's got a spunky, independent streak, but she's not stupid about it  She's clever.  She's refined.  She knows how to manage her role as future duchess.  My favorite character, however, is Tyrian.  His role is pretty uncertain at first, but he quickly becomes an ally and romantic interest.  He's smooth, collected, and pretty much sigh-worthy.  The secondary characters are less fleshed out, but I do really love Jane.  She's just sweet and clever and a good balance to Faris' fiery streak.

style . 5/5
It's definitely unusual.  The narrative is strewn with snippets of song, poetry, history, even some dreamlike sequences that don't have a certain speaker or point.  It's very much like old Victorian writing and I love it for that.  However, if you like a more straightforward narrative, it may be a little distracting.  In my opinion, the snippets aren't numerous enough to be distracting.  The writing is also phenomenal.  It's truly pretty, something you don't always find in YA.  It feels as magical as the events it's describing.

mechanics . 5/5
As mentioned, it's formatted a bit oddly for a usual YA book, but it makes it very original.

take home message
A dreamlike, fairy tale story filled with court intrigue, hidden magics, and sweet, satisfying romance.

Note: I purchased this copy. The price of the book and its origin in no way affected my stated opinions.

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