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Bookish Perspectives: Culture

The title, Bookish Perspectives, is the for our discussion posts. This post is going to be part review and part discussion of the books Sorcery and Cecilia, The Purloined Coronation Regalia and The Mislaid Magician, written by Patricia Wrede (who also wrote the amazing MG fantasy The Enchanted Forest Chronicles) and Caroline Stervemer, who I can’t say that I know much about.

bookish perspectives


These books- which I read upon the recommendation of Hank Green- are set in England in the early nineteenth century. The thing is- as you may have guessed from the titles- that magic is present. Told in a series of enchanting letters between Cecelia (who is in the country) and her cousin Kate (making her debut in Society in London) it follows their adventures as they encounter evil magic, handsome men, and an appalling number of ruined gloves.
First off, let me say that I loved these books. However, I imagine that some members of the YA reading community will object to them because
a) Women are most definitely beneath men in the society portrayed by the book, AND the women accept it for the most part.
b) The men have the active role in stopping the bad guys (though this changes in later books) and when they have kids, Kate stays at home to look after them.
c) The women are not empowered with information to help them in their task (e.g. their magical history)
d) The fact that letters take a while to travel around means that the plot moves more slowly.
e) The characters portrayed are all from a higher social class, and are all white (it’s England in 1918, what did you expect?)
However, that doesn’t take away from the book for me. I don’t read to see feminist, brave fighting girls like me (okay, that’s a little hopeful… let’s just say awesome people)- I read to seem people who I can understand for whatever reason makes them special or ordinary. If reading just had people like you with a similar cultural background having adventures, reading would be boring, but seeing different cultures, people with different ethos and ways of understanding the world is appealing, at least to me.
The thing is that women in different societies all over the world have faced those circumstances for centuries. Exceptions to this were shut up by a male hierarchy. It is important to read about the past, and the lens of magic and adventure is a good way to look at it.  Cecelia and Kate do fight some stereotypes, like it is impossible to run in dresses or discover secrets when you live in an oppressive society and you’re a girl.  These books don’t get preachy or make a statement though. They have adventures within their expected role in society. They are as clumsy as anything but still enjoy a good ball. This is enjoyable and interesting to read about for me. I enjoyed seeing these two women face the people around them, with a good dose of hot chocolate and tea to boot. I don’t know much (apart from the Industrial Revolution) about England post-Napoleonic wars.
I thought that hearing the cultural point of view of Cecelia and Kate was fascinating. The authors did their research and I could really get into their heads. Understanding different people who are unlike you is vital to everyone, readers or non readers, and it is called empathy.
The magic in this book wasn’t fully explained, but it was interesting. I loved how the Mislaid Magician incorporated the elements of change brought by they cultural revolution. Balls, tea parties, walks in the park, unconscious brothers (I wish I had one of those) are all enjoyable to read about. The premises were fun. All the best books feature characters who turn into dogs (or weasels. Thanks, Goblet of Fire)

More interesting ‘culture in books’ things to read.

Rosamund Hodge on a similar topic

-Cait@Paper Fury on sexism in Epic Fantasy

-My review of The Cure for Dreaming, about the suffragette movement

What do you think about culture in books? Do you think that they (authors)should portray societies truthfully, have some rebelliousness of girls?

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2 thoughts on “Bookish Perspectives: Culture

  1. I think culture in books is really important, and portraying a less prominent culture in books is absolutely beautiful. As a Chinese person, I try my utmost to include elements of Chinese culture in my books — although of course without compromising my inner feminist.

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    1. Yeah, even in The Lunar Chronicles, I didn’t find that there was too much chinese culture, though Ash, Shadows on the Moon and others have had that element much more strongly. I’ve been to China (for two days) and it seems really interesting. LIke you, I love to incorporate India into my writing.

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