“So you’ve got this Regency-era heroine, some kind of minor gentry – total Jane Austen, right? And, now here’s the hook: there’s a WHOLE magical world that she doesn’t even know about, but her magical powers are the key to saving all of England! It’s Pride and Prejudice meets Harry Potter!”
It sounds like a parody of a film pitch—take two vastly different concepts and mash them together, hoping to somehow come up with a winner. But in the case of The Twelfth Enchantment by David Liss, IT TOTALLY WORKS.
The Twelfth Enchantment is the story of Lucy Derrick, an orphaned gentlewoman living in her uncle’s home on sufferance. After an aborted elopement in her youth, Lucy’s marital prospects are slim. When the cold but prosperous local mill owner courts her, Lucy’s uncle makes it clear that she will be forced to accept that joyless marriage. After a series of strange occurrences, including the appearance of a cursed Lord Byron, Lucy learns that the world—and even her own personal history—are not be as she has always assumed. And her choices are deeply important to several powerful occult beings and, in fact, to the future of all of England.
Liss is a talented author and his ability to evoke the tone and time of Jane Austen while writing a story that is so far removed from anything Austen would have considered is impressive. There were moments (especially in the beginning of the book, before all of the magical happenings) that I forgot I wasn’t reading a book written by Austen herself! This is no tongue-in-cheek parody a la Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters, but an impressive nod to Austen’s classic heroines.
The fantasy world is compelling and Lucy’s reaction to it is believable. While the primary villain was obvious from early on, Liss kept me guessing as to whom Lucy should trust. This was an effective device, as Lucy herself isn’t sure who can be relied upon and who is using her for their own ends. As such, my sympathy for and sense of connection with her character remained strong throughout the book. I was definitely rooting for a happy ending for not just Lucy, but her sister and niece as well. The inclusion of several historical personages (Lord Byron and William Blake and even the Prince Regent himself) were fun, although I suppose others may find them unnecessary or even distracting.
All told, I would highly recommend this book to anyone that enjoys both Austen and fantasy. And Iwill definitely be seeking out other books by Liss for myself.