Bewitching Season, by Marissa Doyle, was published in 2008 by Henry Holt.
In 1837 London, young daughters of viscounts pined for handsome, titled husbands, not careers. And certainly not careers in magic. Shy, studious Persephone Leland would far rather devote herself to her secret magic studies than enter society and look for a suitable husband. But just as the inevitable season is about to begin, Persy and her twin sister discover that their governess in magic has been kidnapped as part of a plot to gain control of the princess Victoria. Racing through Mayfair ballrooms and royal palaces, the sisters overcome bad millinery, shady royal spinsters, and a mysterious Irish wizard. And along the way, Persy learns that husband hunting isn’t such an odious task after all, if you can find the right quarry.
I tried really hard to like this book, I really did. And I still love Regency fantasy (okay, Bewitching Season is actually closer to “pre-Victorian fantasy.” I should just start calling it by its “official” title, fantasy of manners) and the setting of the book, so I liked the book in that regard. I also thought Doyle did a decent job of showing the Regency/pre-Victorian part while also showing the fantasy part, although I really wish her world was more developed on the fantasy side. Early on it’s explained that being a witch is not really something that’s socially acceptable, yet Persy and Pen scare off a ton of maids with their magic with absolutely no compunction or hesitation. Also, near the end of the book Doyle is still explaining how her magic works, delivered in a way that’s very odd and seems like something to have been introduced earlier.
Besides the halfway-decent setting (with a lack of worldbuilding), Bewitching Season also hosts one of the more melodramatic romance plots I have ever read, coupled with the “gain control over the Princess” plot where Princess Victoria is talked about in the most adulating tones I have ever read. Really, nobody can stop talking about how awesome/perfect/regal Victoria is. Her plotline is also developed very slowly and unevenly, and is only resolved because Persy does and says some very stupid things, and is very overtly Determined and Resolved to rescue her governess No Matter What, even when said governess tells her not to come because her magic would be sucked out of her.
I did enjoy the romance at first, but then it got way too over the top and melodramatic for me, with Persy’s mournful sighings over how plain she was (the two lines in the book where Lochinvar compliments her and she immediately thinks it’s some sort of point against her looks are some of the worst written lines in the book, IMO) and her angst over her love spell. I had difficulty actually finishing the book, although I did like some aspects of it.
Recommended Age Range: 14+
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
“Kensington Palace?” said Charles aloud. “Ally’s at Kensington Palace?”
Lorrie came down the stairs then, holding a tray of wine biscuits and a decanter of deep red liquid. “Mother’s strawberry cordial, from last year. It came out rather well, I thought.” She paused and leaned over the map. “Done already? But what could she be doing at Kensington Palace? Are you sure, Father?”
“As sure as I ever am.” He stared down at it. “Kensington Palace is out of my ability to investigate, I’m afraid. Is there any way you two might have reason to go there?”
“Us?” squeaked Pen. “Why, I don’t know. We can talk to our father about it, though. I don’t’ even know who lives there, apart from Princess Victoria.”
Bewitching Season had some potentially good elements to it, such as the detailed setting and the interaction with magic, but Doyle fails to develop the latter very well and so most of the book is Persy angsting over her love interest while very slowly trying to solve the mystery of her governess’s disappearance. It’s all wrapped up very conveniently, of course, with the requisite happy ending. If the magic and the world had been better developed, it might have been better. As it is, it’s pretty lackluster.
You can buy this here: Bewitching Season