When this book showed up among the new purchases for my library, I immediately snatched it up, because it appeared to have many elements that appeal to me: it's historical, set in 19th-century England; it involves magic; and it also has a dash of romance. I find that sort of combination irresistible.
The book opens as twin sisters Persephone (Persy) and Penelope (Pen) Leland are having lessons with their governess, Miss Allardyce (fondly called "Ally" by her teenage charges). They're not the lessons one would expect, either - they are lessons in magic. Ally comes from a magical family, and her mother has researched English families and knows which ones are reputed to have magical powers; magic is hereditary, and those who possess the talent must be trained. So, unbeknownst to the girls' parents, they been learning much more in their lessons than deportment and dancing.
The girls look identical, but they are very different. Persy would prefer to read and study magic than to attend social functions, but Pen is delighted that their coming-out season is nearly upon them. She cannot wait for the balls and dinner parties that await them in London. Persy feels panicked at the thought of coming out - she just knows that she will trip and fall or humiliate herself in one way or another, particularly when she is presented to the queen. The terrifying prospect of the upcoming season is slightly ameliorated when the Lelands are visited by their neighbors, Lochinvar Seton and his father. Lochinvar has changed from the beastly boy who used to torment them mercilessly when they were children into a kind, thoughtful and incredibly handsome young man. Maybe dancing with him at one of the balls wouldn't be so horribly awful, thinks Persy. But surely he must be more interested in her sister, who is so much more charismatic and charming...
Ally precedes them to London, and when the girls and their family arrive, it is to find that Ally is not to be found. A letter from her arrives, and the girls can immediately tell that it was written under duress. So, on top of the bustle and preparations for their coming out, the parties and dances and shopping for gowns and hats, the girls must find a way to rescue their beloved governess - and foil a dreadful plot that is brewing at Kensington Palace, home of the young Princess Victoria.
This book did indeed possess those things that prompted me to read it in the first place, and I did enjoy it, but not quite as much as I'd have liked. It was rather predictable, without any real departures or surprises. And there were several key plot points that just did not feel believable enough to me. For example, Miss Allardyce is abducted because she possesses great magical talent - yet she is depicted as utterly helpless against her abductors - doesn't even attempt to escape - and is held captive amazingly easily. Ally's magically gifted family does nothing more than perform a spell to determine where she is located, and they leave it up to the young girls to find their daughter, not trying further, just sitting around with red-rimmed, worried eyes. Ally has repeatedly cautioned the girls to be quiet and careful about their magical skills, because it can be dangerous for others to know about them - yet her sister performs a magic spell in front of strangers in their magical shop and leaves a powerful, magical book lying out in the open. The plot hinges on this carelessness, which did not feel believable to me.
Still, I did enjoy the novel, particularly the sisters' relationship with each other and their little brother, and the well-developed historical setting, the descriptions of balls and parties and dress shops. I would have prefered a more seamless blending of the various story elements that are presented in this book, but it is a first novel, the first in what is apparently a series, and I'd say it is a promising beginning. This would have appeal to those who have enjoyed Sorcery and Cecelia by Wrede and Stevermer (definitely my favorite in this wonderful subgenre) the College of Magics books by Stevermer, and the series by Libba Bray that starts with A Great and Terrible Beauty. A sequel called Betraying Season is due to be published in May - you can check out The Magic Of Ink for a preview.
Books in the Leland Sisters series:
1. Bewitching Season
2. Betraying Season
Bewitching Season by Marissa Doyle (Henry Holt and Company, 2008)
Also reviewed at:
The Compulsive Reader: "Bewitching Season is a fun and romantic read with the added plus of cleverly disguised historical details, making it educational without being stuffy."
Literate Concepts: "It is a good growing up story as well as a lesson in that things don't always turn out the way you would think or expect them to. It is very uplifting and at times was downright humorous. I'm looking forward to the next Leland sisters book."
Read a Great Teen Book!: "I was drawn to this story because it has all the elements I love in books--it's historical, it's fantasy, it has a romantic side plot, and has a mystery to solve--but in actuality this book didn't really do much for me."