Sunday, March 30, 2014

What I've Read This Weekend

What I've Read This Weekend . . .

Magic Below StairsMagic Below Stairs by Caroline Stevermer -- Middle Grades Historical Fantasy

11 year old boy in a cruel, abusive situation discovers he has a magical helper who can be be free by being given clothes, goes to work for a magician and discovers he has magical powers. is this Harry Potter? No but it could be the Victorian version minus Hogwarts. Young Frederick Lincoln lives in an orphanage where the Master locks naughty children away in a damp, dark prison cell to punish them. Frederick enjoys helping out in the kitchen where he learns any number of useful things. He's quiet and good at what he does, but one night, while cleaning up a mess the Master made, Frederick falls asleep with his task half finished. When he wakes, his task is completed. Frederick dreamed he heard a voice singing "peas and beans." Frederick continues to dream of the voice of a funny, little man. Then Lord Schofield sends a servant out to the orphanage with a suit of livery. Whichever boy fits the livery will go to work at Schofield House. The suit miraculously fits Frederick though the previous occupant was a much larger boy. When Lord Scofield wants to conduct an experiment on Frederick, the boy is terrified. The experiment yields surprising results in the form of a brownie named Billy Bly. Billy Bly has been keeping an eye on Frederick, making sure the boy is all right. When Billy Bly is banished from the house, Frederick is lonely, despite making a new friend, a chatty maid called Bess. Frederick is chosen to go with the household to one of their country homes. Lady Schofield requires rest and quiet for her "condition." The house was cursed but a team of 11 wizards broke the curse, but Frederick, with Billy Bly's warning, isn't sure the curse is gone. Lord Schofield is arrogant and certain he can handle any problems that come his way but Frederick isn't so sure. With Billy Bly banished again, how can Frederick help save his employer?

This is a cute story set in the world of Sorcery and Cecilia. It follows the events of The Grand Tour and comes before The Mislaid Magician. I wanted to know more about Thomas and Katie and their married life. Katie only makes a few brief cameos in the story. It's surprising to see her hair neatly pinned up and wearing gloves. She's grown into a poised woman. Thomas is a bit difficult to like. He's hot tempered, arrogant and rude to everyone except Kate. Kate is so sweet and gentle and Thomas is sweet with her too. Frederick is a young boy plucked from the Harry Potter mold. He lacks Harry's sense of adventure and attitude problem. Sadly, that makes him rather a boring character. He spends the entire book worrying about everything. I think he's rather realistic given the situation he is in and how he has been treated in the past, but I like characters with spunk. That is why I enjoyed Bess. She's fearless and cheeky, yet she knows her place. She's a loyal friend and I really liked her. I also loved Billy Bly. He was cute and a good friend to Frederick. I grew up with stories about the Norwegian Nissen and Billy Bly is the same creature under a different name. He supposedly could cause a lot of mischief but we don't see any evidence of that. I felt rather bad for him during his encounters with Thomas and for being bound the way he is. I kept wanting to throw him a sock. ;)

The plot kept me hooked. Obviously, I knew how it would end since I read The Mislaid Magician, but I had to know HOW it got there. It was a very tense plot but there was enough humor to defuse the situation.

If you're an adult and read all the Kate and Cecy books already, then you'll like this little adventure. Kids who aren't ready yet for Harry Potter will be able to read this as a stand alone adventure.

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