A Review and a Controversy
The Mislaid Magician by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer. Ten years after Sorcery and Cecelia and The Grand Tour, the cousins Kate and Cecelia are thrown out of their complacent family lives when Cecelia and her husband James are summoned by Lord Wellington to investigate the disappearance of a magician who was surveying northern England for a railroad. While investigating this mystery, they meet up with a strange brother-sister duo, enchanted dogs, and some very dangerous standing stones. Kate and her husband Thomas stay at home attempting to manage both couples’ children who have started making spells of their own. All of this is complicated by a night prowler wielding powerful magic and the appearance of a mute girl. As Cecelia, James, Kate, and Thomas dig deeper into these mysteries, it becomes clear that whatever is behind them threatens the stability of the country itself.
It’s not necessary to read the first two books to appreciate this one although I would certainly recommend so. I enjoyed reading this light fantasy mystery (if you wanted to split hairs, I suppose you could call it mannerpunk with hints of steampunk) even though figuring out who the villains were was fairly obvious.
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I’ve read most of the stories in the anthology Best New Paranormal Romance edited by Paula Guran when I decided to see what other people were saying about it. For one thing, even after reading the list of contributing authors, I was pretty sure this should have been shelved in the SF/F section and not the romance section where I actually found it. Personally, I don’t really care where books are shelved or what they’re labeled as–I’m one of those people who comb through every section to find a book because I don’t trust the college kiddies who work in the bookstores, the beleaguered librarians forced to stick genre labels on book spines, the marketing departments of publishers, and even in some cases other book reviewers.
I was not surprised to see the rabid backlash by romance fanatics (see the comments here and here; also some more comments about genre, although not exactly related, here) to the use of the term “paranormal romance” to refer to a subgenre of SF/F (like “planetary romance” in which the word “romance” refers to “adventure”) when it’s already been used as a term for a subgenre of romance (in which a happily ever after is required and the speculative elements are incidental). Yeah, yeah, it’s about a bunch of people fighting over semantics. It does seem sort of silly–we should be reading a book for the writing and the story and not for some random tropes that for historical reasons have been codified into genres.
I like stories that push boundaries regardless of what other people call them. But most people don’t–and for those people, labels do serve a purpose. If they pick up something labeled with a particular genre, they’re going to be disappointed–or even downright livid–if the elements stereotypical of that genre are relegated to the background. So on a marketing standpoint, I would be very cautious about using a term that already has a lot of baggage associated with it. Trying to redefine a term will get people mad (similar language purists ranting about the use of slang), so we might as well just invent a new term.