The Twelfth Enchantment by David Liss
Published by Random House
Ever since the death of Lucy Derrick’s father, she has been as maligned as the most unfortunate of Jane Austen’s heroines. Her near elopement four years earlier left her with her virtue intact, but her reputation somewhat worse for the wear. It seems lucky, really, that Mr. Olsen seems to want to marry her, for all that he is incredibly dull and the two of them have nothing to talk about. At this point, anything to get her away from her Uncle Lowell and his malicious housekeeper Mrs. Quince.
Everything changes for Lucy, though, one day as she uncomfortably makes conversation with her intended. Suddenly, there is an unknown voice screaming her name, and a disheveled man tells her that she must not become Mrs. Olsen and she must ‘gather the leaves’ before vomiting pins and losing consciousness. In her attempts to help the mysterious man, who will soon be revealed to be the scandalous Lord Byron, she comes across a woman who will soon be her friend, a Mary Crawford who has some minor skill as a cunning woman, but who recognizes great skill in Lucy. Suddenly, Lucy is embroiled in something larger than herself, something that involves the Luddites and perhaps the entire fate of England.
It isn’t every 400+ page book that can be read in just slightly over 24 hours, even on a holiday weekend. The Twelfth Enchantment is that book. Lucy is an immediately compelling character. She is downtrodden, but determined. She is marrying Mr. Olsen because it is her only option, but she is making that conscious decision because she knows she must eat and her Uncle Lowell will not consent to feed her forever, marriage is, odd as it mean seem in Regency England, a means to a greater measure of independence, as well as escape from her past reputation.
A great character begs for a great plot, and Liss has created that in The Twelfth Enchantment as well. Lucy is thrust into a world she has never known, but one she seems to understand to a degree that surprises even her. The stakes are high, and only get higher, and Lucy must discover who she can and cannot trust in a world where hardly anyone is what they seem.
Magic and historical atmosphere abound, for an incredibly compelling read. Highly recommended.
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