04/02/2005 Entry: "Stevermer's A COLLEGE OF MAGICS--Should Have Read Years Ago (Preeti)"
I feel like I'm the last person in the world getting around to reading this gem! In an alternate Edwardian era (although set in Europe instead of England), Faris Nallaneen--strong-willed, unpolished Duchess of Galazon--is accepted into Greenlaw, a college of magic for women. She very reluctantly left her beloved Galazon, where her uncle-guardian may well be plotting to keep rulership of the duchy from her. But although she doesn't expect to learn much, Greenlaw does end up shaping her into a force to be reckoned with. And when she's recalled back to Galazon, she comes fully into her own.
This was just a really good story, fitting into the "fantasy of manners" sub-genre. Faris had to navigate the world of Greenlaw and then make her way in the world, which includes a stop in Paris before heading back to triumph over the tricky politics of Galazon and her neighbors. Along the way, her feelings for her loyal bodyguard take her hopelessly by surprise.
The story felt like it was taking a stroll through Faris' college years (half the book?), but it became more heart-pounding once Faris is called upon to leave Greenlaw (i.e., the story became more unputdownable.) The ending was surprising, with a tinge bittersweetness, but all the more moving for it. I could have spent much more time in this world and with these people.
A COLLEGE OF MAGICS was subtle and witty and formal as befits this type of book. But that thread of Faris' deep longing for the things she loves and stands to never have within her grasp--i.e., her land and the man she's falling in love with--catapulted the book from a cerebral delight to a more emotionally gripping one.
I hadn't realized I was thirsty was a book like this to make for a change from all the flashier contemporary fantasies starring kickass heroines that has become more standard fare for me these days.
Like Rebekah, I bet people who love A COLLEGE OF MAGICS also like Stevermer and Patricia Wrede's SORCERY AND CECELIA and maybe even Patricia McKillip's ALPHABET OF THORN. I'm hoping the sequel to COLLEGE, titled A SCHOLAR OF MAGICS is also a winner. It apparently features Jane, Faris' sophisticated best friend and traveling companion for much of COLLEGE, and is set at Glasscastle, which is the magic college for men.--Preeti