Five hours into the Challenge, I am happy to report that I’ve finished the first book that Moxie selected for me. Renegade Magic is the second book in Stephanie Burgis’ Kat, Incorrigible series; I thought (as did Moxie) that it might behoove me to start my reading off with a story I was already invested in. As I’m unused to a 7am wake-up time, I needed something to hoist me out of my morning grumpiness and immediately capture my attention. This — and coffee — did the trick. I knew we’d made the right decision when, not even 2 pages into the text, I encountered these lines: “‘ You do know, Kat,’ he whispered, ‘Stepmama will murder you for this if she finds out.’ He was yawning so hard that most people wouldn’t have been able to decipher his words, but I had long experience” (1). I nodded appreciatively. Yes, yawning. 7 a.m. It’s ungodly.
And I kept reading.
Burgis’ series is like a mind-blowingly amazing combination of Jane Austen & Harry Potter. It’s Regency manners and romance mixed with mischief and middle-grade magic. In the first novel, Kat and her two older sisters (Angeline and Elissa) discover the magical legacy that their mother left them upon her death. They defeat villains, meet heroic men, save heroic men and act as heroes themselves, and act in a generally unruly and uproarious manner (except for Elissa, who would never think of acting in such a way), defying the expectations of 1800’s English Society at every turn.
The second novel is much of the same, while managing to stay fresh and avoid becoming tedious. What I love most about this series (aside from the mix of two seemingly-disparate genres) is that Burgis flawlessly and subtly introduces the issues of freedom and slavery; individuality and conformity; prejudice; ignorance; and gender roles. This is most clear in Burgis’ treatment of “pacification,” which is what happens when the Guardians — a magical order entrusted with the task of protecting Society from nefarious magical forces — deems a witch to be too “willful,” i.e. averse to putting adherence to the Law above her personal code of ethics, morals, and desires. If a lady is deemed thus, she’s “pacified” — stripped of her powers entirely, a process which oftentimes damages the woman’s mind, leaving her an invalid. This is concurrent with what was done, historically, to women that Society deemed “willful.” They were placed in mental institutions and given shock treatments that would make them more “manageable” and “subservient,” as it was believed women should rightly be.
The books also show that feminism, romance, a belief in true love, and a desire to marry, aren’t necessarily at odds.
The series falls somewhere between Middle Grade and Young Adult, and it’s possible to read it without any of these subtexts and still enjoy it simply as a rollicking fantasy/adventure, but as an adult I’m happy I’m able to recognize them for what they are. The only tricky thing with recommending this book to its intended audience is that the romantic subplots (for Kat’s sisters, not for Kat) and the period affectation may be too much for most Middle Grade readers, while the protagonist’s age — Kat’s only twelve-years-old – may discourage Teens. But if you’re a Children’s-Lit-loving adult, you’re going to be totally blissed-out by the whole affair.