A College of Magics by Caroline Stevermer. ★★★★
From the title and the back blurb, I expected a book about the typical magical school. What I got was a story about a young woman coming to terms with and taking a hold of an unexpected responsibility. Yes, there is a college for the first hundred pages or so. However, during that time, there is little magic. When the main character, Ferris, asks, she is told that magic is something that must be discovered by yourself.
Faris Nallaneen is the heir to the dukedom of Galazon. While she is too young to rule, her Uncle Brinker runs in her stead. He insists on sending her to Greenlaw College, a woman’s finishing school known for producing witches. The book starts with Ferris arriving, reluctantly, at Greenlaw.
At Greenlaw Ferris makes a friend of Jane, an amazingly competent young witch, and an enemy of Menary, a girl with dangerous and unknown powers.
The quote from Jane Yolen suggests that the book is reminiscent to Harry Potter – that would be inaccurate. This is a story of a young woman dealing with a very different sort of magic somewhere around 1900. The magic in this book does not involve words or spells. Ferris’s magical abilities are mainly subconscious – things happen without her direct intention.
The book has also been repackaged as young adult, which I also don’t feel is wholly accurate. There isn’t any specific adult content, but the book didn’t have the tone or feel or many of any of the recent young adult books. Also, the main character is college aged – most YA books feature teen protagonists. While this can be read by younger readers, I don’t think I would have appreciated it as much if I read it at the marketed age.
A College of Magics did a fantastic job on female characters. Well, wouldn’t a book set partly in a women’s college have to? Ferris interacts with and is friends with other female characters, and both she and Jane are worthy heroines. Throughout the story, they show their skill, capability, and intelligence.
I would suggest this book to people looking for well written female characters, a more surreal magic system, or a fantasy set just after the Victorian age. The book has a whole is well written and engaging, even though I found the beginning a bit slow going. By the end, I was sad it was over.