Magic Below Stairs, by Caroline Stevermer

Magic Below Stairs, by Caroline Stevermer (June 10, 2010, Dial, middle grade, 208 pages)

Life at the orphanage could have been worse for young Fredrick. True, the master of the place couldn't stand him, but at least the cook was fond of him. And then came the night that Billy Bly, a Brownie took such a liking to him that the course of Fredrick's life changed dramatically, and he found himself plucked from amongst his fellow orphans to serve in Lord Schofield's household. True, he's now on the lower rungs of the below-stairs hierarchy, but still, it's many steps up from the orphanage. And Billy Bly has come with him....

As Frederick learns the new duties required of him, he begins to attract Lord Schofield's attention. The lord is a magician, and there is something about the quality of Fredrick's work (his cravat tying in particular) that intrigues him mightily--it seems that there is more to Frederick than meets the eye. And when the household relocates to a cursed country residence, Frederick finds himself drawn into the world of magic. He and Billy find themselves up against a vicious curse, and unless they can stop it, all that Lord Schofield and his young wife hold dear might be lost....

This is a lovely book, reminiscent of Diana Wynne Jones in its delightfully light and brisk writing (although it has more of a linear plot to it than much DWJ--I wasn't confused once). The magical adventure isn't all that harrowing (just enough so to add suspense, and give Frederick something to work against). Instead, it's the fun and detailed and utterly enjoyable story of Frederick's journey that makes the book sing. The supporting characters are great as well-- Bess, the servant girl who takes him under her wing, is a loyal and brave friend (and she gets quite a bit of screen time, adding to the book's appeal to girls), and Billy Bly, Lord Schofield, and all the rest of the manage added to my enjoyment as well.

People looking for fantasy with lots of action-packed build-up to the final confrontation, filled with whackings and plottings and escapes etc, might be disappointed. And I do think that Stevermer might have given us a few more pages of tension here. Goodness knows I feel that there is a surfeit of child-against-dark-lord-of-evil books, so this made for a refreshing change, but I wanted just a bit more of the dangerous part.

That being said, people looking for really good stories, really well told, in which character is central but magic is important, will probably enjoy it lots, just as I did (lots).

This is a companion book to the series written by Stevermer with Patricia Wrede--Sorcery and Cecilia, The Grand Tour, and The Mislaid Magician. Those who have read those books will enjoy meeting Lord Schofield and his wife Kate again, but Magic Below Stairs is completely stand-alonish. Which I know, because I haven't read any of the others. They are so going on my 48 Hour Reading Challenge Book Pile.

(disclaimer: my ARC of Magic Below Stairs was gratefully received/snatched from the publisher at ALA Midwinter)


  1. ::squeeeeal::

    I love, love, LOVED the project Caroline Stevermer did with Patricia C. Wrede, and I always hoped they would get together and do more.

    -- or, do more separately. Whatever. Can't wait to read this!!

  2. Ooooo, I am SO JEALOUS! I just missed getting thing at Midwinter. Sniff. I ordered it for the library but it hasn't come yet so I can't steal it off the cataloging cart. Argh! At least I know it passed the Charlotte-o-meter, so I can be sure it is good. Although I was pretty sure of that anyways, seeing as Stevermer reads Manning Coles - this I know because I mooched some from her on my bookswap site! I was so excited when I realized she was THE Caroline Stevermer, although she told me "I'm a writer, not an author. Writers write. Authors do lunch." She's one of the few authors I'd love to meet in real life...

  3. This one's at the top of my list for new books I'm looking forward to! Thanks for the review!

  4. Oh, I really loved SORCERY & CECILIA and will be looking forward to this.

  5. Sorcery & Cecelia is one of my favorite books! I'll be pacing waiting for this one.

  6. What a treat you have in store reading the original three books. I'm really looking forward to this one.


  7. I LOVE the Kate and Cecy books, especially the first one! I can't wait to read this, and can't wait to hear your thoughts on the original series.

  8. I'll be reading Sorcery and Cecilia come Friday evening...and looking forward to it even more now! Thanks!

  9. I just featured this one in my June Releases posts. Thought it looked great. Glad to hear you liked it!

  10. Great review.

    I just heard some sad news on Maggie Stievater's blog. Diana Wynne Jones just stopped her chemo for lung cancer. Weird that she would be in your thoughts today too.

  11. Yep, it's a good one, Jill (for me at least!)

    And yeah, I saw that about DWJ myself, at Sounis....so sad. But I hope her next months are peaceful...and that there are more of them then expected.


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