Dark Mirror, by M.J. Putney (2011, St. Martin's Press, 2011, 304 pp)
Young Lady Victoria lives in an early 19th-century England where a fair number of people have magical gifts--Tory, for instance, finds herself floating one morning when she is sixteen, and finds the sensation rather pleasing. Less pleasing is the fact that magic is verboten to the upper classes; no girl known to have magical gifts will ever be presented at court. Instead, a stint at Lacklands school awaits, where the tainted children of the nobility are sent to be "cured."
Tory is not so sure that she wants to repress her magical gifts, and when she finds that there are others at Lacklands who think that magic might actually be something to celebrate (and potentially useful in a military way, what with the threat of Napoleon looming across the channel), she joins in their forbidden night time classes. As an added bonus, two of her classmates are young men who are more than a little attractive....
Ok. That's the first half of the book-- and it's rather a pleasant magic school story, made interesting by the fact that the school exists to squelch the magic! Putney never had me quite convinced that it really was set in Regency England (for one thing, the nickname "Tory" felt out of place to me, and the dialogue didn't quite convince me), but still it was a just fine story, if not a terribly original conceit.
But--the second half of the book was a whole nother story, with the plot taking a dramatically different and utterly unexpected twist that changed everything! It becomes a time travel book!
Read on if you want to learn what period was time-travelled to and why! Stop reading now if you haven't read it yet, because I'm about to go back to plot summary mode and it will be spoilerish.
Under Lacklands school is a mirror made by Merlin (!) that transports people through time. And Tory and some of her close friends (including both cute guys) accept the chance to use their despised magical gifts to help their country in its time of greatest danger. Forget Napoleon--World War II is happening, and the British soldiers trapped at Dunkirk need all the help they can get....
Yes, early 19th-century magical teens come forward in time to help with Dunkirk!
I found this tremendously diverting.
I never did feel all that convinced by Putney's WW II era Britain either, and there were sentences and bits of scenes that didn't quite work for me. For one thing, although Tory is new to the actual study of magic and her own gifts, she manages to do things I couldn't believe she was capable of. For another, the romance was very much of the chemistry/electrical connection type, with mysterious Issues involved, and so not my thing, and the guy in question is named Justin, which I don't think was all that common in English aristocratic circles of the early 19th century (correct me if I'm wrong!).
However, even though I never truly had confidence in the author, and kept questioning things, it was a fun time-travel adventure. And there will be a sequel (Dark Passage, Sept, 2011)! Tory and co. will go back to WW II France, and use their magic some more! I am looking forward to it lots....
And isn't it pretty?