#629

Allez, juste pour la frime: Delia Sherman a traduit en Anglais une de mes notes de lecture. Impression assez insolite, que de se lire dans une autre langue.

Just read: A Scholar of Magics by Caroline Stevermer.

Newly published, this is a sequel to one of my favorite novels of the past few years, A College of Magics (reader’s report in my Cartographie du merveilleux from Folio-SF, sold in the best bookstores!) Set several years later, it

takes us back to a Europe at the end of the 19th century, subtly shifted by the established existance of magic. This time, the action takes place not in Europe and the Norman college of magic for young girls, but in the United Kingdom and in the bosom of the triple university of Glasscastle, a kind of Oxford of magic, reserved for boys. Jane, who in the first novel was a student at Greenlaw, has become a professor of mathematics there, but journeys to Glasscastle where her brother Robert is one of the august teacher-searchers. The ostensible purpose for her visit is to see her family and to visit the famous English university. In truth, Jane is on a mission to contact Professor Fell, a local scholar who has recently discovered that he must become the new Warden of the West. (Jane’s protegee, the young duchess Faris, had become the Warden of the North at the end of A College of Magics.) But Fell obstinately refuses to yield to the pressure. He accepts that one day he’ll have to accept the mantle of Warden, but not before deciphering a mysterious mental message he has received ordering him to look to the clocks. Who has given him this mission, and to what end? As it happens, he knows the answer to the second: question, but not to the first—until the no less mysterious appearance of two cards stamped with the arms of the founder of Glasscastle, the great Professor Upton, gives him a clue. For the rest, this novel is a delightful chase between men in bowler hats, a megalomaniac professor, a weapon of mass destruction, and several university/government counterplots. Plus, at the center of all these intrigues, an American cow-boy, engaged for his skill at shooting, but fascinated by the scholarly world of the university. An automobile, church chants, cups of tea, old books, immense parks, ancient legends, old professors stuffed with pretention, sexist predjudices, humans transformed into animals, a wizard’s labyrinth, and enchanted dungeons: perfect happiness.

As always with Stevermer, the humor is light, the charms refined, the historical touches precise and archaic. From my point of view, this is the kind of fantasy which is the most powerful, the most captivating, the most attractive, perhaps even more so than the “urban fantasy” of which I speak so often. I found in this novel at the same time the fascination of James Stoddard’s diptyque on the High House, the playful preciosities of the book Stevermer has written with Wrede (the sequel to which will be out soon, that’s jolly good!) and the “fantasy of manners” of Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman. In short: all my favorite things.

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