Kat, Incorrigible by Stephanie Burgis – Series Review
|Book Name:||Kat, Incorrigible (A Most Improper Magick), Renegade Magic (A Tangle of Magicks), and Stolen Magic (A Reckless Magick)|
|Publisher(s):||Atheneum Books for Young Readers (US) Templar (UK)|
|Formatt:||Hardcover / Paperback / eBook|
|Genre(s):||Middle Grade / Historical Fantasy|
|Release Date:||April 5, 2011 (US) August 1, 2010 (UK); April 3, 2012 (US) August 1, 2011 (UK); April 2, 2013 (US) October 1, 2012 (UK)|
Kat, Incorrigible is a fun and charming series of children’s historical fantasy books combining magic, adventure, romance and the Regency period, and I’d highly recommend them to both children and adults who are looking for a quick and very enjoyable read! The first book is either Kat, Incorrigible or A Most Improper Magick, depending on where you live, followed by Renegade Magic (A Tangle of Magicks) and Stolen Magic (A Reckless Magick).
I was twelve years of age when I chopped off my hair, dressed as a boy and set off to save my family from impending ruin. I made it almost to the end of my front garden. – Kat, Incorrigible (A Most Improper Magick)
Katherine Ann Stephenson (Kat for short) is a twelve-year-old girl living in Regency England, youngest of four siblings and heir to her mother’s magic powers. In the first book there are two main driving plots – the trouble that her family is in due to her brother Charles’s gambling debts, and Kat’s discovery of the mysterious society of Guardians and her suspicions regarding their intentions.
Kat’s eldest sister Elissa is intent on sacrificing herself for her family by marrying a rich gentleman, a sinister man who, rumour says, murdered his first wife. Kat and her sister Angeline are just as intent on stopping her, and so Angeline turns to witchcraft and her deceased mother’s magic books for help. Kat, meanwhile, has to contend with the Guardians, a secret order with connections to her mother’s past, who regulate the use of magic and do not hold much fondness for witches…witches like Angeline. It’s up to Kat to protect her family, ensure the happiness of both sisters, and to watch out for the dangerous misuse of magic, not to mention keeping an eye on the antagonistic and snooty Lady Fotherington who has a deep dislike for Kat and her family.
In this and later books, Kat finds herself up against powerful villains, magical mysteries, highwaymen, witches, ruthless Guardians, a disapproving stepmama, bossy sisters, ancient cults, French spies, and, worse, the rules of polite society. It’s hard to pin down these books into one genre, which is just one of the things that I loved so much about them. There is an Austin-esque element of Regency romance and manners, as Kat’s sisters’ marriages are what drive one half of the plot in each book. However, while Kat has to navigate the pitfalls of polite society, she also struggles with plenty of intrigue and adventure, and plot twists that will keep readers of all ages entertained. These are extremely fast paced books, with one mishap or adventure leading straight to another. Imagine a younger sister in the Bennet household investigating magical occurrences and getting into scrapes, while the plot of Pride and Prejudice goes on in the background and interacts with the magical goings on, and you will have an idea of what these books are like.
Kat herself is a brilliant character. She’s extremely headstrong, brave and determined, and she has very little patience for being proper or behaving as a young lady in this era was supposed to. She has a very modern-feeling outlook and so is relatable and appealing to modern readers, especially children, giving them a fun viewpoint to see the Regency world from. She can sometimes be a little naive and at other times a bit arrogant, tending to act before thinking, which gets her into plenty of dangerous or disgraceful situations, but she is also very clever and quick thinking, and she cares deeply about her family. She’s an easy character to root for.
Kat’s interactions with her family, and especially her sisters, is a large part of why I loved this series. The three sisters obviously care deeply for each other and will do anything to protect each other, and there is a lot of kindness and respect in how they relate to each other. At the same time, however, their relationship is very realistic; they squabble, they boss each other around, they get exasperated with each other, and little jealousies and misunderstandings are common.
The author’s skill at creating colourful and fun characters is a great strength of this series. Each character in the books has a very distinct personality and yet never feels shallow, as hidden depths and motivations are revealed. This is particularly the case with the siblings’ stepmama, who at first seems to be a somewhat stereotypical self-serving character who is simply trying to advantage herself at the expense of others, but who reveals a more complex and sympathetic personality throughout the series. Many characters will reveal hidden strengths at key moments, leading either to moments of awesomeness (Kat’s father in the second book) or facepalms (a certain highwayman in book one) as poor timing or plans gone awry lead to yet more scrapes and adventures.
The series has a great sense of setting, moving from the wild and atmospheric Yorkshire to Bath with its intriguing history and finally to the smuggler’s coast. Magic is handled differently from many books, with a distinction between witchcraft and Guardian magic that is never fully explained. Guardian magic is more powerful but also limited in some respects, and feels more protective than witchcraft. Not every witch can be a Guardian, leading to a sense of superiority from the Guardian order. Wild magic seems different still, a kind of natural force found in places of concentrated power. There is a sense that even the Guardians themselves do not fully understand the magic they use. Whereas magic is integral to all the books’ plots, it’s used surprisingly sparingly by Kat, especially in the first book, and these are not the kind of stories where we see her learning spells and rituals and so learn about magic with her. I often prefer magic to be left a little more mysterious in books, but I think I would have preferred to learn more about it here. Still, this is not the focus of the books and so is a very minor quibble.
There is also a lovely sense of humour running through all the books in the series. The author knows when she is perhaps taking things a little too far beyond the bounds of propriety for the setting, but it is written with a tongue in cheek feeling and a wink at the reader. Kat’s observations about the society she lives in and its expectations, particularly those placed on women, are funny and enjoyable, and Angeline and Freddie also provide some brilliant moments. These books are a joy to read – fast paced, fun and charming, and highly recommended for both kids and adults who enjoy magic and historical settings.