A Tangle of Magicks

Written by Stephanie Burgis
Review by Elizabeth Hawksley


Bath, 1803. Twelve-year-old Kat Stephenson has inherited a talent for magic from her mother. It’s dangerous stuff and, several times, Kat’s hot temper had led her to try spells with disastrous consequences. As a result, the Order of the Guardians, who monitor magic for safety, has banned Kat from practicing. Things are made worse by Kat’s sister Angeline being forcibly parted from her betrothed, Carlyle, and dragged to Bath by their stepmother to contract a suitable marriage. Angeline quarrels with Carlyle and seems determined to ruin herself by eloping with the vicious Viscount Scarwood.

Meanwhile, Bath, unbeknown to most of its inhabitants, fizzes with wild magic centred on the old Roman baths and its once-powerful goddess, Sulis Minerva. When Kat’s brother Charles unwittingly becomes involved with a dangerous set of young men who want, for a jest, to summon up the goddess, Kat swiftly realizes that it’s no joking matter. But how can Kat help? Her training in magic is very limited, and if she disobeys the Guardians and tries to help her brother and sister, she risks losing her magic forever.

Although this is really a fantasy story with fairytale elements, it is set in a recognisable, well-researched, early 19th-century Bath. Stephanie Burgis obviously knows her stuff. The background of the Bath season, the houses to let in the elegant Circus, the fashionable shops etc., are all there. Jane Austen’s Anne Elliot would recognize the Pump Room with its evil smelling spa water, or the invalids bathing in the iron-rich baths – as Anne’s friend Mrs Smith did, and so on.

The blurb calls A Tangle of Magicks, ‘What Katy Did meets Pride and Prejudice’, which about sums it up. A light, fun read for girls of 10 plus who enjoy a bit of magic with their history.