Author: Laura L. Sullivan
Publication: Harcourt Children's Books (January 8, 2013)
Description: Opening-night jitters are nothing new for seventeen-year-old Phil and her sister Fee, who come from a centuries-old line of stage illusionists. The girls love to dazzle London audiences, but in the aftermath of the Blitz they’re shipped off to the countryside, away from the bombs and Nazis. Phil, however, wants to fight for her country, and when she stumbles upon a hidden college of real magicians led by the devastatingly handsome Arden, all she wants to do is persuade them to help England win the war. She’ll risk anything to give her country a fighting chance, even if it means losing her heart ...or her life.
My Thoughts: This books seemed to have a split personality. It began like some sort of drawing room farce (perhaps by Noel Coward) complete with overblown and unbelievable situations and characters who were more caricature than character. The last half of the book took a turn for the grimly serious.
The main characters of the story are two young girls about age seventeen who have grown up in a family of performers. They are all stage magicians. Phil and Fee are polar opposites. Phil is the level-headed, phlegmatic pragmatist and Fee is the starry-eyed dreamer and optimist.
When the two of them are evacuated from London to protect them from the World War II bombings, they are sent to a quiet English village called Bittersweet that her father can't even find on the map. As a family of stage magicians, their father, mother and older brother are joining the war effort to use magical tricks to slow down the Germans. Phil is determined to do her part for the war effort too and immediately tries to recruit the locals to the war effort but it is as if they have never even heard of the war. She doesn't have much success.
The girls are staying in a country home that is also inhabited by Uncle Walter who is mentally ill (shell-shocked) because of his involvement in World War I and Algernon who was blinded in an earlier battle of World War II. Both provide a more realistic perspective than Phil's about the glories and dangers of war. Neither one convinces Phil to change her gung-ho attitude.
When searching for recruits for her Home Guard, Phil stumbles on a magically hidden college in a castle which is filled with real magicians. These guys control the elements but their leader is a determined pacifist who is also determined to keep all of his college from taking any part or interest in the outer world. As it happens, Phil and Fee are descendants of a magician who was exiled from the college and are immune to the magic that these men have.
It takes a lot of work to convince even a few of them that they should get involved with the war. It really isn't until some magicians come from Germany and try to take over the college that she manages to convince at least some of them to get involved. The girls each fall in love with one of the magicians. Phil's love is Arden who is a master magician; Fee's love is Thomas who is a naive young apprentice magician.
The writing in this story was fluid, crisp, and witty. I found myself alternately laughing and wincing in the beginning of the book. But, for me, the writing lacked the transparency that would have let me slip into the story. While I appreciated the writing, I wasn't engaged with the story or the characters. I wasn't able to suspend belief and immerse myself in this story. The over-the-top characters and situations kept me feeling removed.
Fee, seeing it, would have dreamed of loving the young heir, of fairies in the garden and lost treasures buried on the grounds, of maidens drowned in the mere and gypsies camping in the meadow, filling the estate with their wild music.I got this ARC from the Amazon Vine program in exchange for an honest review. You can buy your copy here.
Phil, seeing it, thought that whoever could afford to spend such vast sums of money on exotic plants and beasts must surely have the money to provide weapons and training for the Home Guard, and probably a slew of gardeners and gamekeepers to volunteer.