I feel like I’ve been describing a lot of my favorite things by saying they are “charming.” It may be the case, but I cannot escape the adjective with regard to this book. It is a novel, a middleweight example of the genre, and a perfectly enjoyable read.

We join Faris Nallaneen at the gates of Greenlaw College in turn-of-the-century France. She is attempting to gain entry, though she doesn’t particularly want to attend. She is the duchess of a small country called Galazon, which is situated somewhere amidst a semi-fictionalized Europe. The book follows her progress through the gates of the college, and to all else beyond, till she reaches the World’s End.

Most everything about Faris seems rather awkward and ill-fitting, but she is a winning heroine nevertheless. She is nobility, but taken away from her duties and her homeland, she is fiercely eager to return, and it sometimes robs her of her manners. She is feisty and stubborn, and though she is obliged to take her education far from home, she is convinced the claim that students can leave having learned magic is aught but superstition and fancy.

She makes friends and enemies both while at the school, and despite her skepticism, manages not only to learn magic, but even to perform some; accidentally, and later with a will. She is sent away from school to answer larger responsibilities and takes with her the best friend she made during her time in the college, one Jane Brailsford. She also has in her company Reed and Tyrian; one a subject from her homeland, the other a hired gun. As Faris begins to realize the scope of her duties, both to Galazon and the world, she is confronted with ever more dramatic encounters with the magic she wasn’t even sure she believed in.

This book touches on so many themes, yet it manages never to wander away from what is essentially an entertaining romp. Stevermer has a wry sense of humor, and all the characters display a sound appreciation for the absurd. Though the novel focused primarily on Faris, all of her companions and cohorts are fully fleshed out and three dimensional. Even Menary, as Faris’ primary antagonist, manages to be winning in her utter disregard for anything but her own pleasure. As they range all over the face of Europe, we feel more closely drawn in to the tight little clique that Faris has created around her. There is a feeling of friendly intimacy with these characters that is actually rather difficult to achieve in most stories. This sense of inclusion lends itself to becoming absorbed in this tale to a considerable degree.

And though it cannot be called totally uncluttered, the story is engaging in the extreme and touches on various compelling topics; duty, politics, romance, family, and the value of a sound liberal education. As Faris is suffering through deportment, her teacher scolds her for failing to execute her stance with proper finesse. Faris retorts that deportment is a stale discipline, and asks why should she not form her own fashions. Dame Brachet replies

You must form your own fashions in a way which demonstrates that you flout the standards from knowledge, not from ignorance[…]

From the first words, Faris followed this speech with eyes narrowed, “But I may flout the standards?”

“Of course,” said Dame Brachet with some asperity “What do you think standards are for?”

I think in the haste toward rebellion, or the weariness with traditions we feel are pointless, many people forget this very important truth.

Stevermer uses her language with skill and flair. She has as much a sense of fun with her prose as she does with her plot, and this always makes a read much more enjoyable to my mind. She isn’t taking herself too seriously, even though she is communicating some very touching and meaningful sentiments about love and duty throughout. And though the book is indeed romantic in style, the light touch with with Stevermer handles the actual romance in the story somehow makes it touching and dignified in a way with many authors fail by revealing too much; inviting too much scrutiny to be cast upon the most private dealings.

I customarily sit down with this book and find myself completely absorbed. I enjoy being in the act of reading it. It is comfortable and familliar without ever becoming stale. At just under 400 pages I can tear through it in a long afternoon, but I enjoy the process of savoring it. You can tell how much I love a book by how abused it looks; more so if I have a second copy that isn’t for reading, but rather just to have. Mine is edges curled, water stained, sauce be-spotted, and even slightly torn in spots. It’s condition a testament to it’s place in my heart.