We last saw the cousins Cecelia and Kate at the conclusion of Sorcery and Cecelia:The Enchanted Chocolate Pot, in which they had foiled a devious plot and found true love with their new husbands, Thomas Schofield and James Tartleton. The story was unique because it was told in the format of letters between the two cousins, each one telling the other about their separate adventures; and as they did with their previous collaboration, the authors Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer each take a character (Wrede is Cecelia; Stevermer is Kate) and write to one another, each one adding aspects to the story till they join up at its conclusion. Things are a little different this time around considering the authors write in the format of a journal and a testimony, instead of letters.
The Kate and Cecelia stories (so far there have been three) are set in a parallel dimension; a magically inclined 18th century world where Leonardo da Vinci is known as a great wizard as well as a great inventor, Napoleon invaded Europe with the help of magicians, and there are constant references to a Royal College of Wizards. Inspired by Jane Austen’s delicate style and wit, Wrede and Stevermer must be commended for their world-building technique. The world that they’ve created is completely realistic, as well as highly enjoyable to explore within the context of the story.
The two couples are setting off for their honeymoon on the Continent, visiting the famous sights of Rome, Milan, Paris and everything in between. However, when a mysterious woman delivers an equally mysterious package, Kate, Cecelia, Thomas and James find themselves caught up in another international plot, this one including old foes, new foes, stolen royal regalia, ancient artifacts, magic spells, and a fiendish plan to seize control of Europe. The plan that the couples uncover is successfully conceived and plotted throughout the course of the story, and turns out to be rather ingenious. Several of the villains are motivated for different reasons, and naturally there is a mastermind behind it all that is playing a game all their own.
Attempting to negotiate their social commitments with their investigations, as well as the minor inconveniences of travel (where *do* Kate’s gloves keep disappearing to?) the two young women are eventually caught up in a chase across the Continent. Stevermer and Wrede fill their book with interesting examples of how magic is worked, such as game cards that — when shuffled — tune out the noise of the party around the players, the creation of `focuses’, seemingly ordinary objects that serve as the source of magician’s powers, and charmed earrings that can never be lost.
The Grand Tour is more Kate’s book than Cecelia, considering that we are reading Kate’s private journal and Cecelia’s official statement. As such, Kate is free to divulge in more personal detail, particularly in her loving relationship with her husband Thomas, whereas Cecelia is writing an official document and simply stating the facts of her experience. However, there is a definite human element to the story that is very touching, particularly in the love between the four main characters. Thomas and Kate share a romantic marriage, whilst Cecelia and James have a more tempestuous one, and the friendship between the four of them is beautifully portrayed (I especially liked the big brother/little sister bond between Thomas and Cecelia). This of course leads to the wonderful wit that is strewn throughout the tale; wry little comments and amusing in-jokes that fit the characters perfectly — readers of the first book will understand Kate’s reaction to an endangered goat!
I personally enjoyed The Grand Tour more than its predecessor Sorcery and Cecelia. Because the story isn’t switching back and forth between two separate situations of the two heroines, it’s more fluid and organized; as well as much less confusing (it was hard to keep track of events when constantly switching between the two letters). In any case, whatever your preference, all Wrede and Stevermer collaborations are highly recommended. If you enjoy Jane Austen or Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, then you’ll love these collaborations too (though they are obviously written for a slightly younger audience). Keep your eye out for the third installment which is amusingly hinted at in the conclusion of this book: “We’ll just have to wait ten years and see…”