Magic Below Stairs: Will delight young readers and amuse older ones

fantasy book reviews science fiction book reviewschildren's fantasy book reviews Caroline Stevermer Magic Below StairsMagic Below Stairs by Caroline Stevermer

Set in the same world as Sorcery and Cecilia — also known by the delightful title of The Enchanted Chocolate Pot — this new book called Magic Below Stairs follows the adventures of one Frederick, an intelligent orphan boy chosen to be a footman in Lord Schofield’s house — yes, Kate and her dashing Lord Schofield are minor characters in this adventure — because he fits the livery from the previous servant who was sent away without references.

From that unassuming start, Frederick quickly rises in the household, even being allowed above stairs, because of his quick wit, hard work, and skill at folding a cravat that is simultaneously stylish and allows the wearer to breathe and turn his head from side to side — a rare skill indeed. Frederick is grateful for his new position, but when the brownie Billy Bly, who had protected him from the wrath of the headmaster at the orphanage, shows up at the Schofield country house to warn Frederick of a curse on the house that will kill not only Lord and Lady Schofield but their unborn child, Frederick realizes that it’s up to him and Billy Bly to save the house from a disaster too big to contemplate.

Magic Below Stairs is a fun, light book for grade school readers. At 199 small pages of large text, an adult could easily read this in a few hours. Frederick and the plucky serving maid Bess are sweetly drawn, though not complex characters. This is my main criticism of Magic Below Stairs, the overall lack of complexity. While Frederick does deal with some deep issues of grief, abandonment, and loneliness, none of the characters really show any emotional or character development. The plot is amusing, and the depiction of the curse is gritty and made my skin crawl, but this is overall a light read that will delight young readers and amuse older ones. It also made me want a brownie as a companion.

The conclusion of Magic Below Stairs makes it obvious that this is the start of a new series, and I will definitely be picking up other installments in the series. While it doesn’t have the emotional heft or complexity to earn a place on my permanent shelf, this is definitely worth reading by anyone who loves Regency-era fantasy, or BBC comedies about the lives of servants.

Magic Below Stairs — (2010) Ages 9-12. Publisher: Young Frederick is plucked from an orphanage to be a footboy for a wizard named Lord Schofield in Victorian England. Is his uncanny ability to tie perfect knots and render boots spotless a sign of his own magical talent, or the work of Billy Bly, the brownie who has been secretly watching over him since he was little? No matter, for the wizard has banished all magical creatures from his holdings. But Billy Bly isn’t going anywhere, and when he discovers a curse upon the manor house, it’s up to Frederick and Billy Bly to keep the lord’s new baby safe and rid the Schofield family of the curse forever.

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RUTH ARNELL (on FanLit's staff January 2009 — August 2013) earned a Ph.D. in political science and is a college professor in Idaho. From a young age she has maxed out her library card the way some people do credit cards. Ruth started reading fantasy with A Wrinkle in Time and The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe — books that still occupy an honored spot on her bookshelf today. Ruth and her husband have a young son, but their house is actually presided over by a flame-point Siamese who answers, sometimes, to the name of Griffon.

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