Goodreads: Miss Ellicott’s School for the Magically Minded
Publication Date: March 2017
At Miss Ellicott’s School for Magical Maidens, the girls learn small spells and, most importantly, deportment–because a woman with magic might be too frightening for the city to contemplate, if she is not submissive and polite. But then Miss Ellicott and all the other sorceresses go missing. Chantel worries that without them, no one will be able to strengthen the city walls against the attacking Mauraders. But what can a thirteen-year-old girl and her friends do? And whom can they trust?
The premise of the book feels simultaneously heavy-handed and underdeveloped. Chantel and her friends live in a city ruled by the patriarchs who hold little respect for women. In fact, Chantel and the other girls spend most of their time learning to be “shamefast and biddable” lest their ability to work magic alarm any of the men. However, this state of affairs ultimately passes without much commentary as the plot begins to veer into more standard fantasy fare–the fight to rule a city.
There is a lot of room for complex world building here and I would have loved to see Blackwood elaborate more on the rules that govern magic, the politics of the city and its neighbors, and the history of the city. Instead, readers receive only tantalizing glimpses, just enough for readers to understand that the rulers of the city are not very nice and their neighbors are tired of it. This allows Blackwood to neatly sidestep the issue of politics in favor of focusing on Chantel’s concerns–find her missing teacher, figure out whose side she is fighting on, harness her magic, and defeat the enemy. And, to some extent, this makes sense since a thirteen-year-old may not have a firm grasp of foreign diplomacy or politics. However, it also makes the plot and the solution to the city’s problems feel a little facile. A short acknowledgment that Chantel does not really understand government is all readers get. This is a huge problem–but not one the book wants to engage with.
The pacing, too, feels a little off. The book begins slowly with a focus on the characters and their development. Then stuff starts happening–and happening fast. Suddenly everyone is fighting, with no clear idea of which side they all should be on or want to be on. Small events with the characters continue to occur at breakneck pace all while this fighting continues on indefinitely in the background. Theoretically, Chantel is racing against the clock. In reality, it feels like she’s going to let the city burn while she tries to find a lost spell that may not be all that important.
Fortunately, the characters are very charming. Though I was not impressed with the plot, I wanted to continue reading because I was invested in the fate of Chantel and her friends. I am not sure I would read a sequel, but I did enjoy the short time I spent with the characters.