SF & Fantasy

25 Years of Spectra: THE MAGICIANS AND MRS. QUENT (2008) by Galen Beckett


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The third book from 2008 to make the 25 Years of Spectra list, the author and editor discuss how Galen Beckett’s The Magicians and Mrs. Quent came to be.

And make sure to be on the lookout for the next book in the series, The House on Durrow Street, which comes out this fall.


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“I was about halfway through writing the first draft of The Magicians and Mrs. Quent when I suddenly pushed my chair back from my desk, put a hand to my brow, and quite literally said out loud, “What was I thinking?”

It all started, naturally enough, after a binge reading 19th Century novels. I had devoured plenty of science fiction and fantasy growing up, but shockingly little classic English literature. So it was the case, when I finally picked up a copy of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, that I experienced a wonderful jolt of discovery–a sensation that reminded me very much of that feeling I had upon first reading about Narnia or Middle-earth.

I soon plowed through the rest of Austen’s works, as well as Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre and Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights (which struck me so strongly that I am convinced it is the finest novel I’ve ever read). Then it was onto Oscar Wilde, Charles Dickens, and Henry James.

Discovering these authors and their works was a joy. However, being at my core a fan of fantasy, I couldn’t help considering these novels from a fantastical perspective. And that was when I started to get into trouble. What if, I thought, the constraints upon the choices and actions of Eliza Bennet or Jane Eyre arose, not from the rules of society, but rather from some deeper underlying force? What if there was some magical force, woven into the very fabric of the world, that sought to control women and to keep them in their place?

At the time I was also reading Bryan Syke’s The Seven Daughter of Eve, which describes his work with mitochondrial DNA that linked nearly all people of European descent to seven women who dwelled in the forests of Europe tens of thousands of years ago. Being a former student of anthropology, my mind latched onto this notion, and suddenly I had a world where long ago nine women awakened the power of the forests to defend the world against dark magic. Now, eons later, as the forces of magic encroach again, the descendants of these women represent the world’s sole hope–but only if society will allow them to wield their power.

I decided these women must be witches. And of course, with magic opposing the witches, then there have to be men who are magicians, and who belong to secret arcane societies. All that might have been enough to base a novel on, but by then I was on a roll, so I added illusionists to the mix, and revolutionaries and highwaymen, along with weird celestial mechanics, impending planetary conjunctions, and the hint of ravenous Lovecraftian entities.

Excited by all this, I dove in and began scribing a story about Miss Ivy Lockwell, a lively and intelligent young woman of modest means, and her desire to find a cure for the madness that afflicts her father, a former magician, as well as her relationship with a charming young man of far higher social station than her own, who happens to be a descendant of one of the Old Houses of magic himself. But as she begins to uncover secrets of the past, Ivy learns of the forces that seek to assail to world…and of her own previously unknown heritage, a legacy that connects her back to those nine women who long ago awakened the forests to fight the powers of magic.

And that was when, halfway through penning what was clearly going to be a large novel, I had my “What was I thinking moment?” moment. Here I was, a man in his late thirties in modern day Colorado, trying to write from the point of view of a young woman maneuvering through the perils of society, romance, and magic in a pseudo-Victorian world. I confess, I suffered several panicked minutes in which I was convinced I was going to have to discard over a year of work and instead write something else, something which wasn’t so maddeningly challenging.

But it wouldn’t have been as maddeningly fascinating either, I decided. And like Ivy facing all the societal and arcane powers arrayed against her, I decided I could only bravely forge onward. So I took a breath, and I did. I won’t say I didn’t suffer more “What was I thinking?” incidents after that. I certainly did. But finally, after much labor (and a great deal of patient assistance from my editor) the book came together. Now I’ve finished the second part of Ivy’s story, with just one more to go.

And once that’s done, I almost dread what sort of reading binge I’ll go on next!”

–Galen Beckett, July 2010

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“As a young teen, I had this huge romantic streak. (Okay, I admit, it’s never really gone away.) I was completely obsessed with Jane Eyre. (The book, not the movie. There has never been a movie that measured up to the book, in my mind. The BBC version came the closest–especially with their Jane, who was perfect–but Timothy Dalton as Rochester was all wrong. When he says to Jane: “Do you find me handsome?” and she instantly replies: “No,” I recall that my roommate at the time and I both shouted at the screen: “What, are you crazy?!?”) I just loved the story of the lonely, outcast woman who finds true love despite all odds (and a mad wife locked in the attic).

I also had a massive crush on Mr. Darcy. (And I’m old; this was well before the Colin Firth A&E days. Although, given that the movie Darcy I grew up on was Laurence Olivier, whom I had also fallen head over heels with in the movie version of Wuthering Heights… Well, perhaps not too surprising, then.)

In any case, as you can probably see from all this, I kind of grew up steeped in the Brontes and Austen. My other great reading love was fantasy. So no one was more delighted than I when The Magicians and Mrs. Quent came along, because it combined my two great loves in one delectable package. Here we have the three genteely-impoverished Miss Lockwells with a father who has gone mad and a mother determined to marry them well before it is too late, all set in a fantasy world where magic genuinely works but where women are forbidden from wielding it. What could be better? Hand me the bon-bons, and call me a happy woman!

I love these books with the completely irrational core of my teenage self. After all (not being quite that old!), I never got to edit Charlotte Bronte–who, let’s face it, totally would have published a fantasy novel had the market supported it; she and her brother Branwell invented their own kingdom of Angria and wrote stories about it, much as Anne and Emily did with their kingdom of Gondal. So it feels only right to me that, years later, someone came along to combine my two great obsessions. And I’m just glad that I got to work on it.”

–Anne Groell, Senior Editor, Spectra


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