Molly Harper’s new series, “Sorcery and Society” goes in a completely new direction from her adult romcom romps about the vampires and werewolves of Half Moon Hollow, Kentucky.
“Changeling” is a Young Adult story, set in an alternative England, ruled by “Guardian” families with magical abilities who, shortly after the start of the Industrial Revolution, seized power across the world in a coordinated coup called the Restoration. Over the generations that followed, the non-magical population, know as snipes (presumably from Guttersnipe), has been turned into a servant/serf class in a feudal system in which they are each owned by a Guardian Family.
Against this background, we follow the adventure of Sarah Smith, a fourteen-year-old snipe girl, as she discovers she has powers that should only be available to those with a Guardian bloodline, is taken away from her family, is renamed Cassandra Reed and sent to the elite school Miss Castwell’s Institute for the Magical Instruction of Young Ladies.
What follows is a wonderful bubble of Young Adult escapism dealing with all the usual conflicts between adolescents girls at school but amplified by Cassandra’s need to keep her Sarah Smith identity secret, by the dark secrets that sit behind how the Guardian families maintain power and by a whole world of magic.
This is a feel-good book with a serious background. The characters have enough to depth to them to make them real rather than just plot devices. Sarah’s Guardian sponsor, Mrs Winter, is fierce and resourceful. Sarah and her friends are likeable. The bad-but-popular girl is a bit a cypher but that makes it all the easier to hiss at her like a pantomime villain.
The plot has some surprises in it and the world-building is more complex than I’d expected. I was also pleased that, as this is a Young Adult book, we didn’t have any of the obligatory let-me-tell-you-about-the-great-sex-we-had scenes that I find so tiresome in the Half Moon Hollow books.
What I enjoyed most about the book and what it most has in common with Molly Harper’s other books, is the sassy humour, this time with a slightly drier, more English flavour to it, that defines the book’s tone.
Amanda Ronconi, who narrates the Half Moon Hollow books so well, is also the narrator for “Changeling”. I was unsure of this at first, given the variety of English accents the plot requires. Most of the posh English accents are close enough but the regional ones are a bit of a mishmash. The only glaring error was pronouncing “clerk” the way it’s spelt rather than pronouncing it as if it were spelt clark, as any English person would.
Nevertheless, once my ear adjusted, I was very happy to be listening to Amanda Ronconi. Her comic timing is perfect and she gave the main characters distinct voices that fit well with their personalities. Click on the SoundCloud link below to hear a sample of her performance.