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The Twelfth Enchantment
by David Liss
Ballantine Books, $15.00, 411pp
Release Date: May 29, 2012
This is a wonderfully entertaining novel set in an alternate Regency England where real magic becomes the fulcrum point for change in English society. Liss has taken the Luddite rebellion as the societal event for the background of his novel. Luddites opposed the rise of textile factories, especially hosiery mills with their mechanized looms and unskilled labor which began to take over cottage-based industries of weaving by hand. Luddites burned down factories and attacked mill owners. England —worn out with the ongoing war with France was on the cusp of revolution.

Liss’ tale centers on Lucy Derrick, an orphaned young woman living with an uncle in Nottingham who finds her a barely tolerable obligation. Lucy is about to be affianced to a mill owner she’s not in love with.

But the evening the mill owner arrives at her uncle’s, shouting is heard out in the street, and they find a wounded gentleman at their doorstep who demands to see Lucy and then collapses.

It is George Gordon Byron, Lord Byron of “Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage” fame. And he has been struck by a curse.

A doctor is reluctantly sent for who declares after an examination that he can do nothing, but perhaps a “cunning” woman (a witch) might be able to help him. Her name is Mary Crawford (named for a character from Jane Austen’s “ Mansfield Park ”). Lucy goes to retrieve her.

And her life will never be the same.

Mary Crawford shows Lucy she also has the power to be a very strong cunning woman. The young lady discovers she and her magical abilities are the crux of the struggle between the Luddites and the English government. Those who support the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution and those who want the centuries-old agrarian society to remain paramount.

Change is coming and everyone is uneasy.

Lucy finds she must ascertain the twelve pages of the Mutus Liber a centuries-old collection of alchemical magic. Her ability to find all twelve pages which not only have been pulled apart but are missing and hidden will decide whether the Luddites will win or the pollution and mangle of the Industrial Revolution will win.

This reminds me on what J.R.R. Tolkien fundamentally based the whole of the struggle in “Lord of the Rings”: The simple Hobbits love of the countryside against Sauron’s need to dominate and befoul everything.

But Lucy is also searching for her true love among three men who at one time or another have declared for her: Jonas Morrison, Lord Byron and the mill owner, Mr. Olson. None of these gentlemen are exactly what they seem and all have their own agendas.

Liss has written several previous works of straight historical fiction. He writes very much in the voice of the period. His characters are well-thought out, eccentric and colorful. There is a great deal of “Pride and Prejudice” in this novel, with characters flavored by Lydia Bennett, Mr. Collins and Lady Catherine De Bourgh. This novel, based on his love of Jane Austen is also his first effort utilizing a paranormal element.

It’s an excellent tale.

Will Lucy discover who really loves her? And will England survive the struggle between the way things have been and the march towards industrialization.

Read this novel and see Liss’ solution. ~~ Sue Martin

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