Kat, Incorrigible by Stephanie Burgis
Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2011; Hardcover, 295 pages.
Nineteenth Century England is not the place to be practicing magic. In this prim and proper world, twelve-year-old Katherine Ann Stephenson is at a loss: Her sister, Elissa and Angeline, have recently entered Society and now gossip incessantly in whispers; her foolish brother, Charles, has gambled the family deep into debt; and Stepmama wants nothing to do with them at all. What can Kat do but take matters into her own hands?
Luckily Kat has inherited her mother’s magical talents and has the courage to use them—if she can only learn how. But with her sister Elissa’s intended fiancé, the sinister Sir Neville, showing a dangerous interest in Kat’s magical potential; her sister Angeline creating romantic havoc with her own witchcraft; and a highwayman lurking in the forest, even Kat’s reckless heroism will be tested to the utmost. Will her powers be enough to win her sister their true loves? ~dust jacket.
I do not believe you have to get geeked on Regency Romances to find Kat, Incorrigible an absolute delight; but it may help. One will not be surprised to discover Stephanie Burgis’ cited influences to be Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer (the instigator of the Regency Romance). Indeed, this is a perfect opportunity to introduce the young reader to a bit of a tongue-in-cheek exposure to this popular genre of pulp fiction/literature, because Ms. Burgis has the most fantastic sense of humor about her setting and the subjects therein.
Burgis places the reader quite firmly without including too many of the tedious details; although I’m not sure if it quite carries off the incredible angst which drives the plot. Will our “free-thinking” society’s daughters and sons understand the eldest Stephenson sister’s position, how dangerous the middle sister Angeline is, or how incredibly incorrigible the youngest Kat actually proves? Probably not, but the novel will be no less enjoyable, especially as it denouements with appropriately silly and dramatic flair! Kat and Burgis pull it all together by the end. In the necessary fashion that all good characters should have flaws there is plenty of idiotic behavior to keep the reader turning pages and wondering how it could all possibly end without concluding in an all out disaster. I mean, what was Mr. Collingwood thinking?! To say that Kat, Incorrigible is an amusing romp through an 1803 English countryside is an understatement.
Then there is the inclusion of witch-craftiness with its spells and its questionable reputation and those born with an inherent magical capability that far surpasses the need for incantations. Burgis isn’t too tedious with the details here either. In the world-building of Fantasy, Kat, Incorrigible might come across frustratingly light for some, but I thought it refreshing. If Burgis need illuminate further, she will do so in the next novel. And besides, Kat couldn’t shed character and become so accommodating as to willfully explore her personal history, that of the Order’s, and flesh out exactly how her powers actually work.
The interactions between the sisters, each with their indomitable (yet not unrealistic) personalities, is the most rewarding part of the read. They are the source of heart and humor in the novel; that and our first person narrator Kat’s ability to be both frightfully intuitive and woefully ignorant at the same time. Second would be the best open and close of a novel I’ve read in a long time. “I was twelve years of age when I chopped off my hair, dressed as a boy, and set off to save my family from impending ruin” (1). And –well, I should hardly spoil it. The use of the oppressiveness of Society as a source of villainy and dread comes next in view of Kat, Incorrigible’s brilliance. It is Kat and her sisters against the world, and they mean to be incorrigible.
Do read Polishing Mud Balls Review which includes the Readerly Response of her brilliant daughter. I had been interested in the read, but Deanna and EJ really sold me on this very enjoyable book. I, too, highly recommend this read; primarily to girls, middle-grade, with Historical Fiction interests and Fantasy, likes a bit of humor in their adventures, loves feisty heroes, and is looking for light* reading.
My favorite part? Where twelve-year-old Kat transforms into the stylish Lady Fotherington and is suddenly sporting breasts must try to keep that extremely low cut front of her dress from plummeting. Oh, the consequences of fashion and hastily applied spells…
Character-wise? I agree with EJ, Angeline is a favorite. I love her sharp wit and dry daring confrontational style; though yes, she can be quite annoying at times. Burgis does create strong characters within definite types so as to not leave them wholly inside a cliche–at least with the three girls anyway.
*would not equate “light” with Fluffy, just effortlessly enjoyable.
The Unladylike Adventures of Kat Stephenson, Book One was published on August 1, 2010 in the UK as A Most Improper Magick, and was published on April 5, 2011 in the US and Canada as Kat, Incorrigible.
Book Two in the series Renegade Magic to be released Spring 2012.