A fish out of water

Long Island
Long Island, New York, from an early map

Kathryn L Ramage Maiden in Light Wapshott Press 2011

Jane Austen and H P Lovecraft may once have been strange bedfellows, but the recent trend of re-imagining 19th-century romances as vampire and zombie tales renders this marriage made in hell less surprising. Kathryn Ramage dedicates Maiden in Light to these two authors, though the resulting novel is not the undead romcom that you might otherwise expect. Instead we have here an engaging novel mixing social observation, convincing character development and palpable suspense, all set in an alternate world consistent within its constructed parameters.

Laurel is a fish out of water in the 20th-century yet medieval town that is New York, stuck in a family intent on matching daughters with appropriate suitors while discovering herself a tomboy with burgeoning magical abilities. She is summoned to her uncle’s castle of Wizardes Cliff at the eastern end of Long Island where she quickly comes into her own as a sorcerer’s apprentice, before her curiosity causes her to stumble on the dread secrets that form all wizards’ responsibilities, the stuff of her nightmares.

Maiden in Light is not so much a sequel to The Wizard’s Son as a parallel tale, overlapping the times and events of Kathryn Ramage’s earlier novel. In some ways the plot is similar: protagonist becomes magical apprentice, gets sidetracked when on an errand away from the wizard’s stronghold, is tempted to stray from the chaste requirements of a mage and is tested when Lovecraftian entities from another dimension threaten the world of mortals. In other ways this for me is a more satisfying instalment, in that Laurel is a more sympathetic figure than Orlan (the latter a rather dandified and seemingly weak-willed, vacillating character) and in having the Bennet-like family episodes (where bourgeois manners are lovingly pilloried, as in Pride and Prejudice) balancing the darker sequences involving Laurel’s recurring nightmare and the enigma that is her nemesis Alys. But it’s unfair to judge one novel against another when it’s clear that together they enrich our view of the alternate world of Ramage’s Northlands.

Maiden in Light is beautifully written, vivid descriptive passages alternating with well-paced action, poetry intermingling with natural dialogue. Laurel herself is a likeable heroine, strong yet with understandable human failings, impulsive yet given to procrastination, and playful while capable of being ruthless; her story is reminiscent of the Romantic literary legend of Lorelei, a nymph inhabiting a rock above the river Rhine, who siren-like attracts the attention of would-be lovers, though her fate is somewhat different from Laurel’s. How the youngster gets to grips with the distractions that life throws at her while attempting to be single-minded about her calling and its associated responsibilities makes for engrossing reading, repaying the investment the reader pays in empathising with her character.

Review first published March 2013; Kathryn Ramage’s Sonnedragon is the third in the series

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4 thoughts on “A fish out of water

  1. Thanks for this – an author it seems a good idea to add to my ‘to read’ list.
    I don’t blame writers for using an already-invented world in following novels – doing it all over again is hard work, and the new one may not be as good as the one already arrived at.

  2. As with The Wizard’s Son this has a very 19th-century feel, and as I’m in the process of (re)reading Pride and Prejudice (that is, reading it properly rather than skimming it and then watching the TV series) its expansiveness, not to mention its covert homage to Austen’s Bennet family, is very reminiscent of those social comedies. As for H P Lovecraft, I read him in my early twenties but may have rather outgrown a taste for supernatural horror now, though it retains a kind of morbid fascination.

    1. Do hope you enjoy it when you get round to reading it!

      Incidentally I did appreciate your review of Codex which I’d previously seen on Goodreads. Good to have an archivist’s approval of his descriptions of the archives at Chenoweth, a rating that even a stint as a library assistant in a branch library would not have allowed me to attempt.

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