A Matter of Magic

A Matter of Magic

by Patricia C. Wrede

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A Matter of Magic by Patricia C. Wrede

Magic and intrigue go hand in hand in Mairelon the Magician and The Magician's Ward, two fast-paced novels filled with mystery and romance, set against the intricate backdrop of Regency England.

When a stranger offers her a small fortune to break into a traveling magician's wagon, Kim doesn't hesitate. Having grown up a waif in the dirty streets of London, Kim isn't above a bit of breaking-and-entering. A hard life and lean times have schooled her in one lesson: steal from them before they steal from you. But when the magician catches her in the act, Kim thinks she's done for. Until he suggests she become his apprentice; then the real trouble begins.

Kim soon finds herself entangled with murderers, thieves, and cloak-and-dagger politics, all while trying to learn how to become both a proper lady and a magician in her own right.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780765326324
Publisher: Tom Doherty Associates
Publication date: 06/08/2010
Series: Mairelon the Magician Series
Edition description: Second Edition
Pages: 448
Sales rank: 611,820
Product dimensions: 5.74(w) x 8.62(h) x 1.23(d)

About the Author

PATRICIA COLLINS WREDE was born in Chicago, the oldest of five children. She attended Carleton College in Minnesota, where she majored in biology and managed to avoid taking any English courses. She began work on her first novel, Shadow Magic (1982), after graduation, though it took her five years to finish it. Ms. Wrede enjoyed a successful career as a financial analyst, but she always made time to write. Her published books now total more than a dozen.

Read an Excerpt

A Matter of Magic

By Patricia C. Wrede

Tom Doherty Associates

Copyright © 1997 Patricia C. Wrede
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-8854-4


Kim walked slowly through the crowd, slipping in and out of the traffic almost without thinking. She enjoyed the noise and bustle common to all the London markets, but Hungerford was her favorite. Though it was small by comparison to Covent Garden or Leaden hall, it was very busy. Carts stood hub-to-hub along the sides of the street, leaving only narrow aisles for the customers. The more fortunate among the sellers had permanent stalls; others displayed their shoes or brooms or baskets on bare strips of pavement. Still others walked through the crowd with baskets of turnips, apples, parsnips, onions, or cress, crying their wares in unmusical voices.

Kim let the flow of traffic carry her closer to the market's most recent addition, eyeing it with a mingling of curiosity and professional appraisal. It was a wagon painted in sun-bleached yellow and gold, its tall red wheels half hidden by the stalls on either side. Two large doors made up the end of the wagon that faced the street, and they were fastened with a rusty padlock. The doors carried a rough painting of a man in a black top hat, with a string of incomprehensible but decorative letters just below him.

The wagoneer had bagged one of the best spots in the market, right between Jamie the Tailor and Red Sal's fish stand. Kim frowned. Sal was a good sort, but she wouldn't take kindly to having Kim lighten a wagon next to her. Even if "lightening" wasn't exactly what Kim planned to do. Jamie was more irritable but not so noticing. Kim's frown deepened. She wondered, not for the first time, whether she'd been wise to take this job. Toffs were trouble, no two ways, and a toff knowing enough to find Kim in the back streets of London ...

Firmly Kim brought her mind back to the business at hand. The wagon was close enough to Red Sal's to have scraped the paint off the side of the stall, had there been any paint to scrape. Small as she was, Kim would never be able to squeeze through. She'd have to go in past Jamie's, then, and time things so he was busy with a customer. She looked at the wagon with misgiving.

A man came around the corner of the wagon and began undoing the latches at the rear. He was tall and thin and everything about him seemed to droop, from his baggy trousers to his sloping shoulders to the brim of his slouch hat. Even his mustache drooped, and as he worked he chewed absently first on one end and then the other.

The doors swung open, and Kim blinked in surprise. The entire rear end of the wagon was occupied by a tiny stage. A faded red curtain separated the back of the stage from the wagon's interior. Kim forgot her eventual goal and slid closer, fascinated. The droopy man swung a small ladder down at the right side of the stage and latched it in place, then climbed onto the stage itself. He vanished behind the curtain, only to reappear a moment later carrying a table, which he set carefully in the middle of the stage. Then he began hanging lanterns on either side.

A crowd began to collect around the end of the wagon, drawn by the curious spectacle of something being set up in the market in complete silence. Some of the bystanders offered comments as the lanterns were hung and lit — "Waste o' good oil, that," and "Bit crooked, ain't she?" The droopy man chewed on his mustache, but gave no sign that he had heard.

He finished his work and disappeared once more behind the curtain. For a long moment there was no further activity, and the small crowd murmured in disappointment. Before they could begin to drift away, there was a loud crash, and a thick cloud of white smoke enveloped the stage.

"Come one, come all!" called a ringing voice from the center of the smoke. "Prepare to be amazed and astonished by the one, the only — Mairelon the Magician!"

With the last words, the smoke dissipated. In the center of the stage stood a man. His hair was dark above a rounded face, and he had a small, neat mustache but no beard. He wore a black opera cape and a top hat, which made it difficult to assess his height; Kim judged him middling tall. His right hand held a silver-headed walking stick. "Another toff!" Kim thought with disgust. She did not for a moment believe that he was a real magician; if he were, he would never waste his time working the market. Still, she felt a twinge of uneasiness.

The man held his pose for a moment, then threw back his cape. "I am Mairelon the Magician!" he announced. "Lend me your attention and I will show you wonders. The knowledge of the East and the West is mine, and the secrets of the mysterious cults of Africa and India! Behold!"

Mairelon pulled a silk handkerchief from his pocket and displayed both sides. "A perfectly ordinary handkerchief — as ordinary, that is, as the finest silk may be. Stuff of such worth should be kept close." The crowd chuckled as he stuffed it into his closed fist and it vanished.

"Dear me, I seem to have lost it in spite of my efforts," the magician went on, opening his fist. "Now, where ... ah!"

He reached down toward a pretty muffin-maid standing in front of the stage and pulled the handkerchief out of her bonnet. A string of colored scarves came with it, knotted end-to-end. Mairelon frowned. "Now, what am I to do with all of these?" he mused. Carefully he folded them into a compact ball and wrapped the ball in the white handkerchief. When he shook it out, the scarves were gone.

The flow of chatter continued as Mairelon borrowed a penny from a man in the crowd and made it pass through his handkerchief, then vanish and reappear. He pulled an egg from behind another man's ear, broke it into his hat, then reached into the hat and removed a live dove. He covered it briefly with his cloak, then drew the cloak aside to reveal a large wicker cage with the dove inside. He placed cage and dove on the floor of the stage and gestured with his walking stick, and they vanished in a puff of smoke and flame. He showed the crowd a shallow bowl and had one of the barrow boys fill it with water, then dropped a sheet of paper in and pulled out ten tiny Chinese lanterns made of folded paper.

Kim watched the show with unabashed enjoyment. Near the end, the droopy man reappeared, carrying an ancient tambourine. As Mairelon finished his performance, his companion circulated among the crowd, collecting pennies and shillings from the onlookers.

Reluctantly Kim pulled her mind away from the fascinating sight of Mairelon the Magician juggling eggs that, as they passed between his agile fingers, changed from white to red to blue to yellow in rapid succession. This was the first time both men had been outside at once, and she had to know how long the wagon would be empty.

She started singing "Darlin' Jenny" in her head to mark the time, and scowled in irritation. Her dislike for this job was growing stronger every minute. Nicking a purse or pocket watch from the swells in the High Street had never bothered her, but she'd always hated working the markets. Hungerford was the nearest she'd had to a home since old Mother Tibb dangled from the nubbing cheat, and even if all she had to do this time was a bit of snooping, it felt the same as nabbing a haddock from Red Sal's stand when her back was turned. Kim contemplated conveniently forgetting to return to the public house where the toff had arranged to meet her, but the memory of the pound notes the stranger had offered held her like an iron chain.

Five pounds was a fortune by Kim's standards; she could eat well and sleep dry for months and still have enough left to replace the ragged jacket and boy's breeches she wore. If she played her cards right, she might even get out of the streets for good. It was time and past that she did so; she was, she thought, nearing seventeen, and her long-delayed growth was finally arriving. She wouldn't be able to play the boy much longer. A chill ran down her spine, and she pushed the thought, and the darker knowledge of the inevitable consequences that would follow the end of her masquerade, resolutely from her mind. Mairelon the Magician was, for the moment at least, of far greater importance than her own uncertain future.

Mairelon finished his show in a flurry of flashing knives and whirling scarves, and bowed deeply. "Thank you for your attention — and for your gracious contributions." He waved at the tambourine his dour assistant carried, and the crowd chuckled. "That concludes this performance, but soon Mairelon the Magician will return to perform even more wondrous feats for your delight and astonishment! Until then, my friends!" In a second puff of smoke and flame, the magician vanished.

Kim stopped midway through the eighth verse of "Darlin' Jenny" and slipped away as the crowd began to disperse. She did not want Sal or Jamie spotting her and remembering it later. Once she was safely away from Mairelon's wagon, she breathed more easily. She couldn't do anything about the magician until the end of his next show. She had time, now, to enjoy the market.

She stopped an ancient woman in a faded kerchief and exchanged one of her carefully hoarded pennies for a bag of roasted chestnuts. She ate them slowly as she walked, savoring the taste. The unaccustomed warmth in her stomach made her feel more cheerful, though she still wasn't too keen on the idea of mucking about in Mairelon's wagon. For one thing, she didn't like the look of the skinny toff who'd hired her.

Unconsciously she flexed her fingers, making the bag rustle. Five pounds would buy a lot more than chestnuts. The skinny toff hadn't asked her to nick anything, she reminded herself, just to look around and tell him what she saw and whether the magician kept a particular bowl in his wagon. The toff had claimed it was a bet. He might even be telling the truth; swells'd bet on anything.

She stepped aside to let an oyster-seller push his barrow past. It didn't feel right. The gentry cove had been too keen on her finding that bowl. He'd gotten positively excited when he started describing it — silver, he'd said, with a lot of carvings and patterns whose details Kim had seen no reason to bother remembering.

Kim frowned. Curiosity was her besetting weakness. And five pounds was five pounds. It wasn't as if she'd be doing any harm. She finished the last of the chestnuts and stuffed the bag into one of her many pockets, in case she found a use for it later. She'd do it just the way the toff had asked: go in, look around, and slip out. Mairelon would never know anyone had been there.

And if she did happen to find that bowl, maybe she'd see what was so special about it. But she wouldn't mention it to the skinny toff. She'd collect her money and leave. She might even come back and warn Mairelon about the swell that was showing so much interest. Market folk should stick together, after all. She smiled to herself; that'd serve the skinny toff a bit of his own soup! Whistling cheerfully, she strolled off to see if the puppet show was still stopping at the far end of the market.

* * *

Evening found her lurking near Mairelon's wagon once more. This time she stood in the shadows next to Jamie's stall, leaning on one of its support posts. As the crowd grew larger, she let herself be pushed back until the open rear door of the wagon, which formed one side of Mairelon's stage, all but hid the performance from her sight.

Mairelon was as good as his word. He did not, as far as Kim could tell, repeat any of the tricks he had used in his earlier performance. This time, he made three unbroken silver rings pass through each other, locking and interlocking them in intricate patterns. He bought an apple from a passing vendor and cut it open to reveal a shilling at its core. The apple seller was promptly surrounded by hopeful customers, but his remaining wares proved disappointingly ordinary.

Meanwhile, the magician went smoothly on with his act. He borrowed a hat from one of the men in the crowd, boiled an egg in it, and returned the hat to its owner unharmed. Then he brought out a pack of playing cards and ran through a series of increasingly elaborate tricks.

Kim was so enthralled by the show that she almost missed seeing a small door open near the front of the wagon. The jingling noise of the tambourine caught her attention at last. Hastily she mashed herself flat against the side of Jamie's stall, holding one ragged sleeve up to obscure her face. Mairelon's droopy henchman glanced in her direction as he passed, but his eyes moved on once her dirty and impecunious appearance sank in.

As soon as the man had been absorbed into the audience, Kim darted for the wagon door, hoping Mairelon's show and the growing shadows would keep her from being noticed. Her luck held; no shouts followed her down the narrow aisle, and when she reached it, the door was unlocked. Kim pushed it open and half jumped, half fell into the wagon's interior, the first chorus of "Darlin' Jenny" echoing through her mind.

She paused briefly to get her breath back and look around. Once again, she found herself staring in surprise. The wagon's interior was paneled in dark wood, polished to a high gloss. Rows of cupboards ran down one side, topped by a shelf of smooth grey tile. A long chest was built into the other wall; from the neat roll of blankets at one end, Kim guessed that it doubled as a bed. Presumably the droopy man slept on the floor, or perhaps under the wagon, for she saw no sign of a second bed.

A small lamp, which Kim decided had to be pewter because it could not possibly be silver, hung near the door. Its light threw back rich highlights from the walls and cupboard doors. A wool carpet, deep red with strange designs in black and cream, covered the floor. Kim had never been anywhere half so elegant in her entire life; even the back room of Gentleman Jerry's was nothing to it.

The faded curtain at the far end of the wagon swayed as Mairelon crossed his little stage. Kim came out of her daze as she realized that the curtain was all that separated her from discovery. She could hear the magician's patter quite clearly. He would be able to hear her just as easily, should she be clumsy or careless.

Kim glanced around the wagon again, painfully aware of the need for haste. She had wasted nearly a whole verse in her musing. The cupboards were the most likely place to start. She stepped forward, like a cat stalking a particularly suspicious mouse, and opened the first door.

The cupboard was filled with dishes. Three mismatched plates and a shallow ceramic soup bowl occupied the lowest shelf; a row of china teacups hung from hooks on the bottom of the shelf above. The upper part of the cupboard contained a neat stack of copper pans, iron pots, and assorted lids. Kim took long enough to make sure there was nothing hidden in or behind any of them, then went on. Her hasty search revealed nothing of any interest in the remaining cupboards, and she turned to the long chest.

The lid did not respond to her careful tug. Closer inspection revealed a hidden lock. Kim hesitated. She had nearly three full verses of "Darlin' Jenny" left, even if she allowed herself all of the last one as a safety margin. And the skinny toff would hardly be pleased if all she had to tell him was that Mairelon the Magician kept pots in his cupboards and his chest locked. Her lips tightened, and she reached into her pocket for the stiff bit of wire she always carried.

The lock was a good one, and the overhanging wood that concealed it made her work more difficult. Two more verses of "Darlin' Jenny" went by while she twisted the wire back and forth, coaxing the tumblers into position. She was about to abandon her efforts when she heard a faint click and the lid of the chest popped up a quarter of an inch.

Kim straightened in relief and pocketed the wire. She took hold of the chest's lid and lifted, forcing herself to move slowly in case the hinges squealed. Then she held it in position with one hand and bent over to peer inside.

Piles of brightly colored silks met her eyes. Beside them were slotted wooden boxes, a bundle of tiny Chinese lanterns, several mirrors, a glass tube with a painted paper cover, a top hat, and several decks of playing cards, all arranged neatly and precisely according to some order Kim could not fathom. A few she recognized as props from Mairelon's first show; none of them looked at all like the bowl the gentry cove had gone on about. As she started to close the lid, she saw a swatch of black velvet sticking out from under a stack of neatly folded silk handkerchiefs. One last try, she thought, and brushed the silks aside.


Excerpted from A Matter of Magic by Patricia C. Wrede. Copyright © 1997 Patricia C. Wrede. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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A Matter of Magic 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 120 reviews.
danibookworm91 More than 1 year ago
A Matter of Magic was a nice, quick read that fulfilled my desire for both fantasy and historical fiction. Originally published as two separate books, Mairelon the Magician (published in 1991) and The Magician's Ward (published in 1997), A Matter of Magic gives you both for the price of one. The stories in both books are not directly related, but it makes sense to offer the reader's the full tale of Kim and Mairelon in one book. The first part of the book, originally Mairelon the Magician, I found entertaining, but at times confusing. There were a lot of secondary characters and everyone was after the same thing, some set of magic trinkets, that I kept easily getting confused and could not keep straight what character was what and who was good in bad. As the book progressed it got clearer but I was still confused until after the climax, where what everyone has been searching for is found. Then everything became clearer. I enjoyed the second installment, originally The Magician's Ward, a lot more then the first part. I was able to read through the second half much faster and make a lot more sense of the story. I loved seeing Kim progress from a street rat living as a thief into a respectable lady. The plot was not as complicated as the first half of the book making it a lot easier to understand. My only issue with this story line was the romance seemed to jump a little to quickly off the page. I saw it coming but would have liked to see it developed a bit more before the "bam! I'm in love." Overall, this book was a nice, quick read that I brought on a whim for Nook. I enjoyed it and did fulfill my desire to read historical and fantasy fiction at the same time.
WaltzingJoe More than 1 year ago
This was one of the most delightful books I have read in a while. The characters are quite enchanting. The plot of the first book kind of bogs down at the end but don't let that stop you from reading this. The second book was so good I was sorry when I finished it--both my wife and I got caught up in this world of magic and didn't want to leave.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Well, I enjoyed these books (yes, there are two in this ebook). However, there were some oddities that kept me from giving it/them an overall 5. First, the two stories are mysteries. I don't know why, but I was expecting more of a fantasy type story and less of a mystery that just happens to involve magic. Secondly, the end romance did not seem to be developed enough and I was honestly surprised when the main character "realized" she loved a certain someone, but I'll talk more about it later. This is just one example of a few inconsistencies that plague this book. *Spoiler Warning* A Matter of Magic centers around a female street urchin who dresses like a boy to protect herself from getting sent to a brothel. She's a bit of a thief and is hired by a "toff" (gentry) to break into a street magician's performance wagon. She breaks in during a show, but is surprised by a protective spell and is caught. Mairelon the Magician has her tag along with him while he chases after a magical platter. Mairelon, Kim (the girl), and Hunch (Mairelon's assistant/henchman) set off for the country on the word of a friend of the magician. There the trio finds a bunch of people from Kim's life in London and some other characters that pop up. Most of the characters just serve a particular purpose in the plot and aren't well developed. But, that's OK. You don't need 30 main characters. Back to the story, they find out that a certain lord was behind the original theft of the platter and its matching bowl and balls (odd objects...), the theft for which Mairelon had been blamed. Mairelon's name is cleared, and he is able to move back to London, opting to take Kim with him. On a side note, all throughout this time, the relationship between Kim and Mairelon seems to be like father-daughter or master-apprentice. They become friendly, but not romantically so. The mystery itself also wasn't much of a mystery. While there was some foreshadowing, I never had that "Ah!" where you realize what all of the clues added up to. It seemed more like the author randomly threw out clues to match the early assumption that a certain person was guilty of the theft. The second book is back in London, but this time in the nice noble portion. Kim at first flounders in society, but is readily accepted by the nobles. This is odd because this is supposed to be set about four centuries ago, so the nobles would be extremely unlikely to accept an illegitimate nobody because she can do a few magic tricks. Anyway, there is a break in at Mairelon's (Richard Merrill, now) house, and Kim catches the burglar in the act. However, the man escapes, but they look at him with magic and notice a few details though his face is covered. There are then more social events, and Mairelon/Merrill looses his powers. Kim covers for him at her coming out party by doing her illusion pretty much by herself. Men immediately begin to try to woo her. They don't, though she is proposed to by a marquis. She realizes that she is in love with Mairelon. They find and capture the bad guy, who we've always known was the bad guy. A grouping of wizards gets Mairelon his powers back and take the powers away from the bad guy. Mairelon proposes and Kim accepts. However, until Kim "realizes" she love Mairelon, I always thought of their relationship as more father-daughter, which it is decidedly in the first book. It was odd. Good book, but not great. Enjoyable, but not a classic.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
More confusing than most of the other books by Wrede, but still the same laugh out loud humor. Thoroughly enjoyable, with concentration a necessity.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The books in this 2 volume set have been a favorite since they were first published. I reread then every year or so. They stories are engaging, the characters are interesting, and the writing is well done.
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A very enjoyable read, two in one.
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liem11 More than 1 year ago
This is one of those novels that really doesn't fit well in any category. Combining a historical fiction, mystery and fantasy book into one and doing great at all three. Set in Victorian England that just happens to have magic an ex-street brat teams up with a roguish nobleman to solve a crime. There also is a bit of romance thrown in for good measure. I have read this several times and its just as good as the first!
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LISA MALONEY More than 1 year ago
I found this to be downright weird and tremendusly scatterbrained.
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