Sorcery & Cecelia has the unfortunate subtitle of The Enchanted Chocolate Pot, which sounds kind of silly. It is charming, sweet, and adorable, but not silly. It's what Shades of Milk and Honey might have been; it's better than that, though. It's a Regency romance without any of the problems those have.
Also, it's two Regency romances, because it's an epistolary novel, and each of the characters is having their own adventures. Kate has gone to London with her sister and aunt to have her season; her cousin and best friend Cecelia has had to stay at home in the country. Their friendship is solid and fun and sincere, and they share everything in letters--including the dangerous magical situations they are both caught up in. Kate, in a case of mistaken identity, makes a dangerous enemy and a reluctant ally; Cecelia is drawn into the affair from afar when matters involve her brother and touch closer to home.
I love that these girls are both clever and matter-of-fact, and that they love their families even when their siblings are goofy and their aunts tiresome. I love that they get the job done, but are in no way perfect. I love that they're so similar and yet so different.
This is because there are two authors, each writing the part of one character--Patricia C. Wrede wrote Cecelia and Caroline Stevermer wrote Kate. Then, when I read the afterword, I learned that they actually wrote the book as a series of letters for each other, with no planning or discussion of the plot ahead of time. They just threw this stuff together on the fly.
This is ADVANCED STORYTELLING, people. I mean, there were drafts and alterations and tightening up, but still. I spend my life immersed in work that I admire by so many talented people, but let me tell you, rarely do I find myself actually feeling this kind of envy, this wanting to be able to do that. It's astounding.
There are so many good things about the book--how the empty space where the characters don't know what's going on do such a wonderful job of shaping the story without being annoying (including gaps between the dates of letters and events surrounding one of the girls and the other); how the secondary characters are complicated and interesting (Dorothea, Georgiana, Oliver, Sylvia, Cecelia's father, the list goes on); how powerful the ladies are here, with characters who are smart and dim, brave and cowardly, rescued and rescuers, all women!
But mostly I'm in awe of the craft here, and really want to start my own in-character correspondence, even though I know I'll never come near what these authors have accomplished. And now I'm waiting anxiously for the library to send me one of the books on my waiting list to free up a waiting list spot (only five books on hold at a time!) so I can get The Grand Tour, the next Kate and Cecelia book. It can't possibly be quite as good, but I absolutely can't wait.