Their public debut canceled by the London Blitz, beautiful stage illusionists Phil and Fee Albion, sisters, are sent by their anxious parents to sit out World War II in the village of Bittersweet.
That suits Fee, but Phil longs to contribute to the war effort and, finding the locals oddly indifferent, enlists help from a nearby magicians’ college. After spells worked against the girls fail, they’re reluctantly granted access to college secrets and the magicians (some attractive) who keep them; love blossoms. Fans of American mysteries set in England will appreciate the gauzy Anglophilia, though it jars with other elements. Even briefly referenced, the Holocaust generates its own dense atmosphere through which fantasy elements like the war’s possible magical origins can appear heartless and trivial. Unfolding in omniscient third-person, this flawed but vivid and original fantasy makes a refreshing change from me-centered, first-person, present-intense narration. The unpredictable plot and abrupt shifts in tone—arch and mannered, harsh and elegiac—keep readers off balance, forcing them to consider unsettling but resonant questions. Is violence ever justified? Can its use annihilate life’s interconnectedness? Sullivan’s learning to manage her unique imagination, but when thickening plot and rising tension cry out for action, she relies on exposition, narrating events from a safe psychic distance.
Quirky, intense, moving—an exasperating gem. (Historical fantasy. 12 & up)