Their mother’s death and their father’s struggle to find work have taken a toll on the four Breck sisters: Annagail, the eldest, has left school for a factory job; young Lilet and Mimmi endure day care; and would-be writer Isaveth, following a recipe in the Book of Common Magic, has begun baking spell-tablets to sell on the street.
In Tarreton, nobles live in luxury while the poor live in grinding, Dickensian poverty. As Moshites, a religious minority, the Brecks are isolated and burdened by discrimination. When Papa is arrested, unjustly accused of murdering the governor of Tarreton College, Isaveth vows to save him. Quiz, a mysterious boy who’s befriended her (like her, he’s a fan of the broadcast “talkie-play” Auradia Champion, Lady Justice of Listerbroke), offers much-needed help. Their investigations lead them first to the college, with its plethora of witnesses and possible suspects, then to the Workers’ Club, an illegal underground organization dedicated to improving the lives of Tarreton’s downtrodden. Isaveth and her sisters are an appealing bunch, and the plot’s twists and turns keep readers enjoyably perplexed. The setting, with its nostalgia-infused, late-Victorian vibe, is to fantasy what steampunk is to science fiction—and great fun. This alternate world’s infrastructure relies on magic-based technology. Powerful Sagery enables the nobility’s luxurious lifestyle, but for commoners, permission to use common magic is a hard-won right, by no means universal.
Thoroughly entertaining. (Fantasy.10-14)