Kat, Incorrigible, written by Stephanie Burgis, was originally published as A Most Improper Magick. I read the book to review it, and as is often the case lately, I didn’t even read the synopsis before diving into the story. As a result, I had no expectations at all, and was pleasantly surprised by how charming the book is. I was drawn in immediately by the opening lines:
“I was twelve years of age when I chopped off my hair, dressed as a boy and set off to save my family from impending ruin…”
and from there I was utterly entranced with Kat and her shenanigans.
Set in Yorkshire, in Regency England, Kat, Incorrigible contains all the elements of a Gothic Melodrama: an unpleasant step-mother concerned with gossip and the trappings of Society, crumbling gothic estates, highwaymen, family debt and a sinister older fiancé. These elements, however, are mere scenery in the grand scheme of the story.
Katherine Ann Stephenson (Kat) is the youngest of 4 children: Charles, who we barely see, is facing debtor’s prison; Elissa, the eldest sister, fancies herself to be like one of the heroines in the Gothic Romances that she stays up late to read, and Angeline, no less romantic than Elissa, is determined to save her family by dabbling in magic. Kat’s father is a poor country Vicar, and her mother died when Kat was only ten days old. Kat’s father remarried some time later, and all of the mother’s remaining belongings are locked away. The Stepmama has her hands full with the children, especially with Kat, and finds being a poor Vicar’s wife somewhat tedious.
As indicated by the opening words of the book, Kat’s plan is to run off to save her family from their impending doom. The Stephenson family already has somewhat of a reputation as Kat’s biological mother was a known witch, and carelessly practised magic in the company of others. Kat’s father is not in a position to cover Charles’s debts, nor could the family recover from further social stigma if Charles was to be incarcerated. The Stepmother’s solution is to marry off her eldest step-daughter, to a rich older suitor, Sir Neville.
Sir Neville’s intentions are somewhat dubious, especially considering the large social gap between himself and the Stevenson’s (regardless of Stepmama’s “connections”), and also considering the mysterious death of his first wife. Elissa, being the romantic that she is, willingly martyrs herself to save her family. Angeline, while made of much sterner stuff than Elissa, is no less a romantic. She casts a love spell with comical results, in the hope of attracting a love match that would enable her to save the family from dire straits. A burgeoning witch she may be, but her magic is not yet up to the task.
Kat continues to look for solutions to aid her family, and she too tries the magical route. It is here that things take an interesting turn (the first of many). Kat never knew her mother, and she has only gleaned little glimpses into the woman that she was. While looking for her own magical solution Kat learns a great deal about her mother. She was more than a Witch; she belonged to an ancient secret Order, with their own magical abilities.
Kat attracts the attention of the Order and the sinister Sir Neville. Can she use her wits, her new found magical talents and the magic portal that she inherits from her mother, to save herself and her family from disaster before time runs out?
Kat, Incorrigible is a middle grade book that will appeal to an older audience. It is well written, and is an easy read. I did find myself caught up in the story but, at the same time, the book lacked a little depth, especially with some of the secondary characters. I have found that a first book in a series often lacks depth, as the author tries to introduce the characters and create the world in which they live. That aside, I would highly recommend Kat, Incorrigible and I have plans to read this to my younger children. Kat is a feisty character and, at times, it’s easy to forget that she is 12 years old. She can be somewhat of a brat, but she is strong, determined and, like Jo March of Little Women, she challenges the social constraints for girls of her time. I look forward to reading her other adventures.
Kat, Incorrigible – Stephanie Burgis