Follow TV Tropes


Literature / Mairelon the Magician

Go To
The cover of the reissued first book
Mairelon the Magician is a fantasy novel by Patricia C. Wrede, set in a version of Regency England with wizards.

Kim, a street urchin, attempts to rob a traveling magician, discovers that he has real magical powers, and winds up as his apprentice.

There is a sequel, Magician's Ward, and the two books have been published together in a collected edition under the title A Matter of Magic. The Science Fiction Book Club also released a combined edition, under the title Magic & Malice.

These novels provide examples of:

  • Bastard Bastard: Laverham, a crime lord in Mairelon the Magician, is the bastard son of a minor lord.
  • Bewitched Amphibians: The lower-class slang for wizard is "frog-maker". At the end of Mairelon the Magician, Mairelon says he'll turn his brother into a frog for a few minutes if it would make him feel better, but he'd rather not - the spell's rather complicated.
  • Bookcase Passage: Mairelon and Kim hide in one when the next participant in a long line of housebreakers shows up in the library they're trying to toss.
  • Cain and Abel: Played With. Criminal kingpin Dan Laverham is the bastard half-brother of Lord Gregory St. Clair. The resentful Laverham absolutely despises his brother, and St. Clair isn't any too fond of him either. The twist comes in that both are bad, St. Clair is just better at playing the gentleman.
  • Chekhov's Skill: The first piece of stage magic that Mairelon teaches Kim is a trick knot that looks complicated but can be easily undone by the person tied with it if they know what loop to pull. When Kim gets put under a control spell by Laverham, she binds Mairelon with this knot to show that the spell isn't actually affecting her.
  • Childhood Marriage Promise: Two of the characters in Magician's Ward made one when they were young. As adults, he loves her, but she's set her sights elsewhere, and dismisses the childhood promise as a meaningless game when he brings it up.
  • Clear My Name: Mairelon's driving goal in the first book is to prove he didn't steal the Saltash set. He actually has a trustworthy witness who can testify that he didn't do it, but he believes that unless he can produce the real thief suspicion will always hang over him.
  • Curtain Camouflage: In Mairelon the Magician, Kim hides behind a curtain when she wants to hide the fact she's been snooping around in the carriage.
  • Disability Immunity: Mannering's spell was meant to steal magical ability, so when Mrs. Lowe (who has no magical abilities) steps in front of it, it fails to take effect on her and rebounds painfully onto Mannering.
  • Double-Meaning Title: Magician's Ward refers to Kim, and also to a type of protective spell.
  • Everyone Can See It: When Kim and Mairelon end up confessing their love for each other in a room full of people, near the end of Magician's Ward, no one is surprised or disapproving at all, even the guy they've only met a few times.
  • Free-Sample Plot Coupon: Mairelon starts the first book with the Saltash Bowl, one of the six pieces of the set he's trying to gather.
  • Friend or Foe?: In Mairelon the Magician, Kim is accosted as she comes out of the pub, and blacks his eye before she realizes it's Mairelon.
  • Gambit Pileup:
    • Five separate parties try to steal the Saltash Platter from Henry Bramingham's library over the course of a single evening. The sheer absurdity of this nearly gets Mairelon and Kim (Party number two) caught when they have to force themselves to not laugh upon the arrival of Jonathan Aberford (Party number five). All of them fail, because the real platter had been stolen over a week before and replaced with a forgery.
      Mairelon: Everyone broke into Bramingham's library. Including Renee. Everyone who was anywhere near Ranton Hill, that is. I suppose I should be glad St. Clair didn't arrive until a day later, or we might have seen him bumbling around with everyone else.
    • And then there's the climax, where every time they think they've got a handle on what's going on, somebody else whose plans have to be taken into consideration shows up, resulting in something like five different interruptions (Six if you count the main cast walking in on a young couple who don't care about the platter and were just coincidentally meeting up at the location the platter was hidden in prior to eloping), each of which rearranges the balance of power in the room. Really, this book is "Gambit Pileup: The Novel".
  • Gentleman Wizard: Mairelon, and his colleagues at the Royal Society.
  • Gold Digger: In Magician's Ward, everyone thinks that Lord Gideon Starnes is one, as he's very attractive and quite poor. He's actually quite devoted to his childhood friend, the gorgeous Letitia Tarnower, who, unfortunately for him, is a real Gold Digger who wants nothing to do with a man whose fortune vanished in a haze of gambling debts years ago.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Throughout The Magician's Ward Mairelon grows increasingly unhappy with the fact that Kim is getting the romantic attentions of numerous young men during the Season. By the time Lord Franton asks him for her hand in marriage, he's realized that it's because he's in love with her and figures he's too late.
  • The Highwayman: Mairelon the Magician had a self-styled druid of dubious competence attempting to rob a coach filled with professional criminals in an effort to get his hands on an enchanted platter he wanted to use for a ritual (which the people in the coach didn't even have). He fails miserably.
  • Historical Fantasy: Set in an alternate version of Regency England.
  • Instant Runes: Averted in Mairelon the Magician, and more explicitly in Magician's Ward, as Mairelon explains that the use of most magic requires runes prepared in advance - the potential consequences of making a mistake while drawing a spell diagram in the air are too potentially severe to be worth the risk, especially as the diagrams get more complicated and easier to screw up.
  • I Reject Your Reality: Lady Granleigh constantly ignores others in favor of her version of events, but as she has considerable power most people don't call her out on it. Until the end of the book where she actually manages to ignore the entire summation of the plot and accuse the villain of something that they actually haven't done. The villain is the only one to call her out on it:
    St. Clair: I congratulate you, Lady Granleigh. I have never before met anyone with so great a talent for seeing the world as she wishes it to be.
  • It Only Works Once: Spells cast using the Saltash set or any of its pieces will only work once on any given person.
  • Latin Is Magic: At a basic level it doesn't matter what language a spell is cast in, but casting a spell in one's native tongue can cause the spell to be overpowered (since you have to think about what you're saying when speaking in a second language, even if you're fluent, you also have to think how much power you're putting into the spell). As a result, spells written by the Greeks tended to be in Latin, and spells written by the Romans tended to be in Greek, forcing modern magicians to learn both languages (as well as a bit of Hebrew) in order to use magic.
  • Lie Detector: Individual pieces of the Saltash set can be used for this (and can even tell if someone is deliberately telling a half-truth); the whole set together can be used to force people to speak the truth.
  • Magical Foreign Words: Magicians use a foreign language because if you try to cast a spell using your own native language, it becomes uncontrollable. The amount of danger increases the further along you get in your magic studies. A first-year student casting a spell in their native language isn't likely to have results that are too awful, mostly because they are not yet able to use that much power. A third-year student casting a spell in their native language may be dealing with the consequences for weeks.
  • Magicians Are Wizards: Mairelon is a wizard who chooses the role of stage magician (in which he is also competent) to hide from the law, as nobody would expect a real magician to waste his time playing marketplaces.
  • The Magocracy: The novels are set in a world where magic does exist, and Wizards are so influential that the government and society bows to them. Specifically British Parliament had to move out of its building because the Wizards already worked in it, and Wizards are automatically considered social equals of any level in society. It's never implied that the King of Britain is a wizard, but the Russian royalty certainly is. Also, magic is taught as a part of upper-class education, in the same way as Latin is. (Though not all nobles are good at magic, and a fair fraction can't use it at all, it does mean that most trained Wizards are from an upper-class background to start with.)
  • Meal Ticket:
    • Lady Granleigh's heiress ward, Marianne. Lady Granleigh's debt-stricken brother expects to marry her; unfortunately, nobody consulted Marianne, and she runs away with a young man more to her liking.
    • In the second book, Letitia Tarnower tries to turn Mairelon into one, failing because he simply wasn't interested in her. No mention is made of whether or not she bagged her secondary target.
  • Noodle Incident: In the second book Mairelon mentions an adventure he got into with the brother of the man he's having tea with described solely as "the incident with the chickens". He was sadly interrupted before he could go into any further detail.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity: An apparently-dimwitted hired thug in the first book is revealed in the denouement to be smarter than he lets on.
    • Mairelon himself at times, or at least 'Obfuscating Flippancy'. He frequently appears not to take threats seriously until the last second, and no one but Kim catches on to the fact that he speaks very politely and gently when he is especially angry.
  • Old Retainer: Hunch.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: An inanimate version with the Saltash platter duplicates in the first book. While they're near-perfect physical duplicates, any mage could detect the lack of enchantments on the fakes with a touch (the person who made the fakes didn't know enough about magic to realize this).
  • People Puppets: Dan Laverham tries to use a piece of the Saltash set to do this to Kim. Unfortunately for him, the Saltash spells only work once on any person, and Kim's already had them used on her.
  • Pygmalion Plot: Complete with speech lessons.
  • Regency England
  • Romantic False Lead: Lord Franton in Magician's Ward. He's a perfectly nice guy who's sincerely attracted to Kim; he just isn't the one Kim is in love with.
  • Sarcastic Devotee: Hunch, who is absolutely loyal to Mairelon but (not unreasonably) has a very low regard for his common sense.
  • Set Bonus: The Saltash set is a grouping of enchanted silver objects which are more powerful together than apart.
  • She Cleans Up Nicely: In the second chapter of Mairelon the Magician, Mairelon says about the street-urchin Kim (then dressed as a boy) "I think you'll be surprised at how well she cleans up." By the middle of Magician's Ward, she is an "unqualified social success", with gentlemen standing in line to dance with her at her come-out ball.
  • Shipper on Deck: Lady Wendall ships Kim/Mairelon. Her reaction to them becoming an official couple is described by Kim as "smug."
    Lady Wendall (amused): I see you have decided to take my advice after all, Richard. Marrying your ward is exactly the sort of usual scandal I had in mind; I wonder why it didn't occur to me before.
  • Street Urchin: Kim
  • Sweet Polly Oliver: The street urchin Kim is a girl disguised as a boy. Hard as her life is, it would only be harder if people knew she was female.
  • Teacher/Student Romance: Mairelon and Kim fall in love in Magician's Ward.
  • Truth Serums: The complete Saltash set can be used as a focus to cast a spell that forces someone to tell the truth. It has several limitations (only works with the whole set, limited duration, and can only be used once on any given person), but it's still noted to be a unique and exceptionally powerful bit of magic.
  • Undercover Cop Reveal: At the very end of Mairelon the Magician, William Stuggs, Jasper Marston's apparently dim-witted henchman, calmly reveals himself to be a Bow Street Runner. This is helpful, as it means he's witnessed the entire climax and has no uncertainty about who to arrest.
  • Unintentional Encryption: Comes up with Henri d'Armand's diary in the sequel. As long as he had the base form of a ritual spell in front of him, Henri could easily remember all the little tweaks he'd need to make it work properly, and as such never bothered writing those down. So when the villain gets ahold of it, he finds a book full of spells that look complete but don't actually work properly.
  • Unskilled, but Strong: Mannering in Magician's Ward. The magic he's stolen makes him several times more powerful than even the strongest normal wizard, but he knows barely anything about magic and taught himself from a book that looked like a spellbook to someone with no real knowledge of magic, but was actually just a notebook containing spells the author was working on but hadn't finished yet. This is only exacerbated by the fact that he casts all his spells in English (casting spells in your native language makes them more powerful, but can produce unpredictable side effects).
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: At the end of Mairelon the Magician, only four of the six pieces of the Saltash Set have been found, and gathering the rest is not part of the story in the sequel. It's implied that since one can scry for any of the pieces using the ones one already has, having two thirds of the set allowed the Ministry to quickly track down the remaining indicator spheres off-page.

Alternative Title(s): Magicians Ward