I picked up Dark Mirror because I've been listening to Georgette Heyer regency-era romances lately, and I was intrigued by the idea of a regency romance for teens with magic as part of the story. And while I can't say that M. J. Putney's historical world-building is on a par with Heyer's, I did find the book enjoyable.
Lady Victoria (Tory) Mansfield is the privileged youngest daughter of the Earl of Fairmount. She anticipates her "coming out", and has every expectation of making a good marriage. However, Tory has a secret, and when her secret is revealed, she is banished from polite society. Just what is Tory's shameful secret? She can fly. Magical powers are shunned by the aristocracy in 1803, and Tory's family sends her away to a prisonlike school called Lackland Abbey to be "cured". Instead of a cure, however, Tory finds a new life, one in which, despite being a woman, she can make a real difference in the world.
There is romance. There is time travel. There are friendships and deprivations and perilous situations. And there is magic surrounding it all. A note explains that this book stemmed from the author's "what if" musings regarding an actual historical event (which I won't reveal, to maintain suspense). That event is integrated seamlessly into the book, and is likely, I think, to send readers off looking for more information. I was quite moved by the book's ending, knowing a bit about the true history.
I like how the magic is portrayed in Dark Mirror. People either have magical ability or they don't, with the specifics and degree of each person's ability varying. They have to work hard to learn how to use their magic, and using it tires them out. There are no spells. Magic requires a combination of innate ability and training.
I also like Tory as a character. She's strong-willed, but she feels like a strong-willed Regency heroine, rather than a modern-day girl plunked down in the past. This is especially true when she travels to a different time than her own. The other characters are, for the most part, likeable, too. I'll want to read the next book about these characters, Dark Passage, when it comes out in the fall.
I do have a few quibbles. I thought that Putney took a long time to get to the action in Dark Mirror - quite a bit of time is spent setting up Tory's situation at Lackland Abbey, only to have her time travel away from there for the real story. I was also struck by the lack of a real antagonist (beyond generic groups of people).
I was initially a bit skeptical about the cover of Dark Mirror, which to me speaks much more to adult romance novel than YA paranormal. Perhaps the publisher is trying to appeal to Putney's adult audience (she is a prolific author of romance novels for adults). And I actually think that Putney's adult audience will find a lot to like here. But young adult audiences will notice a bit more of a romance novel slant than they may be used to. Nothing inappropriate (Dark Mirror is actually much tamer than many YA paranormals), but Dark Mirror has a different feel to it than, say, books by Maggie Stiefvater or Kristin Cashore.
After thinking about it some more, I've decided that the cover is true to what the book is. My take is that Dark Mirror is a Regency-era historical romance that features teen protagonists and magical elements, as opposed to a YA paranormal that happens to be set in Regency times. I suspect that this will make it a good crossover novel, one that teenage girls and their mothers can enjoy together. It might even entice some of those mothers to look more young adult fantasy novels - a happy outcome indeed. If the combination of Regency romance, magic, and time travel sounds appealing to you, you'll find Dark Mirror well worth a look.
Publisher: St. Martins Griffin
Publication Date: March 1, 2011
Source of Book: Advanced review copy from the publisher
© 2011 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved. All Amazon links in this post are affiliate links, and may result in my receiving a small commission on purchases (with no additional cost to you).