A mouthful, I know. Caroline Stevermer is also the author of A College of Magics, semi-reviewed by yours truly on 2-8-05.
This book was awesome. Almost the moment I finished it I told Beth how good it was, and got her to start reading it. Of course, that was a couple of years ago, but it's still good. I wrote some of this back then.
Perhaps the fastest way to begin describing the book is as the authors themselves did, in the dedication. "The authors wish to dedicate this book to Jane Austen, Georgette Heyer, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Ellen Kushner, all of whom, in their several ways, inspired us to create it." I haven't read Heyer or Kushner (although I might sometime, solely based on the fact that their books must resemble Sorcery and Cecelia in some way!), but the Tolkien-Austen mix is a very apt description. This is a book in the style and manner of Jane Austen... only, it's in an alternate world, where proper English society contains wizards and such. The result is truly delightful, much more enjoyable than pure Austen. (=
Adding to my admiration, it turns out that the book started as a mere letter game! The authors each invented their character and took turns writing letters from their character's point of view. No rules except that they must not discuss plot with each other. When they finished, they realized it was a book, did some editing, and sent it off. The letter format makes it take a little while to get into as you're reading, but it's well worth it once you do. My only critique is that the two characters seem too similar to each other -- but given that they're cousins and that they were actually written by different people, it doesn't seem that bad after all.
"'Practice your dancing. With enough study you might attain a degree of proficiency.'
'What a rude thing to say!' I replied. 'I would practice, but practice requires a partner.'
He smiled with such a degree of cynicism I almost expected his teeth to glint metallic. 'You won't lack for partners now. I've made Sally Jersey give me a waltz with you. Everyone will be agog to find out why.'
'Don't you want to know what I'm going to tell them?' I asked.
'Oh, they won't ask, don't think it. No, they'll dance with you and then say I am justly called mysterious,' he said." –the Mysterious Marquis and Kate
"Then I realized Oliver was not merely standing, mute as a block, at my elbow, but was staring--positively gaping--at the Marquis.
The Marquis glanced from me to Oliver and said, almost too solicitously, 'Are you feeling quite well, Mr. Rushton?'
'Oh--quite well, thank you,' replied Oliver, coloring up. 'Only--I was admiring the way you tie your cravat. What do you call that fashion?'
The Marquis regarded Oliver with bland composure. 'I call it "the way I tie my cravat."'
Already blushing fiercely, Oliver began a soft, incoherent gobble of apology.
The Marquis took his leave of us with automatic civility and crossed the bridge, leaving me with divided emotions. On the one hand, he was shockingly rude to Oliver. On the other, I have often been shockingly rude to Oliver myself, and I understand the impulse."