It’s not that there isn’t a need for a school of magic; Garret knows there is. Rather, it’s that Garret didn’t expect to be running it as a one-man show. Not just in terms of teaching the handful of students they’ve acquired, but literally building the school by coaxing various stones to shift themselves into, well, into the shape of a school. But Garret is the Second Sorcerer of the Middle Lands and the Grand Sorcerer himself is off pontificating with unicorns and appropriating a war pony’s battle harness. So Garret does his best to hold down the fort. Namely, wrangling uncooperative goats, tracking down two missing students, and reconfiguring the school’s icehouse so it stays cool.
Alexandre di Berri may have been born a prince, but his father made it clear every one of his sons has to earn his place…or suffer the consequences. As the youngest of the princes, there aren’t many opportunities for Alex to prove his worth. But he is loath to act upon his father’s suggestion of seducing the Second Sorcerer of the Middle Lands as a way of securing the loyalty of magic users. Nevertheless, he can hardly ignore the suggestion. Instead, Alex visits the harried schoolmaster and discovers he can actually be helpful. Before long, Alex’s visits to the school and with Garret are a daily occurrence. But how can they build something when Alex remains under the king’s thumb?
The Twelfth Enchantment is set in the same universe as K.L. Noone’s novel Magician, but this novella takes place about 200 years prior to the events in the later book. Aside from a few appearances and mentions of the delightfully aloof, gregariously self-absorbed Lorre, the story focuses on Garret and Alex. All the on-page action unfolds at Garret’s unfinished school. As a result, Garret naturally features in every scene, which made me feel like I understood his situation very clearly. All the different ways Garret feels tired and stretched too thin are easy to understand. He and Lorre haven’t completed the build for the school despite having pupils. And what is built isn’t necessarily cutting muster. Lorre’s left Garret to manage it all by himself–which proves difficult when Garret believes Alex is only coming around at the behest of a king who wants a tit-for-tat from magic users. Personally, I loved seeing how involved Garret was with everything at the school. I felt overwhelmed on his behalf, but loved that he always made time for just about everything.
The one thing Garret didn’t always have time for was Alex. I loved watching this dynamic unfold. From the start, Garret is clearly dismissive of the king’s vanguard. To be fair, Alex does come swanning up to the school wearing princely finery and bearing a reputation for being smooth with the ladies. That said, one comment from Garret about how the bling on Alex’s clothes is disruptive and the next time Alex comes to visit, he’s not wearing anything shiny. Plus, Alex keeps visiting time and again. He nearly always has something that would help Garret manage something at the school. Garret gradually lets go of his suspicions. He even begins to reciprocate with unassuming gestures of kindness. To me, all this screamed slow burn…yet the two characters themselves seemed to simply bask in each other’s presence without labels or expectations. It was like watching people fall in love without them knowing until they’d well and truly fallen.
I thought the balance between Garret and Alex scenes was balanced terrifically well with the growing sense that something was wrong with Alex’s home life. As the two MCs get closer, the terrible truth about Alex’s father grows more apparent. There are two scenes where Alex is visibly hurt, once where he’s favoring an injured arm and another where he’s been beaten. I thought Alex’s suffering helped build and strengthen the connection that grew between him and Garret. At first, Garret has no clue how Alex injured his arm and is full of concern. It spurs him to create a magical gift of healing stones for Alex. When he learns Alex is actually a victim of domestic violence, immediately before the man responsible for that violence comes charging to the school intent on starting royal trouble, Garret makes no bones about declaring his love for Alex. I thought Alex’s reaction to Garret finding out the truth was bittersweet as well; he doesn’t want to vilify his father and makes excuses about Alex not being the only one to suffer and usually being able to dodge. I just thought this made Alex feel more dimensional, more than a pretty prince who will be the king’s lackey.
Overall, I was absolutely thrilled to dive back into this world and meet these characters. Noone’s writing is as magical as the characters she creates. The prose is rich with imagery and I love that so much is conveyed, yet not everything is spelled out. When the characters speak, their voices come across as natural and nuanced. For me, it made it feel like I was discovering the depths of their emotions alongside them. If you enjoyed Magician, I think you’ll love this charming, bittersweet story about falling in love.