As Booklist puts it, "This first title in the Unladylike Adventures of Kat Stephenson series evokes Jane Austen, Georgette Heyer, Alfred Noyes, and Libba Bray with tongue firmly in cheek." Which tells you quite a bit about what's in the mix: Regency England, the marriage market, wit, a highwayman, and—I guess Libba Bray's on the list because of the inclusion of magic in this particular setting, with reference to Bray's Gemma Doyle trilogy.
Kat Stephenson has a plan to save her family from financial ruin. Unfortunately, her big sisters tend to keep track of her, and Elissa puts a stop to Kat's swashbuckling enterprise. This is how the book begins:
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.Undaunted, Kat tries to come up with another tactic. Because she is not going to stand by and watch Elissa marry a horrid older man, Sir Neville, playing the tragic heroine just because Kat's brother Charles has gambled till the family is in dire straits. Then there's Angeline, who is secretly tinkering with magic herself and learning that love spells are bound to backfire in unexpected ways. Her subplot is one of the most clever things about this book, along the lines of "Be careful what you wish for."
I made it almost to the end of my front garden.
"Katherine Ann Stephenson!" My oldest sister Elissa's outraged voice pinned me like a dagger as she threw open her bedroom window. "What on earth do you think you're doing?"
Curses. I froze, still holding my pack slung across my shoulder.
Besides her sisters' troubles, Kat must deal with a threat of her own, as an organization of magically gifted grown-ups becomes aware of Kat's abilities and puts the pressure on. They are determined to take Kat under their wing and tutor her in magic, but she doesn't trust them one bit.
Kat's father is ineffectual and distracted, but her mother is the more interesting parent, even though she's deceased. Her magical abilities are considered a shameful family secret. It's only because Kat is so nosy that she finds out Angeline has gotten her hands on their mother's magic books. As Kat admits, she isn't above a bit of blackmail when necessary. And she is eager to experiment with magic herself, leading to a whole new plan of attack, not to mention a lot more trouble.
Throw in a highwayman, a wicked stepmama, and a villain with secret, unpleasant motives, and you've got Kat, Incorrigible.
This book is a fairly light read, but it is eminently likable, especially due to the humor, much of which is generated by Kat's exuberant personality. Furthermore, Kat and her sisters are an entertaining trio whose interactions should ring true for anyone who has sisters. (I have four myself, so I know I can relate!)
Book Two is titled A Tangle of Magicks, at least in England. It's due out in April, as well, only across the Atlantic. I'm almost positive I hear Amazon UK calling my name....
Update, 5-25-11: Here's an interview with author Stephanie Burgis at the Enchanted Inkpot!