A Scholar of Magics, by Caroline Stevermer (Tor, 2004)

Samuel Lambert is an American sharpshooter and adventurer. Jane Brailsford is an English lady with a talent for defying propriety while maintaining her dignity. An unlikely pair, they’re thrown together by unusual circumstances when a secret military project being conducted on the premises of Glasscastle University, England’s preeminent place of magical learning, goes slightly awry. Together and separately, Jane and Samuel must get to the bottom of a bizarre plan before it’s too late. Kidnapings, assassination attempts, hidden identities, secret weapons, magical bowler hats, killer grass, disgruntled students, and improperly served tea are all among the hazards they’ll face over the course of their time together. And then there’s the mild-mannered Glasscastle don with unimaginable power and no desire to use it, some fast motorcars, and all sorts of other fun, to boot. Set in the early years of the 20th Century of an alternate world where magic is real and Europe is just a bit stranger than we’d expect, A Scholar of Magics is a kind-of-sequel to Stevermer’s previous book, A College of Magics.
The end result is a cross between Gilbert and Sullivan, and Steed and Peel (aka the Avengers), and strangely enough, it works. Jane and Samuel are a perfectly mismatched pair, and as a result, they carry the story beautifully, their contrasting personalities at odds with one another and with the well-behaved background characters of Glasscastle and England-at-large. There’s enough twists and turns and surprises to keep everyone on their toes, and very little is predictable. Part mystery, part fantasy, part adventure, part romance, A Scholar of Magics is pure fun. It’s also blessed with one of the best covers I’ve seen in ages, courtesy of David Bowers. Pure and simple, I loved this book, and I hope we’ll get to see more of Jane and Samuel in the future.

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