Magic Flutes by Eva Ibbotson

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Magic Flutes by Eva Ibbotson

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Category: Teens
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Sue Fairhead
Reviewed by Sue Fairhead
Summary: A story encompassing a millionaire born in dubious circumstances, a beautiful social-climbing young woman, a delightfully egalitarian princess, a fairytale castle, and a struggling theatre company, all placed in Vienna. Wonderful stuff.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 368 Date: May 2009
Publisher: Young Picador
ISBN: 978-0330462631

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They could hardly be more different. Guy was a foundling, abandoned as a newborn baby in Newcastle in the early part of the 20th century. Tessa is an Austrian princess, born around the same time. Guy was brought up by the likeable, and decidedly working class Martha Hodge. Tessa was brought up in a castle with an army of servants. Tessa grew up in luxury; Guy had to fight to survive.

Then Guy met the fabulously beautiful Nerine, while watching a Mozart opera, and fell instantly in love. She married someone else, and Guy determines to throw all his energies into making money. He is extremely successful. By the time the story opens, in the 1920s, Guy is a millionaire, and Nerine is a widow. He is determined to woo her afresh, and is quite certain that the perfect setting for his bride will be a huge Austrian fairytale castle.

Tessa, meanwhile, owns such a castle. However, Tessa is now an orphan, and no longer wealthy. Moreover, she has spurned the royal lifestyle, espousing republican (in the British rather than American sense) principles. She has left home and works, incognito, in a struggling theatre company as the under wardrobe mistress. In her quiet and methodical way, she also prompts, organises food for the cast, and does some babysitting. All without earning a penny, since she is determined to devote her life to music and theatre.

These two worlds collide when Guy decides to buy Tessa's castle, and to employ the theatre company in a production of The Magic Flute as the perfect setting to propose to Nerine...

I have to say, it took me a while to get into this book. The introductory chapters give us the background to the two main characters, in - perhaps - more detail than was necessary. There's rather a lot about Tessa's castle and relatives which I didn't find very interesting. I have to admit, I skimmed several paragraphs, and it didn't seem to matter. Perhaps they were necessary to establish the historical background and to draw the stark contrast between Guy and Tessa, but I found I understood those much better once the story really got going, and saw the people in action and conversation.

It's my only complaint, however. By the time I was about a third of the way into the book, I was hooked. The writing is good, the characters well-drawn, the conversation realistic. All right, so Tessa is perhaps a little too good to be true, but she certainly has her human side. We see her weeping with exhaustion once or twice, and - later on - making a silly decision in pique. She's also rather naive.

The book is published as a 'Young Picador', and is intended for the teenage market. Stories about princesses and castles might be expected to appeal to younger children, but it's not written as children's fiction; there are a few sexual references, albeit subtle enough that a younger child might not notice them. Moreoever, the main characters are in their twenties and older and some of the background themes relating to businesses and bankruptcy, as well as the opera and theatre, would be more appropriate for older teens or - more likely - young adults. Indeed, I wouldn't be surprised if the main appeal would be to not-so-young adults like myself who enjoy light romantic fiction without detailed bedroom scenes.

If you'd like some suggestions for similar books why not have a look at our Top Ten Love Stories For Teenagers?

Many thanks to the publishers for sending the book to The Bookbag.

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Buy Magic Flutes by Eva Ibbotson at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Magic Flutes by Eva Ibbotson at


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