Ten years ago, Cecily and Kate were two girls who shared a love of corresponding. Caught up in a scandal involving a young mage who had somehow tied himself to a Chocolate Pot, then had it stolen by a rival, he involved his friend in trying to find it. Cacy and Kate helped find the Enchanted Chocolate Pot, and each fell in love with one of the young men, and the men with them. After they were married, they shared honeymoon trips to the continent, where the two couples helped foil a scheme to make a young man King of all of Europe, by investing him with relics of Kingship at ceremonially important King-crowning sights all over Europe.
That scheme was put to an end, and now the two women and their husbands are settled down, both with families of their own. Cecy and James have been sent to try to find a missing German magus who was sent northwards to survey a railroad line. Leaving their children with Kate and Thomas, they set out to find out just what happened to the man, and why he was summoned in the first place.
Meanwhile, Kate and Thomas have their own problems. Kate's cousin Georgina has left her husband and come to them for sanctuary- but neither of them can figure out why she left or what kind of problems in their marriage could make her leave her husband, whom she apparently loves very much. But they are also plagued with another problem- someone is sneaking onto their land- for what reason they cannot determine, and seems to be interested in the stone circle that is part of their family estate. Any attempt to deal with the intruder magically fails, because he can overcome even the heaviest of magical spells laid upon him.
Cecy and James discover what happened to the magus- he was somehow turned into a dog, and has been adopted by a local farmer who thinks him merely lost. But they are unable to change him back into his real human form, and, unfortunately enough, it may have something to do with another magical circle in the north and the ley lines, which are apparently being affected by the path of the local railroad. When the engine passes, it pulls at the ley lines, affecting the amount of magic in them and either taking away some of the magic, or adding more. How this happens, they aren't sure, nor why it is happening. Why should a steam engine have such effects on the magical ley lines, and why has it only started happening now and here?
Meanwhile, Kate and Thomas have one of their sons stolen by a red-haired man, and when they find him again, they also discover a girl who rescued him from his captor while she herself was stolen by the same man. However, she refuses to tell them who her family is or where she came from. All she gives is her name- Drina, which she told to their son. She barely even speaks at all, although it is obvious that she comes from the best breeding. But who is she, and who is the powerfully magicked man who is breaking onto their land, and does it have anything to do with the mystery that Cecy and James are investigating in the north?
I loved "The Enchanted Chocolate Pot" and "The Grand Tour", and this book is the ending of the series at last. Despite that, it provides a wonderful return for the characters who had grabbed my heart and mind in their past appearances. This, like the last two books, is an epistolary novel- that is, it takes the form of letters written back and forth between the two main characters of Cecy and Kate, and occasionally of letters between their husbands, James and Thomas. The letters span the time between February and June. Each letter passes on the news of what the writer has been doing, mostly in written form, but a few of them are in ciphers composed in embroidery stitches.
The best part of the novel is that both Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer have wonderful ears for language. All the characters convincingly populate their era without sounding forced or trite. If you have ever read the original Jane Austen, you will know the kind of era I mean. Thankfully, they do this without resorting to asides like "Dear Reader", since they are writing each other- mostly, the letters are written by the two female characters and are long and sprawling. The menfolk's letters are much more concise and restrained by comparison, generally sticking to the point. In the end, you generally end up preferring the letters written by Cecy and Kate, because you get so much more detail out of them.
I loved the way that they worked some real characters into the story, including Drina herself (I won't reveal who she really is except to say that this is only part of her name. A small part.) I loved the characters and the manners, and even the plot. Although I had an inkling of who was behind it, I did have to wait to see my suspicions confirmed in the book. I'd love to see another mystery involving both sets of characters, but even if they never write another one, it's okay. I loved all three books, and this one especially. Highly recommended.