14-year-old Sarah Smith is a "snipe", born into the class of non-magical people watched over by the aristocratic Guardians. For most of her life, she has been weak and sickly, cared for by her older sister and parents, all of whom work to serve the wealthy Winter family. One day a chance encounter reveals that Sarah has magical powers like a guardian. The Winters take her into their household, under the new name of Cassandra Reed, and offer to pay for her education, on the condition that she no longer speaks to her family. At Miss Castwell's Institute for Magical Young Ladies, Cassandra must learn not only magic but how to navigate the complex social structures of Guardian society, all while keeping her humble origins a secret. To make matters worse, a mysterious enemy seems to be lurking somewhere in the school, waiting for the right moment to strike.
Changeling is the latest novel by Molly Harper, author of How To Run With a Naked Werewolf, My Bluegrass Baby and Nice Girls Don't Have Fangs. It's quite a departure from her earlier work since it's not primarily a romance, and it is Harper's first young adult novel. It's a promising start to a new series, called Sorcery and Society, set in an alternate version of London where magic users rose up and put the brakes on the industrial revolution, reducing non-magical people to serfs. The setting is similar in some respects to Harry Potter or the Worst Witch series by Jill Murphy, but there's plenty about it that's original enough to keep the reader engaged.
The plot is a little cheesy and derivative in parts. For example, Sarah/Cassandra finds that not only does she have magical powers after all, but she is specially chosen among all witches as the translator of the sacred Mother Book, and literally marked as different and special by a magical tattoo (reminding me of Zoe Redbird of P.C. and Kristen Cast's House of Night series, or Harry Potter's scar). Without wishing to give too much away, the girls' confrontation with the villain is also very reminiscent of Harry and Voldemort. However, the enslavement of the snipes and the steampunk aspects add extra layers of interest.
I enjoyed the relationship between Cassandra and Owen, especially the Anne of Green Gables-esque backstory, and the friendships between the girls at the school were delightful. It was also refreshing that Mrs Winter wasn't at all the stereotypical wicked stepmother, even though Sarah's unexpected abilities must have led her to suspect that her husband might have had an affair with the housekeeper, Sarah's mother. Changeling is fairly light-hearted overall, with relatively little violence, no sex scenes and no explicit language. The political intrigues, relationships (both romantic and otherwise) and supernatural threats weave together to create an exciting and captivating novel, which should appeal to fans of YA fantasy.
Published: August 2018 Disclaimer: I was given a complimentary e-galley of this book by INscribe Digital, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.