A College of Magics -- Caroline Stevermer
How did I miss this for so long?
Faris Nallaneen is the young duchess of Galazon. In a few years, when she comes of age, she'll be in charge. Until then, her Wicked Uncle Brinker is in power, and he's decided to send her away to school.
Despite her efforts to get sent home, Greenlaw College takes Faris in as a student -- not because her uncle bribed them, though he tried -- but because they see her potential. Greenlaw College doesn't just teach deportment and history and Virgil and mathematics. It is also a school of magic.
Well, supposedly. But as students aren't allowed to use magic, and as Faris has never even seen any evidence of it, she thinks that that aspect of the school might be a scam. She thinks that magic might be a scam, period.
Regardless of that, though, her studies keep her plenty busy, as does the fact that she made an enemy of Menary Paganell in her first moments at Greenlaw. And there's Tyrian, a Mysterious Man in Black who dogs her steps whenever she leaves school grounds.
Never fear. The title of the book is not misleading. There's loads of magic -- and the magic system is original and complex. There's also romance (my current obsession), adventure, a road trip (via carriage and horseback), a Big Betrayal, a serenading scene, lions, and politics. I fell for Tyrian almost immediately, and I was invested not only in Faris' story, but in the relationships between the characters -- so much so that the book made me cry. A lot.
While it could be described as a story about a girl at magic school, it isn't a Harry Potter read-alike. Don't get me wrong, I love the HP -- but A College of Magics takes a bit more work. It deals with shades of grey rather than black and white. I'd recommend it to fans of Diana Wynne Jones' books for older teens. As you'd expect from a co-author of the Kate and Cecilia books, it's smart and witty and fun and engrossing and just... different.