Magic flutes by Eva Ibbotson
Pan Macmillan, 2015. ISBN 9781447280095
(Age: 12-15) Highly recommended. Music. Opera. Art. Romance. Vienna. In post-World War 1 Vienna, Tessa takes on a new identity as the girl who does everything behind the stage in the theatre. Meanwhile a handsome millionaire, Guy, buys a fairytale castle and discovers that its heiress is missing. Both lives collide and Tessa's secret is in jeopardy.
First published in the 1980's a new edition of this classic story comes with a stylish cover that will attract readers today. What could be the usual take on a girl meets millionaire, both overcoming adversity to find true love is taken much further by the beautiful writing of Eva Ibbotson, who brings alive the period in the 1920's in Austria where the aristocracy were struggling to survive and where opera is so important in the wonderful city of Vienna. Readers will be introduced to fabulous pieces of information about music and its composers like Beethoven and Mozart, while learning about the trials and hard work that go into putting on an opera production. Guy and Tessa are brought together by their love of music and indeed the romance is often secondary to the passion that each feels about art.
Vienna itself comes alive with Ibbotson's description of the city, its food and parks and historical monuments, which are often humorous and always enlightening. At the same time there is a subtle undertone about the hardship that many people are going through as a result of the war.
There is nothing mundane about the characters in Magic flutes (renamed The reluctant heiress in a 2010 US publication). The millionaire Guy is fleshed out: abandoned as a baby, he was taken in by a loving woman, and turns down a knighthood from the British Government, refusing to forget his humble origins even when his fiancee wants to be part of the aristocracy. Tessa is hardworking and totally dedicated to music and art, and the minor characters all form a detailed background to life on backstage of the theatre or in the impoverished castles of the aristocracy.
This is an intelligent and heart-warming book that fans like me will return to when needing a reminder of how well a romance can be written.