A Most Improper Magick
The Unladylike Adventures of Kat Stephenson by Stephanie Burgis
It’s the early 1800s, the time of Jane Austen, and Kat Stephenson is expected to behave properly. But 12-year-old Kat is no ordinary young lady!
Kat is the youngest of four siblings and the daughter of a vicar and a witch. After her mother dies, the gambling habits of her brother lands the whole family in financial difficulty and Kat’s stepmama thinks the only solution is for older sister Elissa to marry a rich older man.
But Kat is determined to find another answer, even if that means breaking all the rules and trying her hand with her mother’s spell books!
A Most Improper Magick is a historical fantasy story, with a touch of romance and plenty of magic.
The Unladylike Adventures of Kat Stephenson
A Most Improper Magick
I WAS TWELVE YEARS OF AGE WHEN I CHOPPED OFF MY HAIR,
dressed as a boy and set off to save my family from
I made it almost to the end of my front garden.
“Katherine Ann Stephenson!” My oldest sister Elissa’s
outraged voice pinned me like a dagger as she threw
open her bedroom window. “What on earth do you think
Curses. I froze, still holding my pack slung across my
shoulder. I might be my family’s best chance of salvation,
but there was no expecting either of my older sisters to
understand that. If they’d trusted me in the first place,
I wouldn’t have had to run away in the middle of the night,
like a criminal.
The garden gate was only two feet ahead of me. If
“I’m going to tell Papa!” Elissa hissed.
Behind her, I heard groggy, incoherent moans of
outrage – my other sister, Angeline, waking up.
Elissa was the prissiest female ever to have been born.
But Angeline was simply impossible. If they really did wake
the whole household and Papa came after me in the gig...
I’d planned to walk to the closest coaching inn, six
miles away, and catch the dawn stagecoach to London. If
Papa caught up with me first, the sad, disappointed looks
I’d have to endure from him for weeks afterwards would
be unbearable. And the way Stepmama would gloat over
my disgrace – the second of our mother’s children to be a
disappointment to the family...
I gritted my teeth together as I turned and trudged back
towards the vicarage.
Angeline’s voice floated lazily through the open
window, “What were you shouting about?”
“I was not shouting!” Elissa snapped. “Ladies never
“You could have fooled me,” said Angeline. “I thought
the house must have been burning down.”
I pushed the side door open just in time to hear my
brother, Charles, bellow, “Would everyone be quiet? Some
of us are trying to sleep!”
“What? What?” My father’s reedy voice sounded from
his bedroom at the head of the stairs. “What’s going on
My stepmother’s voice overrode his, “For heaven’s sake,
make them be quiet, George! It’s past midnight. You
cannot let them constantly behave like hoydens. Be firm,
I groaned and closed the door behind me.
Like it or not, I was home.
I squeezed through the narrow kitchen and tiptoed up the
rickety staircase that led to the second floor. When I was a
little girl and Mama’s influence still lingered in the house,
each of the stairs had whispered my name as I stepped onto
them and they never let me trip. Now, the only sound they
made was the telltale creak of straining wood.
The door to Papa and Stepmama’s room swung open
as I reached the head of the first flight of stairs.
I stopped, resigned.
“Kat?” Papa blinked out at me, peering through the
darkness. He held a candle in his hand. “What’s amiss?”
“Nothing, Papa,” I said. “I just went downstairs for
“Oh. Well.” He coughed and ran a hand over his faded
nightcap. “Er, your stepmother is quite right. You should
all be in bed and quiet at this hour.”
“Yes, Papa.” I hoisted the heavy sack higher on my
shoulder. “I’m just going back to bed now.”
“Good, good. And the others?”
“I’ll tell them to be quiet,” I said. “Don’t worry.”
“Good girl.” He reached out to pat my shoulder. A frown
crept across his face. “Ah... is something wrong, my dear?”
“I don’t mean to be critical, er, but your clothing
seems... it appears... well, it does look a trifle unorthodox.”
I glanced down at the boy’s breeches, shirt and coat that
I wore. “I was too cold for a nightgown,” I said.
“But...” He frowned harder. “There’s something about
your hair, I don’t quite know what–”
My stepmother’s voice cut him off. “Would you please
stop talking and come back to bed, George? I cannot be
expected to sleep with all this noise!”
“Ah. Right. Yes, of course.” Papa gave a quick nod and
turned away. “Sleep well, Kat.”
“And you, sir.”
I tiptoed up the last five steps that led to the secondfloor
landing. The doors to Charles’s room and my sisters’
room were both closed. If I was very, very lucky...
I leaped towards the ladder that led up to the attic where
No such luck. The door to my sisters’ room jerked open.
“Come in here now!” Elissa said. I couldn’t make out
her features in the darkness, but I could tell that she
had her arms crossed.
“‘Ladies don’t cross their arms like common
fishwives,’” I whispered, quoting one of Elissa’s own
favourite maxims as I stalked past her into their room.
Elissa slammed the door behind her.
“Give us light, Angeline,” she said. “I want to see
Angeline was already lighting a candle. When the tinder
finally caught and the candle lit, the sound of my sisters’
gasps filled the room.
I crossed my arms over my chest and glared right back
“You – you–” Elissa couldn’t even speak. She collapsed
onto her side of the bed, gasping and pressing one slender
hand to her heart.
Angeline shook her head, smirking. “Well, that’s
“Don’t use slang,” Elissa said. Being able to give one of
her most common reproofs seemed to revive her spirits a
little; the colour came flooding back into her face. With her
fair hair and pale skin, I could always tell her mood from
her face, and right now, she was as horrified as I’d ever
seen her. She took a deep, deep breath. “Katherine,” she
said, in a voice that was nearly steady. “Would you care to
explain yourself to us?”
“No,” I said. “I wouldn’t.” I lifted my chin, fighting for
height. I was shorter than either of my sisters – a curse in
situations like this.
“What is there to explain?” Angeline said. “It’s obvious.
Kat’s finally decided to run off to the circus, where
“I do not!”
“No?” Angeline’s full lips twisted as she looked at me.
“With that haircut, I don’t know where else you hoped to
go. Perhaps if you hid behind all the other animals–”
“Shut up!” I lunged for her straight across the room.
Their bed was in the way. I hit my knees on it, then
flung aside my sack and crawled across the bed to get to
her. Angeline’s taunting laughter made my vision blur
with rage. I landed on her, punching blindly, and kept on
fighting even after she’d shoved me down onto the bed and
wrapped her arm around my neck, half strangling me.
“Stop it!” Elissa shrieked.
Something heavy hit the other side of the wall: Charles
had thrown something to signify his displeasure. Across
the stairwell, a door opened. Footsteps approached. A firm
knock sounded on the door.
We all froze. We knew that knock.
“You’ve done it now, haven’t you?” Angeline whispered
into my ear.
“Cow,” I whispered back.
“What’s happening in there?” our stepmother
demanded, through the door.
Angeline shoved me off the bed and onto the floor.
When I tried to stand up, she put one hand on my newly
short hair and pushed me straight back down. “Stay where
you are!” she hissed. “She mustn’t see you like this.” She
looked across the bed at Elissa. “You try to fob her off.”
Elissa was already moving for the door, her face suddenly
angelic and serene. “I’m coming, Stepmama,” she called.
“Just a moment.” She stopped just short of the door and
whispered, “Put that light out! Quick!”
Angeline blew the candle out and threw herself back
into bed, pulling the covers up to her chin.
I huddled on the cold floor in the darkness while Elissa
opened the door.
“What do you think–”
“We are so sorry for the noise, Stepmama,” Elissa
murmured. “Angeline had a fright and fell out of bed.”
“All that screaming...” Stepmama’s voice drew nearer.
I could imagine what was happening, even though I couldn’t
see it: she was poking her sharp nose into the room, peering
around in hopes of mischief. It was her never-ending quest:
to prove to Papa how incorrigible we all were. Just like our
mother had been.
“Angeline had a terrible nightmare,” Elissa said. I was
amazed by how well my saintly sister could lie when she
was properly motivated.
“Perhaps I should come in and look things over,”
“Ohhh...” Angeline moaned from the bed. Angeline,
unlike Elissa, never found any difficulty in lying. “Oh, my
Stepmama sighed and started forward. “If you’re ill, I’d
“I was ill,” Angeline said. “All over the floor.”
“Oh.” Stepmama came to an abrupt halt. “Where–?”
“Do watch where you step,” Elissa said sweetly. “I haven’t
had a chance to clean it up quite yet, so–”
Stepmama’s feet shuffled back hastily. “Well,” she said,
“I’m sure that you’ll feel better after a good night’s sleep,
Angeline. But see that you girls take care of the mess first.
And no more noise!”
The door closed and her footsteps moved away. I stayed
frozen until her bedroom door had opened and closed
again on the other side of the stairwell. Then I let out all
my held breath in a sigh of pure relief. As I leaned back,
my right hand brushed against something completely
unexpected: two familiar, oddly shaped books hidden just
beneath the bed.
I knew those books. They weren’t supposed to be here.
They were supposed to be locked away with the rest of our
mother’s keepsakes, where Papa and Stepmama hoped
we would all forget that they had ever existed. Just like
I started to pick them up, then stopped. Now wasn’t the
time to ask either of my sisters provocative questions.
“Phew.” I stood up and stretched to relieve my cramped
muscles as Angeline relit the candle. “Well, I’d better go
up to bed and sleep now, as Stepmama said, so–”
“Don’t even think about it,” said Angeline. Her arm
shot out and grabbed the back of my jacket, pinning me to
the side of the bed. “Open up her sack, Elissa. Let’s see
what Kat was planning to take away with her.”
“I’m not a thief,” I muttered.
Angeline threw me a look of amused contempt.
“I never thought you were, ninny. I just wondered what
sort of practical arrangements you’d made to prepare for
“Journey?” Elissa said. Her voice came out in a gasp.
“Oh, for heaven’s sake,” said Angeline. “What else did
you think she was doing, dressed up as a boy and heading
out in the middle of the night? She was running away,
weren’t you, Kat?”
I gritted my teeth and stood silent under her grasp.
“You couldn’t – why–” Elissa collapsed onto the bed.
“Whatever would make you do such a thing? How could
you even think–?”
“I didn’t have a choice!” The words burst out between
my gritted teeth. “It was the only way I could stop you from
being an idiot!”
“Me?” Elissa stared at me.
“If you’re trying to fool us with one of your wild
stories–,” Angeline began.
I glowered at her. “And you. You were going to let her
“Do what?” said Elissa. “What is she talking about?”
“I heard Stepmama!” I said to Elissa. “She was
positively gloating about it to Papa. All about how she’d
managed to save the whole family by selling you off to
some horrible old man. And you hadn’t even told me! You
two never tell me anything! I knew if I tried to argue, you
wouldn’t pay any attention, so–”
“Oh, Lord,” Angeline said. “I knew if you found out–”
“At least I was going to do something about it.” I turned
on Angeline, “You were just going to let her sacrifice herself.”
“And what exactly was your plan?” Angeline asked.
“Once you’d fitted yourself out like a monkey–”
“I was going to London,” I said. “I knew if I ran away,
there would be such a scandal that Stepmama wouldn’t be
able to sell Elissa off. And once I was there...” I half closed
my eyes, to see my dream past my sister’s sceptical face.
“There are thousands of jobs a boy can get in London. I
could sign on to a merchant ship and make my fortune in
the Indies, or I could be a typesetter at a newspaper and
see every part of London. All I’d have to do is get work, real
work, earning money, and then I could send part of it
home to you two, so at least you could both have real
dowries and then–”
“Oh, you little fool,” Elissa said, the words coming out
in a half sob. “Come here, Kat.” Angeline let go of me and
I crawled over the bed to Elissa’s warm embrace. She
wrapped her arms around me and I felt her tears land on
my short hair. “Promise me you won’t ever do anything so
rash and unnecessary ever again.”
“But –” My voice came out muffled against her
Angeline spoke from behind me, “How long do you
think you would have survived in London on your own,
idiot? And who do you think would have hired you, coming
from the countryside with no references, no one who
knows you to give you a good word, no skills or experience–”
“I have skills!” I said.
“Not the sort that get young men hired,” Angeline said
implacably. “And when they found out you weren’t really
Elissa shuddered and tightened her arms around me.
“It isn’t to be thought of,” she said. “The danger you would
have been exposed to–”
“The danger she would have walked straight into,
without even thinking twice,” Angeline corrected her.
“I could have taken care of myself,” I said. “Charles
taught me how to box and fence last year when he was sent
down from Oxford for bad behaviour.”
“Charles is a fool,” said Angeline, “and I wouldn’t be
surprised if he isn’t half as good at boxing or fencing as he
claims to be.”
The three of us sat for a moment in depressed silence,
acknowledging the truth of that.
Elissa sighed. “But the point is, darling, it isn’t
necessary for you to save me.”
“Who else is going to do it?” I struggled up out of her
embrace. “I am not going to let you sell yourself off just so
Stepmama can buy us all dozens of new gowns and
seasons in London and–”
“And keep our brother from being sent to debtors’
prison,” Angeline said evenly.
I snorted. “You should know better than to listen to
Stepmama’s moans. She’s just hysterical about–”
“It’s true,” said Elissa. “I saw the evidence myself.
Papa borrowed everything he could to pay off Charles’s
dreadful gambling debts, but he couldn’t cover all of them.
If we can’t come up with the money to pay the rest within
two months, poor Charles will have to go to debtors’ prison.”
“‘Poor Charles’, my foot,” said Angeline. “Going to
debtors’ prison is exactly what Charles deserves.”
I looked from Angeline to Elissa. “But surely–”
“If Charles goes to debtors’ prison, we will all be
ruined,” Elissa said. “None of us would ever receive an
eligible offer of marriage after that. You know our family is
already considered... well...” She bit her lip.
“I know,” I said. Stepmama was only too ready to
remind us, whenever one of us forgot. There were plenty
of people in Society who would always look at us askance
just because of our mother, no matter how properly we
behaved or what our dowries were. It was one reason why
I had decided long ago not to bother behaving properly.
“But that can’t be enough to make you marry an old man!
Whoever he is.”
“Sir Neville Collingwood,” Angeline said. “One of the
wealthiest men in England. You can see why Stepmama
chose him, can’t you?”
“He’s not so very old, Kat,” Elissa said. She clasped her
hands together and looked down at them. “I don’t think he
can be above forty, and–”
“And Stepmama says he is supposed to be quite
“Supposed to be? She hasn’t even met him herself?”
“We’ve been very fortunate even to gain this one
opportunity.” Elissa’s voice sounded strained. “Stepmama
has good relations, you know.”
“Ha,” I said.
“Well, she has connections, at any rate,” Elissa said.
“It was through them that she found out that Sir Neville
is coming to Yorkshire – and that she arranged for us to
“Sir Neville will be part of a month-long house party at
Grantham Abbey, thirty miles from here,” Angeline said
briskly. “Stepmama has arranged for all of us to be guests
there as well, because everyone knows that Sir Neville is
looking for another wife.”
“Another?” I repeated. “What happened to his first one?”
“That doesn’t matter,” Elissa said. She was knotting her
fingers so tightly together now that her knuckles
had turned white. “It’s a wonderful opportunity for me.
For all of us. Sir Neville is... he is...”
“He is so wealthy, he could pay off all of Charles’s debts
for the rest of his life, without even noticing,” Angeline
said. “And since Papa and Stepmama can’t keep Charles
locked up in the house forever, it makes a great deal of
sense for at least one of us to have a husband like that.”
“I don’t mind, Kat. Truly,” Elissa said. “I always wanted
to marry a man who could help my family. Sir Neville is a
great man in Society.”
I frowned at her. “Then why do you look so miserable?”
“Never mind that.” Angeline put one hand on Elissa’s
knotted fingers and for a moment I felt completely
shut out as they looked at each other with sympathetic
“What is it?” I said. “What aren’t you telling me this
“Nothing, darling,” Elissa said. “Just go up to bed now.
We’re all too tired to talk properly. Come back in the
morning before breakfast and I’ll tidy up your hair. And
please, don’t worry about me any more. I am perfectly
“But...” I stood up slowly, still frowning at my two
sisters and trying to guess the secret I could feel hanging
between them. “If you marry Sir Neville, do you think he’ll
give Angeline a dowry?”
“I hope so,” said Elissa.
“It doesn’t matter whether he does or not,” Angeline
said, and flashed me a dangerous smile. “I have my own
plans for that.”
Ha. At least that gave me one clue.
Perhaps Angeline and Elissa wanted to play at keeping
more secrets from me, but I would wager anything that
there was one secret Angeline hadn’t dared to share with
our sweet, proper oldest sister.
I’d recognised the books hidden underneath Angeline’s
side of the bed. They were Mama’s old magic books.
Now all I had to do was work out what Angeline was
planning to do with them.
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An amazing book. Thrilling and adventurous.
I am enjoying this book so far. I love this book because I want to read on when the chapter ends. I am looking forward to finishing it.
i am going to read your book from bookbuzz , i am looking forward .i love love magic books ,i think it might be the best book i have heard of good job :D . I THINK YOU WILL WIN THE BOOK AWARD . MOST IMPROPER MAGIC . I LOVE YOUR BOOOOOOOOOK.
I think ur buk might win this yrs buk awards!
It is a fab book good job :D
Kat Stephenson is my perfect kind of heroine: spirited, reckless, and always breaking the rules, even though it is with the best intentions at heart. Set in Regency England, this novel successfully mixes adventure, mystery, magic, highwaymen and even a little a bit of matchmaking along the way. It is great fun and one book that is hard to put down once you have started.