I bought this book used; it's long out of print. I've read a lot of Patricia C. Wrede's books and enjoy her writing a lot. I was glad when I finally found a copy of Mairelon the Magician, particularly since it's set in the same world as Sorcery & Cecelia (which she wrote with Caroline Stevermer, whose books I also love).
Kim is a London street waif who's lived most of her life disguised as a boy. It's safer that way. When she's offered five pounds to break into a traveling magician's wagon and look for a certain silver bowl, she jumps at the chance. She doesn't even have to steal the bowl, just find where it's hidden. But when she's discovered, instead of turning her over to the police, the magician--that's Mairelon--offers to let Kim tag along as they leave London. Kim agrees, even though Mairelon is obviously a real magician, not a trick magician, and even though there's something strange going on about the silver bowl.
The book starts off strong. Kim's a feisty character who fears for her future, now that it's becoming increasingly obvious she's not a boy. Her relationship with Mairelon is quarrelsome but friendly; Mairelon himself turns out to be full of surprises as to who and what he really is. Wrede's lively writing is a lot of fun.
Everything rocks along just fine, in fact, until the big smash finish. At which point...good grief. The tension drops dead as every character in the book shows up and starts arguing or infodumping or both. Kim might as well not be in the last 75 pages of the book, because she literally does nothing despite an excellent set-up for her being the only character who might be able to help. All the set-up has no point, since a lot of coincidences take the place of plot. Then there's an unbelievably long section explaining what happened and why regarding the events of the book. It's boring boring boring boring boring boring boring. Seriously, it's boring. And unnecessary, which is the worst of it.
I was badly disappointed in the book, especially since the first two-thirds built everything up so well. I think there's a sequel, but I doubt I'll bother to chase down a copy.