When I first discovered historical fantasy (or mannerpunk, or whatever you want to call it), I felt the way I imagine a person does when stumbling upon a hitherto unknown sexual kink.
Oh wow, I did not know this was a thing, but I LIKE it!
Marissa Doyle’s debut novel, Bewitching Season, is a light and frothy confection that (if I’m being honest) wasn’t quite as good as I remember it. This book and its sequel, both published in 2009, follow the stories of the Leland sisters. Twin girls born to a country squire on the cusp of the Victorian era, Persephone and Penelope navigate the London Season while struggling to keep their magical talents hidden. When their beloved governess, who tutors them in witchcraft among other more mundane subjects, goes missing, the sisters must use all their wiles to rescue her and prevent a sinister plot against the crown.
This book is…well, it’s a bit silly. About halfway through, I realized that it reminded me of the stories Anne Shirley wrote in Anne of Green Gables. Everybody’s got preposterous names (Pen and Persey’s mother is called Lady Parthenope, the primary love interest is Lochinvar, and the governess is named Melusine Allardyce), and there’s non-stop swooning and intrigue. Nobody tragically throws themselves into a river or anything, thankfully, but I did feel a little self-conscious reading this book as a grown-ass woman.
The love stories–and let’s face it, this is basically a young adult romance with some unusual flourishes–aren’t wholly satisfying. Persey, the twin who is the nominal main character of this volume, is in love with a childhood friend but can’t believe that anyone would prefer her to the dazzling and outgoing Pen. 99% of her problems would have been solved by a five-minute conversation–a narrative trope that I despise. More troubling is the secondary story of Melusine, a powerful witch who is kidnapped by the villain and held captive for weeks as part of the plot to magically control young Princess Victoria. There’s some Stockholm syndrome bullshit that does not sit right with this reader.
Bewitching Season isn’t the best example of the genre. If you’re curious, I would recommend Sorcery and Cecilia or the Kat, Incorrigible series. It’s worth a read if you’re an avid fan of historical fantasy, but I wouldn’t recommend it as your entree to the delightful world of magic and manners.
I hope to have a review of the sequel, Betraying Season, up as soon as I can find the damned book in the massive, double-stacked monstrosity that is my library.
Emperor Cupcake’s Rating System Explained:
1 Star: This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.
2 Stars: Not great, Bob.
3 Stars: The emperor is pleased. You may live.
4 Stars: Ooh, shiny!
5 Stars: *Incoherent, high-pitched fan-girling*