I’ve been a fan of Stephanie Burgis since Snowspelled. So much so that I’m a subscriber to her Patreon. So while I received all these stories as they came out there, I’m only now getting around to reading them. And just like I was expecting, they were the perfect cozy fantasy vibes for to get me out of my post-holiday blues!
Good Neighbors (short story)
“I bared my teeth up at him in a ferocious smile. “Of course,” I said sweetly, “I’d be delighted to be neighborly.”
After moving to a cottage in the countryside, Mia just wants to be left alone to do perfectly normal, respectable things. Unlike the local villagers, she’s not phased by having a necromancer’s giant black castle as her closest neighbor, until she finds a badly mangled undead minion outside her cottage one morning.
Mia and her father are working through some heavy stuff, to put it mildly. Ever since the incident that had them fleeing their last home, her father hasn’t been interested in anything except doing puzzles by the fire. Mia, on the other hand, is busy tinkering away in her hidden workshop. After all, the only way to stay safe is to stay under the radar, right? While the necromancer neighbor barely makes an appearance in this one, there’s a bit of cute flirtation via zombie. This is more of an amuse bouche to start out the series.
Deadly Courtesies (novellette)
“Any man as beautiful as Leander Fabian—necromancer or not—would neverlook at me with that glint of blatant interest unless he had some underhanded scheme in mind—and over the past year, I’d learned better than to trust anyone outside my family.”
Mia is starting to seriously regret stopping the torch-wielding villagers from raiding her neighbor’s castle. For one thing, Leander is just too handsome for his own good. For another, he’s somehow managed to convince her to accompany him to a midnight necromancer ball.
In case you missed the fact that Mia is a seriously kickass heroine, it’s even more clear here! While she and Leander are now nominally allies, Mia’s past makes her reluctant to trust anyone. So obviously his ulterior motives for bringing her to the ball – and the duel – are to show off his powers to her, right? There’s plenty of Leander flirting with the completely oblivious Mia and the ball is an absolute delight!
Fine Deceptions (novella)
“Life certainly has become more interesting ever since your family moved in next door to my castle,” Leander said cheerfully. “I never had any idea how much one’s neighbors really can change one’s life.”
Mia’s father and Leander’s sorta aunt Carmilla have conspired to send them on a nice, long carriage ride to find a new seller for her father’s (non-magical) metal designs and to retrieve a family heirloom for the Countess. Basically, it’s forced proximity to the max, especially when they’re forced to pose as a pair of completely regular newlyweds.
I adore Mia and her creativity, resourcefulness, and just plain grit, but she is seriously oblivious when it comes to feelings. Part of it is that she can’t believe that anyone as handsome as Leander would be interested in plain old her. She’s spent so much of her life squishing herself to try to fit into that “respectable” mold, but she didn’t realize exactly how much that hurts until she’s had the freedom to be herself in their new village – and now has to shove herself back in that box. The whole story is basically a comedy of misunderstandings, set against an unsettling backdrop of persecution. Still magical and charming, but a bit more serious in tone than the previous stories.
Fierce Company (novella)
“Real family is worth waiting for.”
The closest town is uneasy about Mia’s new magical neighbors, and as the de facto leader of that contingent, they think she should be the one to talk with the Purifier mayor – something Mia disagrees with until Leander is arrested by soldiers hired by that mayor.
Now that they’re engaged, the only thing left to work out should be wedding plans, right? But while Mia’s practically moved all her clothes over to Leander’s castle, her workroom is still back at the cottage. Leander still hesitates to ask her for anything out of fear of rejection, just like his family did when his necromantic powers started showing up. And both of them would do anything to prevent harm from coming to the other!
This story is a nice resolution to the collection of stories. Mia and Leander are finally accepting what it means to trust the other, what it means to finally have someone they can rely on. And even more than that, to have a community they can rely on. It’s sweet and heartwarming and ever so charming. On the other hand, I didn’t like how some things were handled, especially in regards to the choices made around the inventions. “Not our town, not our business” seems very uncaring when executions are on the line.
Overall, despite some quibbles with the last story, this is overall a charming and whimsical collection with themes around acceptance and found family and plenty of tropes. Highly recommended to anyone looking for something magical and sweetly romantic!