This book is marketed as Howl’s Moving Castle meets Bridgerton. I suspect anything by a slightly less known author writing in the Regency era is now sold as X meets Bridgerton. Before the Netflix success of Julia Quinn’s novels, I’m guessing it would be X meets Jane Austen. Obviously, just because it’s set in the Regency era, it isn’t necessarily anything at all like Bridgerton, and that’s absolutely fine, and might, in fact, make more people interested in it. I do see the Howl’s Moving Castle comparisons. This does have an absent-minded master wizard with poor social skills (because he really doesn’t care what anyone thinks of him) and a pragmatic, young woman who seems entirely unfazed by his rudeness. Mostly, what this reminded me of was Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell but with a central romance plot and a happy ending. But I guess not comparing a book to a thousand-page tome emulating hefty Victorian literature, complete with tons of footnotes to an audience who often wants light-hearted escapism might not be the best sales pitch.
I have had this book on my TBR list for years but was to move it to the top of my reading list by my friend Desdemona, who can be very insistent when she decides to be. She also made me see that it fits into at least three of my current reading challenges and provided me with free therapy via Messenger conversation, so it felt like the least I could do was read this. For some reason, I’d convinced myself that this was a fairy tale retelling of some sort. It is not. The series name Regency Faerie Tales comes from the fact that these books are set in the Regency era, and feature faeries rather prominently.
Miss Theodora “Dora” Ettings had half her soul stolen from her by a sinister faerie gentleman wearing an abundance of fancy coats when she was a child. She was saved from having her entire soul stolen because her cousin Vanessa stabs the faerie in his leg with sewing scissors. Hence the adult Dora keeps the scissors under her pillow at night and carries them around in a leather sheath during her waking hours. The loss of half her soul has made Dora rather distanced from strong emotion (she describes it as only having the feelings with the long tail), so she doesn’t seem to feel fear, embarrassment, or anger, but neither passionate joy nor love. Vanessa is the person closest to her, and she describes the feeling of being near her as being warmed by a lantern. Because of Dora’s peculiarities, and the fact that her parents are both dead, no one really expects Dora to make a good match, and she’ll probably end up living with Vanessa as a spinster aunt to her children once Vanessa finds a husband.
Vanessa insists that the only way she will find a suitable husband is if they go to London, and her mother (Dora’s aunt) reluctantly agrees, deeply disgruntled about the fact that they have to drag Dora along. Vanessa is determined to get herself and Dora to London to meet the famous court sourcerer, Lord Elias Wilder, popularly known as the Lord Sorcier. While he apparently has atrocious social skills and seems to disdain the entire ton, he was instrumental in helping the British fight the French and has been given his title by the Prince Regent himself. If Britain’s foremost magician can’t help Dora restore her missing half a soul, then surely no one can.
Left mostly to her own devices in London, while her cousin is swept away to dress fittings and the like, Dora runs into the magician and his best friend, Albert Lowe, in a bookstore, and said best friend just happens to be the son of an influential society matron, landing Dora and Vanessa personalised invites to the big ball she’s hosting. Dora’s aunt is forced to let Dora come along and at the ball, she has further interactions with the surly sorcerer, as well as his jovial nobleman bestie. When in the bookstore, Dora glanced into a mirror and saw herself with the Lord Sorcier at the ball, her dress stained horribly with red. After this scene comes to pass exactly so (the red turns out to be punch, not blood, thankfully), and Wilder finds Dora outside in the garden, trying to wash her dress in a fountain, he reluctantly agrees that Dora’s case is rather a serious one. She is entirely heedless of the potential scandal of being found mostly naked in the garden during a society event and doesn’t seem even vaguely embarrassed by the incident. He’s also intrigued by how easy Dora can scry, and see both the past and future in mirrored surfaces.
Vanessa’s mother and her high society friends have decided that the ideal match for Vanessa would be Lady Carroway’s eldest son, while Dora can probably be foisted off on Albert, Lord Wilder’s best friend. They full-on lie about how helpful and charitable Dora is, forcing her to accompany him on his rounds to tend to the city’s poor, which means she sees firsthand both the dreadful conditions that much of society lives in (letting her understand Elias’ anger and disdain with the wealthy). She also becomes involved in investigating the strange plague that seems to be affecting some workhouse children, making them suddenly fall asleep and never wake again. Elias is wracking his brains trying to find the cause and save the children, so far to no success.
I’m sure it will come as no surprise to anyone that the mystical sickness plaguing children and Dora’s predicament with her missing soul end up being connected, and only by venturing into Faerie itself with our grouchy hero and Dora be able to save the day.
The rest of the review is here.