I received this book from the publisher at no cost.
It’s no secret I’ve been a fan of Garth Nix’s books for a long time. I’ve only recently started reading some Regency romances, though, so the idea of Nix writing one ‘with a magical twist’ was an intriguing one.
The thing with Regency romances is that there’s a fairly standard plot arc – indeed, it applies to most romances, right? Girl and boy, difficulties, difficulties overcome. Of course sometimes that trope is subverted, but it’s still clear that that subversion is happening for a reason. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing; the point is that you know what’s probably going to happen, and the fun bit is all the extra stuff: what exactly will the author throw at Our Heroine? Which of the potential beaux will actually be the Right One? How witty can the banter be? How many dresses can be worn, how many snubs borne, how much tea drunk and how many headaches faked?
Um. It’s possible I’m becoming a fan.
Anyway. Nix is clearly a fan of Regencies – there’s a great interview where he talks of his love of Georgette Heyer. And what he has written is, exactly, “a Regency romance with a magical twist.” Lady Truthful Newington’s (there is only one genre where you get away with a name like that) life is just about to be turned upside down because it’s time for her to be presented to society, when it’s really turned upside down because the great heirloom of the family, a magical emerald, is stolen. She has to go to London to try and find it but of course a respectable young woman can’t be doing solo investigating and so, resource of all plucky young heroines: she dresses as a man. Hijinks ensue; family history, useless cousins, frustrating military men (ohh…), the occasional bit of glamour, mistaken identity – they all get their look-in. Also there’s banter. And balls, which necessitates dresses. There are also sandwiches and tea. Also snarky comments about the French and Old Boney (who, in this world, is of course a powerful magician.)
I haven’t read enough Regencies to know whether it’s a significant trope or not, but one of my favourite bits of the story is the old cantankerous aunt, Lady Badgery. She wears a fez (usually only in private). She’s powerful in personality and magic and connections. Her personal history is a magnificent. If I didn’t want Nix to keep writing more Old Kingdom books I would be after one that detailed the exploits of Ermintrude Badgery. Stat.
Probably my one disappointment with the book is that there’s not quite enough world building around the idea of magic. Truthful’s servant may have “fay blood” – and there are a few mentions of not touching iron – but this aspect, that there was once more congress between our world and faery, presumably, isn’t explored enough to make this much more than a tantalising dark pink herring.
It’s a fast read, and an amusing one. It’s a great entrepôt into the world of Regency romance, and would lead easily into reading Mary Robinette Kowal… and of course Georgette Heyer, and then if you’re properly hooked you’ll never be short of a book. Recommended.
You can get it from Fishpond.