A Basket of Magical Reviews

A bundle of reviews for fairytales, magic and romance!

Half a Soul (Regency Faerie Tales Book 1) by Olivia Atwater

It’s difficult to find a husband in Regency England when you’re a young lady with only half a soul.

Ever since a faerie cursed her, Theodora Ettings has had no sense of fear, embarrassment, or even happiness-a condition which makes her sadly prone to accidental scandal. Dora’s only goal for the London Season this year is to stay quiet and avoid upsetting her cousin’s chances at a husband… but when the Lord Sorcier of England learns of her condition, she finds herself drawn ever more deeply into the tumultuous concerns of magicians and faeries.

Lord Elias Wilder is handsome, strange, and utterly uncouth-but gossip says that he regularly performs three impossible things before breakfast, and he is willing to help Dora restore her missing half. If Dora’s reputation can survive both her ongoing curse and her sudden connection with the least-liked man in all of high society, then she may yet reclaim her normal place in the world… but the longer Dora spends with Elias Wilder, the more she begins to suspect that one may indeed fall in love, even with only half a soul.

This is a really sweet Regency romance, with a lovely dash of magic and danger, plus a protagonist who is not so much plucky as mostly oblivious (but with a firm sense of morality, which at least usually lands her in the right sort of trouble) and a romantic entanglement that is firmly in the Mr Darcy camp of stubborn and unexpected. It’s an easy and fun read, and I thoroughly enjoyed it!

It reminded me a lot of Emma Newman’s Split Worlds series (highly recommended if you like Regency politics plus magic and a fierce dose of feminism) and the next one in this series is Ten Thousand Stitches, which follows some of the same characters.

The Seventh Bride by T Kingfisher

Young Rhea is a miller’s daughter of low birth, so she is understandably surprised when a mysterious nobleman, Lord Crevan, shows up on her doorstep and proposes marriage. Since commoners don’t turn down lords—no matter how sinister they may seem—Rhea is forced to agree to the engagement.

Lord Crevan demands that Rhea visit his remote manor before their wedding. Upon arrival, she discovers that not only was her betrothed married six times before, but his previous wives are all imprisoned in his enchanted castle. Determined not to share their same fate, Rhea asserts her desire for freedom. In answer, Lord Crevan gives Rhea a series of magical tasks to complete, with the threat “Come back before dawn, or else I’ll marry you.”

With time running out and each task more dangerous and bizarre than the last, Rhea must use her resourcefulness, compassion, and bravery to rally the other wives and defeat the sorcerer before he binds her to him forever.

An easy read, but The Seventh Bride is a fierce and different take on a mix of fairytales, with a lovely blend of many tropes; the unexpected bride finding out that her husband-to-be isn’t what she thinks he is, and that she is trapped in a strange house.. and then turning all of her ingenuity to how to free the others, trapped with her. Some of the wives are horrifying (more for what has been done to them, than the wives themselves) but the allies and friends that Rhea finds along the way are sweet, and the relationships between the wives, Crevan and allies are all very different. A fun and unexpected read.

The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker

When Nora Fischer stumbles, quite literally, into a magical world where everyone is glamorous and life is one long party, she’s immediately captivated. What she doesn’t realise, because everything is such fun, is that there’s a darker side to her new friends. In fact, it’s only after she agrees to marry the charismatic, masterful Raclin that she discovers she’s a prisoner in this new world.

If Nora is to escape, then she has just one hope: the magician Aruendiel. And if she can also persuade him to teach her the art of real magic, then she might just be able to return home. Is that what she wants, though? Aruendiel has a biting tongue, a shrouded past and no patience, so there’s no way Nora could be falling for him… Is there?

I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting from this book, but it wasn’t what I got. I’m not entirely sure what I got, though, so there’s that. It reminded me a little of Thomas Covenant (although thankfully without the horribly rapey bits, which was nice…) and I think I was expecting more dramatic fantasy? More cute, more romance, more flair?

This is quite plodding in places, and quite pedestrian – which honestly does fit with the world, because once Nora is out of the control of her new friends, she realises that their lives are mostly illusion, and she’s actually in a medieval-style world – and that doesn’t lend itself to anything dramatic. Especially as magic isn’t the big fantasy gestures, but is hard work (and again, that makes perfect sense for the world.)

Nora herself is a modern, educated woman pushed into a place where woman aren’t expected to be educated (or intelligent, really) unless they can do magic – so she promptly pushes to learn magic, partly for status and partly for attempting to get home. Her story and character development is interesting, and the other characters are interesting, but…

I dunno. The book just fell a bit flat for me, I think. I didn’t love the story, although I ploughed through it. I don’t have any particular desire to pick up the next one. I suppose I feel that this one could have been cut in half quite happily, and then we might actually see more of whether Nora’s desire for Aruendiel goes anywhere.

Shades of Milk & Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal

In Regency England, Jane Ellsworth of Dorchester is a woman ahead of her time.

Not only is she highly skilled in the manipulation of glamour – plucking strands from the Ether to create genteel magical illusions – she’s also ambitious for her art, and dreams of being recognised as a glamourist of note in her own right, as men are permitted to.

First and foremost, however, a lady of quality must marry well, and alas Jane’s ambitions do not extend to her romantic prospects. Compared to her beautiful sister Melody, Jane feels invisible to suitors, and is resigned to a life of spinsterhood.

But when her beloved family comes under threat, Jane uses her magical skills to put things right, which attracts the attention of professional glamourist Mr Vincent . . . and unwittingly wanders in to a love story of her own.

Another Regency romance with magic, and I loved this one! Full of wonderful characters, well-realised situations, romantic drama… the perfect cosy sofa read. I really loved the way glamour was described and explained as well; it lent some nice depth to Jane learning more about her ‘hobby’, and made the relationship between her and Mr Vincent more complex than just that of a suitor realising the spinster sister was actually interesting. A really well-written and fun read.

I think the sequel is Glamour in Glass, and it’s on my list to pick up!

Author: kate

Kate Coe is an editor, book reviewer and writer of fiction & fantasy. She writes the sparkpunk GreenSky series and blogs at writingandcoe.co.uk. When she's not working, she fills her spare time in between writing with web design, gaming, geeky cross-stitch and DIY (which may or may not involve destroying things). She also reads far fewer books that she would like to, but possibly more than she really has time for.