This week, Manners and Monsters is:
- A weird mix of American and Regency
- A great mix of magic and cosy crime
- Full of pickled cabbage
Manners and Monsters (2019) by Tilly Wallace.
This was a strange clash of Americanisms and Regency England.
I don’t know why I wasn’t expecting the American influence, but it surprised me so perhaps that is why it stood out so much.
Overall, it was fun and light-hearted.
I loved the premise of this story. It is right up my street.
Regency fantasy is always something I am willing to give a go.
Manners and Monsters is set in a secondary-world Regency England wherein magic is commonplace. There are twelve mages in England, five in France, and they have been using their magic (and magical creatures) to fight their wars.
At the time the novel opens, a contaminated batch of face powder has struck down a portion of the ton. Mostly ladies, they have become Afflicted, i.e. zombies. However, they aren’t mindless, shambling creatures. As long as they feed on ‘pickled cabbage’ regularly, they maintain their physical form and their reason.
Because they are wealthy and influential, they also retain their place in society.
Hannah Miles is the only child of Sir Hugh and Lady Seraphina. Her mother was one of the twelve mages of England until her death two years previously. Being Afflicted, though, she is still pottering about and casting magic.
While her mother searches through ancient tomes and magical genealogies, her father works away in his laboratory dissecting hearts and studying the curse that killed his wife. Hannah helps her father (having no magic herself) and it’s this gruesome occupation (and her habit of speaking her mind) that makes her destined for spinsterhood. So she assumes.
Enter a dark, brooding hero who is unconventional and doesn’t care what people think. Unconventional enough, perhaps, to actually respect a woman as his equal? How fortuitous.
When a brutal murder casts a shadow over her best friend’s engagement party, Hannah wants to solve the murder. The trouble is, it looks like it was one of the Afflicted.
Viscount Wycliff has returned from the war a changed man. His fortune is depleted and he has become an investigator for the Ministry of Unnaturals. Rude, arrogant and with a hatred of the Afflicted, he is informed by his superior that he will need a chaperone if he is going to speak to the ladies.
You guessed it: Hannah.
So begins the investigation into the murder and the tempestuous relationship between Hannah and Wycliff.
What I didn’t like
As a fan of eighteenth-century (and thereabout) literature, and historical lit of that period, I am not opposed to slow pacing. However, the beginning dragged a little and exposition was repeated so that, at around 20%, I nearly put the book down. However, I kept going and was eventually swept away in the story again.
It was a good mystery with a clear range of suspects. They were scrabbling round a bit at points and there were some key set-pieces that were dropped in for clues, but overall it was an enjoyable mystery to let play out before me.
I found the way that the hero is flagged up so much at the start as having such an effect on the heroine (even though she actually barely met him) a little heavy-handed but it didn’t ruin the story for me.
I also feel that this book could have used one last line edit to weed out the repetition of certain phrases. I don’t care if it is, as I suspect, some VERY SUBTLE FORESHADOWING, if she calls Wycliff a hellhound one more time…
What I liked
Having said that, as this is a bit of a romp through a pseudo-Regency landscape filled with magic and the undead, I’m prepared to take it for what it is.
The characters are strong, and I believe that, now they are established, the series will only get better as they will grow and develop and deepen their relationships. I am looking forward to reading about Timothy, who is only introduced in the last chapter but is already a firm favourite with me.
What I particularly loved was the worldbuilding. The way that society has had to adapt to the presence of the Afflicted is very clever. As it was only wealthy ladies who were cursed, and as they represent such a small portion of the population, there has been no zombie outbreak, no rampaging through the streets in search of brains, and no mass panic. Their condition has been carefully concealed from the greater population and the Afflicted are wealthy enough to buy their ‘pickled cabbage’ from the one authorised retailer.
This is a book firmly set in the upper echelons of society and it barely concerns itself with the lower classes (which is not unexpected and is not a criticism of the book). Hannah’s main concern is her mother, protecting the poor, vulnerable Afflicted ladies from Wycliff’s ungentlemanly interrogation, and her own lack of marriage prospects.
I recommend this if you’re looking for a fun, light read.
It doesn’t take itself too seriously, which is one of its greatest charms.
The cover is banging, too.
I will get round to reading the rest of the series and have just found out that this is, in fact, a spin-off of another fantasy series, Highland Wolves, which I will take a look at.