The free-spirited Dorina Grey (allusions to a character by Oscar Wilde are entirely intentional) and her grumpily strait-laced older sister Evadne descend upon London in the care of their ailing Uncle Basil, a painter obsessed with a portrait of the recently-deceased Oliver.
Oliver’s sister, lady Henrietta Wotton–Henry to her friends–takes up the entertaining slack for her dear friend Basil, somewhat to his dismay. For Dorina is quickly enamored of Lady Henry, and she is dangerously susceptible. The last thing Basil and Lady Henry need is for two innocent young women to be drawn into their secrets.
Tanzer dances an amazing tightrope act of making both sisters equally likeable and equally annoying, even as they fight like cats and dogs. Neither fits into easy stereotypes. Dorina is madcap, beautiful, drawn to sensual pleasures, and somewhat coldhearted in her amours, yet has a sharp and incisive intellect and longs to become part of London’s artistic circles.
Evadne has been jilted by the man she hoped to marry, and drowns her sorrows in practicing fencing. Lady Henry could easily become a femme fatale but is far too principled to succumb to Dorina’s attractions, at least at first. And the demons…are not at all what they seem.
The Writing Style
I love a prose style that’s so smooth and well-executed that I barely notice it. Tanzer hits exactly the right balance of invisible bones and muscle with just a hint of archaic styling in the skin. She is rock-solid in her craft and draws you in to let the adventure unfold.
There was the right balance of mystery, adventure, danger, and surprise. I loved that, while I anticipated many of the twists and turns of the plot, I never predicted exactly what they would be. The slow elegant build up gives way to a breathless climax. This isn’t in any way a romance novel, but those reading it for the promise of a same-sex relationship won’t be disappointed.
And that brings me to the only Con: it took me entirely too long to get around to reading this book because the cover copy carefully erases any hint of the substantial queer content of the book. This is something I see time and again from mainstream publishers who think they can rely on the reader whisper-network to bring such books to the attention of readers looking for queer content.
Creatures Of Will And Temper gives you that Victorian supernatural adventure feel, with lots of interpersonal dynamics and no small amount of swashbuckling. It balances action and intellectual themes perfectly and tops it off with a surprisingly delicious courtship.
Excerpt from Creatures Of Will And Temper by Molly Tanzer
When are you going to the country?” [Basil] asked, his voice hoarse.
“My aunt will likely require me within a fortnight,” said Henry languidly, her casual tone hiding her eagerness to be done with their previous conversation. She wandered under the boughs of a potted laburnum. Its blossoms brushed over her hair and shoulders, gilding her with their pollen. “What a shame I have no excuse to put her off! I don’t like leaving my greenhouse during the growing season, or the patios of my friends. None of you really appreciate the hard work I put into cultivating these little London landscapes; it all goes to seed while I’m away. Can’t be helped, I suppose.”
“A fortnight . . . too bad. You’ll miss my niece arriving,” said Basil. “Ah well, I assume you’ll be back before I pack her off again.”
“Which niece? The younger or the elder?”
Basil gave Lady Henry a stern look. “Perhaps you should stay away. I won’t have you corrupting innocents I’ve promised to protect.”
“I’ve never in my life corrupted an innocent,” said Henry, her eyebrows quirked up nearly to her graying hairline. “That is a common thing to do, and I am not a common sort of person. And even more importantly, it’s impossible.”
“How is that?”
“True innocents are incorruptible. It’s only people who pretend to be innocent who have that chink in their armor that let wicked people like me inside.”
“You are not to become familiar with my niece’s armor, thank you very much,” said Basil.
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Creatures of Will and Temper
Creatures of Want and Ruin (forthcoming November 2018)
Bits and Bobs
- ISBN number: 9781328710260
- Publisher: Mariner Books
Molly Tanzer Online
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