Don’t you just love it when you find a book that combines your favorite genres? Fantasy is what I read the most, and Regency romances are my go-to when I want to relax; I get so excited when the two come together! Historical fantasies set in the Regency period of England are such a treat, and Zen Cho has written an engaging pair of them as her first foray into novel writing.
Sorcerer to the Crown introduces the troubling state of magic in England during the Napoleonic Wars: the land of Fairy has closed its borders, drying up England’s source of magic, and it is up to the Sorcerer Royal Zacharias Wythe to keep magic from dying. But that’s not easy for the country’s first black sorcerer, especially one being accused of murder and dealing with mysterious health problems, not to mention the appearance of a troublesome mixed-race orphan named Prunella Gentleman who may just change the course of magic forever.
The True Queen follows up as a companion novel, following a young amnesiac woman from Malaysia whose sister has been lost in the Fairy realm. Muna turns to the magicians (well, particularly the magiciennes) of England for help and finds herself entangled in Fairy legends with the fate of both worlds at stake.
Overall, this is a solid duology and I’d be happy to read any further books that Cho writes in this series.
POC and queer main characters that feel natural to the time period
Slow burn romance that is kept as a side plot
Themes dealing with the colonialism and sexism of the time
The prose does not feel modern, but rather more fitting to the period
A bit of mystery/suspense, but doesn’t try too hard
Sorcerer has Cinderella motifs (with Malaysian witch Mak Genggang as a crazy fairy godmother…)
Either novel could stand alone, but they also fit well together
Both books can be slow, even in the action-y parts. It took me a while to get through them.
The magic system is interesting but not laid out as clearly as I would like, and so one of Sorcerer’s magic-related plot twists came out of nowhere to me
Sorcerer has a terrible cover that is neither appealing nor informative. True Queen greatly improved in that regard, but I would love a reprint with better, coordinating covers.
There’s nothing better than getting sucked into a series where you just want to keep reading book after book. But for every series like Girl of Fire and Thorns, where I found the second book to be a huge improvement on the first, there is also a series where the quality dips after the first, or the story goes off in a completely different direction. I read a couple of books recently that, while perfectly fine books, did not live up to their predecessors in my mind.
For a series where the first entry adhered almost completely to the plot points of P&P, the second book takes a hard left and, aside from the characters of the previous book and an occasional “sir,” has no relation to Austen or the Regency whatsoever that I could tell. The closest connection I could make is Northanger Abbey, both involving a visit to a mysterious house of secrets, but since everything that Aliza imagines at Castle Selwyn is actually true, the lesson seems to have been lost.
As much as I wasn’t crazy about the slavish adherence to P&P in the first book, without the Austen connection the sequel lost one of the things that drew me to the series and became just a decent generic fantasy. (I did like that it incorporates further mythological creatures instead.) Another issue is that without the P&P backbone, this story is not as tightly plotted and seemed like it was stretched out to make a trilogy. It takes the entire first half of the book for Aliza and Alastair to get where they are going, which seemed like a very slow start to me.
But as a last note, it does take a serious and mature look at some difficult aspects of married life that I think is great for a YA novel to explore.
Suitors and Sabotage
By Cindy Anstey
This YA Regency intrigue was entertaining but kind of forgettable. I discovered the first two books when I was on a Regency romance kick, and really enjoyed them, but I didn’t really feel anything special about this one. Perhaps the formula is getting old for me? (Though these 3 books are similar, they are more companion novels than a series; there is no overlap in characters and no overarching plotline.)
I think the level of tension and drama was not quite up to the level of the first two books. For comparison, the first book Love, Lies, and Spies begins with the heroine hanging off a cliff; this one starts with a lovely picnic among some scenic ruins. It was also less epic in scope, nothing to do with international espionage or even kidnapping, just some vaguely threatening events.
Overall, I’d give these two sequels 3/5 stars, while I probably would have rated their predecessors around 4 stars. While I enjoyed reading them, I doubt I’ll continue with either series, or ever revisit them in the future. On to better books!
So I recently went on a months-long Regency Romance kick. It’s been a wonderful escape from everything going on in my life and in the world.
The “Regency” period refers to a time in the early 1800s when Britain was ruled by the Prince Regent (later King George IV), because his father George III was deemed unfit. (This era also includes the Napoleonic Wars.)
Jane Austen is of course one of the most famous authors of the Regency period, and I have read all six of her completed novels many times (my favorites being Persuasion and Pride and Prejudice). So it’s no surprise that in the twentieth century a whole genre developed around writing similar novels, now as historical fiction.
Georgette Heyer essentially created the Regency romance genre, doing meticulous research to provide readers with accurate information about the period, using the same phrases people of the time would have used, and with the same worldview. This has spun out into a large, varied genre whose books have varying degrees of historical detail, humor, intrigue, sex, and even sometimes a little magic.
As I said above, for Regency Romance, there is no better place to start than the works of Georgette Heyer. I am currently working my way through her thirty-some historical romance novels, and there are so many things to love. She comes very close to Jane Austen in her dry wit and love of the ridiculous in her characters. I am constantly laughing as I read them. I love that she writes with such historical detail; I’ve learned so much about the culture of that time.
I also love that she has many varied plots and characters: she has some Gothic novels, some mysteries, settings in London and in the country, main characters that are young and silly, or older and more sensible, couples that have known each other forever or have just met. Her romance is very clean, usually with some kisses at the end.
Here are a few of my favorites so far:
The Grand Sophy: The second of her novels that I read, and the one that got me hooked. Sophy is a tour-de-force main character, the kind of person that can manipulate everyone around her into doing what’s best for them. The ending gets a little ridiculous, but it’s so funny you won’t care.
The Quiet Gentleman: I liked that this one has some mystery in it as well as romance; the main character suffers several attempts on his life after returning home to claim his inheritance. It was pretty easy to figure out who the culprit was, but I still enjoyed it. I also liked that the heroine is very unromantic and sensible—a girl after my own heart.
Bath Tangle: This novel features several couples, all with varying (but entertaining) personalities, and it is set mostly in Bath as the title implies. I really enjoyed the interplay between as the characters as they all struggle to figure out what they really want.
The Alastair-Audley series: The three main books in the series (These Old Shades, Devil’s Cub, and Regency Buck) are absolute classics. The heroes are not always particularly likeable, but the heroines are always capable of handling them. These books probably have the most history in them, too, dealing with many important figures and events of the day. The first two are actually set in the Georgian period just before the Regency which gives the series even great scope.
Lester Family series by Stephanie Laurens
The Reasons for Marriage • A Lady of Expectations • An Unwilling Conquest • A Comfortable Wife
This is a series of “reformed rake” stories all centering around one family. It’s not really necessary to read them in order, but I liked that they were all connected, and many of the same characters appear throughout.
The first book, The Reasons for Marriage, was probably my favorite. It features an apparent marriage of convenience that turns into something more. I particularly liked that the heroine Lenore was intelligent, independent, and even a little introverted; her eventual pregnancy is also part of the plot, which resonated with me currently.
These are actually the first Harlequin romance novels I have ever read, and I was surprised how much I enjoyed them. Though more racy than Heyer’s novels, they are fairly tame in terms of adult content.
I also started reading Laurens’ Cynster family series, and those are much more explicit in a bodice-ripper style. As I told my husband, I was 7% of the way into the first book and there was already a hot shirtless guy running around. For reasons. Anyways, the Cynster books are not as much my cup of tea, but also feature some entertaining characters.
Love, Lies, and Spies by Cindy Anstey
I loved the intrigue and adventure in this recent, lighthearted YA romance. It was just wonderfully fluffy and charming. I also loved that the heroine Juliana is a scientist trying to get her work published!
The book was nothing particularly groundbreaking, but it was entertaining from the very first chapter. The main couple was very cute. There was quite a lot of stuff like Miss Telford had very nice eyes and a nice smile but Spencer wasn’t going to think about that right now.
The author also published another YA Regency title this year, Duels and Deceptions, which I have on hold at the library and hope to read soon.
This one has all of the charm of a Regency romance, plus dangerous magic, adventure on the high seas, and assumed identities thrown in, too. It was a wonderful mix of genres; I think it leans a little YA also.
The first chapter, in which Lady Newtington’s (Newt’s) emerald is stolen, read a bit like a short story, and then the rest of the book kind of goes off in a different direction in searching for the emerald, with a bit of shift in tone. It was a little weird, but the book was so entertaining it didn’t bother me much.
Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal
This is the first in a series about a family of sisters that have some talent for glamour, aka magic, which is kind of considered a womanly art. I really, really liked how the concept of illusionary magic was done here; it was interesting and could easily be explored further in the series. Although the tone is more adult, I don’t recall anything more than a bit of kissing.
However, the characters and plot were rather average. I read this several months ago and can’t even remember all that much about it. The heroine Jane was interesting enough, but I did not take to the hero at all, finding him at turns boring and confusing.
So, in short, I don’t plan on reading any more of the series.
Do you guys have any favorite Regency stories (of any genre!) to recommend?