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Book Review: Creatures of Will and Temper by Molly Tanzer

Wednesday, October 10, 2018 - 07:00

There is nothing quite so frustrating to me as coming late to a wonderful book because the cover synopsis deliberately concealed the information that would lead me to put it on my TBR list. And given my reading habits, that usually happens when the publisher has decided to erase all but the vaguest hint of queer content.

I loved Molly Tanzer’s weird western Vermillion, so I’d idly glanced at Creatures of Will and Temper a few times in hopes of something similar, but put it down again thinking about the stacks of books already waiting for me that cheerfully embraced and telegraphed their queer female characters. Then, one day, I happened to encounter clear confirmation that some of the female characters were involved in a same-sex romance and found myself shaking my fist at the sky shouting, “Why did you think this was not important information?”

Ahem.

The book bills itself as inspired by Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Grey, but other than the rather obvious naming of one character Dorina Grey, and the minor plot point of a painting that is not entirely what it seems, in a Victorian setting, I don’t see a particularly strong connection. Instead we get two ill-matched sisters: the beautiful free-spirited young aspiring art critic Dorina who is fond of smoking, scandal, and girls; and the older, plainer, more strait-laced Evadne who has just been Disappointed In Love and drowns her sorrows in fencing practice. (I love how my expectations were upended by making Evadne the dashing swordswoman.) Evadne becomes an unwilling companion on her sister’s jaunt to take in the sights of London, in care of their Uncle Basil the painter. And when Dorina becomes enraptured by Basil’s outrageously decadent friend Lady Henry, Evadne is only distracted from her growing protective outrage by the prospect of being welcomed into a prestigious London fencing school and winning the respect...and perhaps more...of one of the personable instructors.

And then there are the demons.

There are a lot of things to like about this fantasy adventure: the painfully realistic relations between the sisters in which neither is hero nor villain, The gradual revealing of who or what the demons are and the part they have to play in the eventual climax, but most especially the way the plot twists and turns and tumbles about. I was never entirely surprised that the twists happened, but I couldn’t predict what they were going to be. If I found any flaw, it would be that the climax felt ever so slightly off balance--not rushed, not slow, but like that last step that turned out not to be as tall as you thought it was.

If you want your paranormal Victorian demonic romp with a delightfully non-tragic queer encounter, this is your book. (There’s also a sequel, but I’m back to trying to guess whether it hits my “must buy” marks.)

Major category: 
historical