If I’d written a wishlist of all the tropes and themes that I most enjoy reading, and handed my specifications over to an author, I couldn’t have liked the result better than I like this. The series contains nights at the opera, women in breeches, swashbuckling, politics both national and ecclesiastical, relationships between women, and a sensitive portrayal of religious experience.
The chemistry between Barbara and Margerit builds ever so slowly until it’s finally crackling in the later stages of the book. ... The author makes it feels like we’re reading something that could have been written in the 19th century but, you know, with magic, kind of like Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke. Heather Rose Jones’s worldbuilding is superb. It’s clear that she’s done extensive research into European history during the time of the English Regency in order to create Alpennia as a setting that’s both relatable and unique all at the same time.
Mother of Souls is the first book in Heather Rose Jones's Alpennian series that I feel achieved it's full potential. With each book building off the previous volume everything started to click into place over time and here with the larger cast of characters there was a better balance than just the two previous couples featured. ...among all these characters there is a strong theme of female empowerment running rife. This book is a rallying cry, as is the opera Luzie writes about the female philosopher Tanfrit who is only remembered through her connection to the male philosopher Gaudericus! Women have been told to be quiet for far too long! Men are always keeping us down and taking credit for what we do and when that can't work just erasing us from history. I literally can not think of a woman who won't identify with Luzie's relationship with the composer Fizeir.
Abduction attempts, social sabotage and political intrigue follow, with both women in over their heads and dependent on each other for survival. This could so easily have been a story romanticising an abuse of power but Jones skillfully avoids that, with Margarite carefully keeping her feelings hidden until circumstances change to put them on an equal footing.
You know that joy you have when you first discover what it means to read for pleasure as a kid? That sense of losing yourself in another person’s imagination, of finding yourself so invested in their characters that you’re willing them on: that they become, if only for a brief moment, part of the fabric of your own mental world? This is precisely the joy I experienced reading The Mystic Marriage.
The world building is superlative – I never felt that I was being spoon-fed when I read this novel. The author fleshes out sufficient space for the reader to make sense of Alpennia as both a reflection of 19th century Europe and its ‘other’ – a realm of fantasy in which our awareness of religion and history might be turned on its head. The prose style both challenged and entertained, and I found myself unable to stop turning the pages as the narrative reached its climax.