Heather Rose Jones, Daughter of Mystery. Bella Books, 2014.
Review copy courtesy of the publisher. Dear publisher: this is My Sort Of Thing. Where do I sign up for MORE OF THIS SORT OF THING?
The setting is an alternate historical Europe, with a fantasy twist to do with religious miracles. There is a Ruritanian conceit about the country of Alpennia, but as the fantasy element is brought forward, it did not annoy me the way Ruritanian conceits usually do, and like its geography, the chronology of this version of Europe is not pinned down – it feels in many ways late-1600s, early 1700s, but references to “the Corsican” and “the French wars” and lack of mention of religious conflict may mean the author intends it to be read as later.
This is a love story. It is also a coming-of-age. Politics enters in as well. Jones has a smooth turn of phrase and an excellent way with characterisation, although the pacing at times feels quite leisurely, and the fact that the main characters have academic, intellectual concerns rather delighted me.
A wealthy baron unexpected leaves the bulk of his fortune to his bookish god-daughter, Margerit Sovitre, in order to spite his nephew. Among that fortune is his bodyguard, the swordswoman Barbara, counted among his possessions. Barbara was of good birth, but the terms of the baron’s will bind her to Margerit’s service until Margerit has reached her age of majority. The growing affection that develops between the two women is complicated by their respective stations, and by the fact that Margerit remains under the official guardianship of her maternal uncle and paternal aunt – and by the new baron’s enmity.
An enmity that will ultimately lead to Margerit being framed for treason.
I really enjoyed this book. (Although I think the coda at the very end is entirely unnecessary.) It reminds me of Courtney Milan’s work, except queerer and with more fantasy elements. If that sounds at all like your thing, I encourage you to go forth and read: as for me, I am immensely interested in seeing more from this author in years to come.