Miss Elizabeth Knight received an unexpected legacy upon her uncle’s death: a collection of occult books. However, when one of the books begins talking to her, she discovers an entire world of female occultist history opened to her—a legacy the Royal Occult Society had purposely hidden from the world. However, the magic allowing the book to speak to Miss Knight is fading and she must gather a group of female acquaintances of various talents. Together, they’ll need to work to overcome social pressures, ambitious men, and tyrannical parents, all to bring Mrs. Egerton, the book ghost, back.
First off, I loved this book! I’ve been, somewhat patiently, waiting for a year to read this and it did not disappoint.
The thing I loved most about this book, at absolutely no surprise to myself, is the characters. This author is great at writing characters and I think she is particularly in her element here with characters navigating society in early 19th century England. Elizabeth Knight is such a wonderful character. She’s a woman in a particular difficult situation in life, getting older and not married, having become a ‘burden’ to her family. There are times when I was frustrated by Elizabeth’s situation, wishing she’d be able to take certain actions and then realizing how constraining her situation within society has given her little choice concerning certain aspects of her life. Sometimes you want her to be a little more rebellious but then you know she can’t because she’ll risk too much. I do love that she’s practical how she approaches these things. Besides Elizabeth, there are many other fantastic characters. I loved her best friend and her best friend’s husband, it’s fun to see a married couple banter. And Elizabeth’s aunt is so much fun! She’s a woman who, due to her situation in life, has a lot more freedom and is willing to pull others under her umbrella of protection. She’s kind of fierce and I love it.
The main plot of the book focuses on Elizabeth sorting through the library of occult books she’s inherited from her beloved uncle while fending off attacks from others who want to get their hands on certain books (namely, The Royal Occult Society). The story also deals with Elizabeth’s situation within her family, which is seen as unfortunate and a burden and allows her little ability to make decisions for herself regarding her own life. But, above all things, this is a story of friendships, some old and some new, between women. We don’t always get a ton of stories like that, especially in the fantasy genre, so I really appreciated that aspect of the book. I love how they recognize each other’s places in society and are willing to be a support group for each other rather than tearing one another down (as so often is common in stories). This first book really focuses on the formation of the Ladies’ Occult Society, and I’m looking forward to seeing more of their adventures once they become established as a group.
As far as world-building, well, this is pretty much what’s advertised–early nineteenth century England with a magical twist. The fantasy elements are interwoven into this familiar world pretty seamlessly. There is a Royal Occult Society, run by men of course. Because magic exists, magicians and magical items exist as well, but the magic is very much in the background of society with not everyone approving of it despite the crown endorsing it. The historical elements are wonderfully written, from the food they eat, to the carriages they ride in, to the money, to the way society works and everyone’s roles within it. And I think for something such as this, a historical fantasy, the historical elements are just as important to the world-building as the fantasy.
I also want to note that I think this is the first time I have fallen completely in love with Krista’s prose. She really nails the fantasy of manners thing with the witty banter between characters and the sharp observational humor. The style of the writing itself is just so much fun to me.
If you like fantasy of manners, books featuring friendships between women, or books about sorting books, this is a book you’re going to want to check out. I’m already looking forward to the next one. 5/5 stars.