A prim and proper lady thief must save her aunt from a crazed pirate and his dangerously charming henchman in this fantastical historical romance.
Cecilia Bassingwaite is the ideal Victorian lady. She’s also a thief. Like the other members of the Wisteria Society crime sorority, she flies around England drinking tea, blackmailing friends, and acquiring treasure by interesting means. Sure, she has a dark and traumatic past and an overbearing aunt, but all things considered, it’s a pleasant existence. Until the men show up.
Ned Lightbourne is a sometimes assassin who is smitten with Cecilia from the moment they meet. Unfortunately, that happens to be while he’s under direct orders to kill her. His employer, Captain Morvath, who possesses a gothic abbey bristling with cannons and an unbridled hate for the world, intends to rid England of all its presumptuous women, starting with the Wisteria Society. Ned has plans of his own. But both men have made one grave mistake. Never underestimate a woman.
When Morvath imperils the Wisteria Society, Cecilia is forced to team up with her handsome would-be assassin to save the women who raised her–hopefully proving, once and for all, that she’s as much of a scoundrel as the rest of them.
If Sir Terry Pratchett and Jane Austen had a baby, India Holton is it.
If that isn’t enough to make you want to go pick up this book allow me to gush about this wonderfully fresh and side-splittingly hilarious work of art.
Picture this, an alternative Victorian England where magic exists, pirates fly houses instead of sail ships, and the Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels is the most elite pirate organisation known to the United Kingdom. As chaotic as this image may seem the rules of polite society still apply which makes for a wildly entertaining and absurd kind of world where one’s knowledge of knives is of equal importance to one’s knowledge of tea.
Holton’s narrative voice reminds me of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld in many ways, with the side notes to the reader and meta acknowledgement of certain things happening. I appreciated that she doesn’t go into excessive detail explaining the world and the differences between historically accurate Victorian England and her alternative version. She writes with the knowledge that those who’ve picked up this book will have some inkling as to what Victorian times were like and only adds to that to explain how the houses fly and how to spot a pirate house in a street etc. Some readers may enjoy an in-depth explanation of the quirky differences, but I for one find that can sometimes take you out of the story that’s happening by trying to explain the nitty-gritty details all the time. There is also a lot of dialogue, which is reminiscent of Jane Austen’s style. Not to mention the setting and themes associated with polite society and romance. I think fans of Austen will appreciate this fun and quirky story just as much as Pratchett fans.
Another thing I loved was the feminine power. As in not a single female character felt like they were trying to prove they were just as good as a man. Or that they were a modern woman stuck in a period drama … and it certainly didn’t feel like you could swap that character’s gender from a woman to a man and it wouldn’t feel out of place. I’ve read far too many stories where the badass female characters are basically dudes in dresses because the author has this weird concept of ‘tough’ only applying to emotionally constipated characters who are always the greatest fighter/assassin/hunter. Not to worry! Holton creates authentic badass women (and men) who you could genuinely see living in the Victorian era.
Along with Cecilia’s pov we also get some other characters when necessary, but the second most common is Ned’s pov, who is a pirate, assassin, double agent, memeber of the queen’s guard, a rogue, a lord, and who knows what else. It’s never clear if he is all of these things or none of them which I found funny and didn’t really mind never finding out. Ned and Cecilia are very distinct from each other with their own personality types, motivations and flaws. I thoroughly enjoyed their banter and contrasts throughout and the way they learnt something from each other’s differences by the end. I wouldn’t say this was heavy on the romance side of things, it’s definitely in there, but when it happens it’s good and doesn’t ever impede their tasks or cloud their judgements. Another point to Holton!
The only slight failing of the story (imo) is the bad guy. As much as I enjoyed him, I felt like he wasn’t as fleshed out as the other characters, or maybe wasn’t presented as strongly as everyone else. Considering the major threat he’s supposed to be posing, I never really felt like I could take him seriously, which in some cases I think is intentionally, but for the most part I was kind of underwhlemed by him. But that’s okay because the hilarity of the Wisteris Society made up for it. I love those old pirate crones so much and would read an entire series just about them jankily flying houses around teh counrtyside and landing on random unsuspecting buildings because they couldn’t find a better place to park.
I had so much fun reading this, from the janky flying of houses to the expected pleases and thank yous to accompany robberies and assassinations. The ridiculously made it all the harder to put down. I don’t know how this doesn’t have a higher rating on Goodreads, it was honestly the most fun I’ve had with a book in a hot minute.
Rating – 5/5 stars
Author – India Holton
Series – Dangerous Damsels
Pages – 324 pages
Publisher – Berkley Books
ISBN – 0593200160
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