Tea and Sympathetic Magic by Tansy Rayner Roberts

[For an audio version of this article, please listen to Episode 60 of Recently Read on The Incomparable podcast network.]

If anyone had told Miss Mneme Seabourne that she should grow up to be the sort of person who was bored of garden parties, she would have declared then and there that growing up was off the table.

That’s the first sentence of Tea and Sympathetic Magic by Tansy Rayner Roberts. I’m Erika Ensign, and this is Recently Read.

After a rough week (let’s face it, a rough year) and after reading some dark and tragic books, I decided to treat myself to one of my friend Tansy’s novellas. Tea and Sympathetic Magic did not disappoint. It was an hour of my time well spent that cheered me greatly at a time I really needed it.

And if you happen to be listening to this podcast before June 20, 2021, check out the show notes for a link to where you can get this story for free from bookfunnel. (No, that’s not how I got it — I’m a subscriber to Tansy’s Patreon, so I got it via my patronage there, and I just happened to read it right before it became available for free. Lucky for you! Unless you’re listening in the future, in which case, I hope it’s nice there.)

Anyway, regency-plus-magic isn’t a genre I’ve really dived into before, and I guess I still haven’t because this isn’t technically a Regency setting. I’m pretty sure “The Teacup Isles” don’t exist, nor does the kind of magic that will allow you to enchant a whole wedding full of guests using spells cast on desserts, but this setting feels very Regency.

Miss Seabourne is forced to attend yet another garden party where her marriage-pushy mother hopes she’ll snag the eye of the Duke, but she wants nothing more than to retire to the library with a cup of tea and a good book.

The fellow who does catch her eye is the Duke’s “spellcracker” — the person hired to find and dispel any love charms or potions the marriageable ladies may have brought to the gathering. It’s very important, after all, for the Duke to choose his own wife.

If that little bit of information doesn’t hook you, then this story won’t be your bag. If it’s intriguing, I highly suggest you brew your own cup of tea and settle in with this delightful book. By the end, you may want to skip the accompanying pastries though.

I’m Erika Ensign, and this has been Recently Read.

 

Guns of the Dawn by Adrian Tchaikovsky

[For an audio version of this article, please listen to Episode 55 of Recently Read on The Incomparable podcast network.]

I killed my first man today…

That’s the first sentence of Guns of the Dawn by Adrian Tchaikovsky.

If I had read a description of Guns of the Dawn, I probably wouldn’t have read the book. So I’m pretty glad I never bothered to do that. It came highly recommended by some friends, so I bought it and dug in without seeing anything more than the cover.

This is a book about war. Not my favourite topic. It also has a very regency novel vibe to it — another thing that doesn’t tend to strike my fancy. If those things are up your alley, I urge you to run, do not walk, and nab this book because you’ll probably like it even more than I did.

It follows Emily Marshwic during and before she is drafted and sent to the awful, swampy front lines of a war between her country, Lascanne, and its neighbour, Denland. Lascanne has run out of men to send, and while it is quite unthinkable, the king has begun drafting women to be soldiers.

As I mentioned, this novel, while in a fantasy country where the king can anoint warlocks to shoot fire from their hands in service of their nation, feels very much like a regency novel. The trappings of society are of great importance to Emily and her sisters. They live in a large house on an estate. The Marshwic name is noble and well-respected, for all that the family has fallen in stature after the suicide of Emily’s father — a fate he was driven to by the deplorable Mr. Northway, who became the mayor-governor when it should have been Emily’s father. Skirmishes of words with Mr. Northway are the only battles Emily is familiar with before she “takes the red” and becomes an ensign in the King’s army.

The book chronicles her life both at home and on the front lines, by starting each chapter with Emily’s letters from the front. The rest of most chapters take us through her life, starting well before the draft, covering her training, and then we watch her grapple with what it means to be a soldier, a woman soldier, and a woman.

While this book’s topics may not be my usual fare, I’m very glad I read it. This is most definitely a book about war, but it in no way glorifies war. It examines war through a variety of lenses and comes to very reasonable and realistic conclusions about it. The characters are well-drawn and likeable. And most importantly, Emily’s inner life and struggles are compelling and relatable.

If any of these elements sounds like your thing, I will again exhort you check it out because I expect you’ll be glad you did.