Okay, so I’ve blown through a bunch of books lately and since I’m trying to at least get one post a week, I’m going to go with something a little earlier in history than Victorian Era. Not by much though. I just read a series of Regency era fiction (1811-1820ish).
Tilly Wallace has written a current triology, soon to be a quartet, of books she’s called Manners and Monsters. These books – Manners and Monsters, Galvanism and Ghouls and Gossip and Gorgons – all take place around the same time that Mary Shelley was writing Frankenstein and Lord Byron was holding sway in clubs and parlors.
In this world, magic exists alongside all of the typical thinking of the era – women being “the weaker sex”, Scotland (among other places) was “barbaric” and let us not forget that no one was particularly fond of the French because of Napoleon. The books follow Hannah Miles, the daughter of England’s only female mage in history (Duchess Seraphina Miles) and noted surgeon Sir Hugh Miles. Lady Miles and Sir Hugh both fought the French and Napoleon not that long ago, as did the “romantic” lead for Hannah, Viscount Wycliff.
The books start out with Hannah and her father trying to find a cure for what they’re calling the French Affliction. No, that’s not an STD . A French mage somehow cursed a powder that would kill a person, but keep them mobile. Oh yeah, and hungry for braaaaaaaaaaaaaaaains. Yup, this powder zombie-fies people.
There are a number of interesting twists on the zombies in this series. 1) The Afflicted, as they are known, keep their wits about them. That is, they are sentient and keep their personalities and powers (if any). They just have a desire for brains. 2) Because the French in these stories cursed a face powder and a bunch of high society ladies became Afflicted, then an effort was made to feed them brains but in a socially acceptable manner. People who at the time would rob graves to sell to medical schools turned their hands to making was is euphemistically called pickled cauliflower for the ton. There is also serious research (which Sir Hugh Miles, among others, does) on curing them. 3) If one of the Afflicted actually goes feral, so to speak, and eats brains directly from a person, that person will rise again to be the stereotypical zombie – so measures are taken in the case that happens and the afflicted is jailed in a zombie proof place called the Repository of Forgotten Things.
I’m not generally one for zombie books of any sort. I had to do the audio book of World War Z by Max Brooks because the thought of reading it just made me go ugh. And not a “ew that’s gross” but more like a “man, that sounds boring” way. Side note: Pick up the Complete Edition audio version of World War Z. The voice cast is amazing.
Miss Miles assists her father in his research and is thus no blushing society violet. In the first book, Manners and Monsters, she crosses paths with Viscount Wycliff when there appears to be a murder by one of the Afflicted at a society event that they both happen to be attending. They’re thrown into an investigation together, though Wycliff is rather of the opinion that women are worthless and tedious (sadly, not an uncommon opinion during the Regency era. Or even these days, by some).
Together, they track down the killers and save the day, so to speak. In the following book, Galvanism and Ghouls, they’re trying to track down a serial killer who may or may not be making Frankensteinian monsters. Though no one uses the name Frankenstein at all. Events in that book lead to Sir Hugh being arrested as a suspect (spoiler: He didn’t do it) and shed light on the fact that Hannah and her mother are in a very tenuous situation.
See, the Afflicted may be tolerated in society, but they are not considered actual people. They are not allowed to marry because they are dead and cannot provide heirs. They’re not allowed to inherit. They are considered non-entities. High society men who had been married to an afflicted were free to remarry without the stigma of divorce because, of course, their wives were considered dead.
We also learn that Hannah, sadly, is Afflicted herself. She, however, is a special case. Her mother, the most powerful mage in England, froze Hannah in time. She is stuck in a moment between heartbeats so long as her mother’s spell lasts. It is fine enough a spell that it fools quite a bit of folks, including Viscount Wycliff, whom we learn was bitten by and turned into a hellhound (a la Cerberus of Greek myth).
In Gossip and Gorgons, we find Hannah and Wycliff married – to protect both Hannah and her mother, should anything happen to Sir Hugh. This makes Wycliff Sir Hugh’s heir in the eyes of the law, which would keep the money and land with them rather than some distant relation that might not be so kind and understanding.
The newlyweds are invited to a week long house party by a distant noble who doesn’t get to London much. They know from the off that they are there as the entertainment, that the hostess wishes them to create scenes so that she gets her jollies off and people will flock to her in the future.
Naturally, murder occurs and the two newlyweds have to investigate. This is the book where Hannah finally figures out that her husband is a hellhound and Wycliff realizes that Hannah isn’t your ordinary woman. You can clearly see that what started as a marriage of convenience and protection is starting to move into something more.
The fourth book is upcoming and I will definitely reading. Author Tilly Wallace takes great pains to keep this as authentically Regency as possible, when you’re dealing with magic and zombies. There’s period costume, period thoughts and period tech. If you enjoy historical fantasy, then you’ll probably enjoy this. Rating: B+