Heather Rose Jones
Completed 7/20/2020, Reviewed 7/20/2020
Another delightful book about lesbians in a mythical 19th century European country called Alpennia. In the first book, Daughter of Mystery, the focus was on Barbara and Margerit and a mystical magic system. This time, the focus is on two minor characters from the first book, Jeanne and Antuniet, and the magic explored is alchemy. There are more subplots in this book, as Margerit and Barbara are still very much present and the court intrigue is a little more intense. However, I felt this book suffered from the sophomore slump, with the primary plot getting lost in the middle to the subplots, as well as the introduction of too many characters. But it is still quite a good book, a pleasure to read. It just didn’t have the same excitement that the first book had.
Antuniet Chazillen is the sister of the antagonist from the first book. Her mother committed suicide, her brother was executed, and her family lost their status as nobility. Now she is working in Heidelberg, trying to develop her skill as an alchemist. Her plan is to create a gift for the Princess that will be so profound and so beneficial to Alpennia that the Princess will return the status to the family. She has an ancient book of alchemy from which she draws her knowledge. However, it’s coveted by the Emperor of Austria and his men are pursuing her through Europe. With nowhere else to go, she returns to Alpennia where she looks for a benefactor to support her work. She asks Jeanne, a widowed heiress, well-connected socialite, and notorious flirter with young married women, to help her find someone to support her. Because of the shame of the Chazillen family, Jeanne can’t. But what they do find surprises them both.
In the meantime, one of the possible heirs to the throne seems to be threatened. His mother the Dowager Princess believes it to be the Ruling Princess and her son causing the threats. Barbara is called in to help protect him. In addition, Barbara is Antuniet’s cousin on her mother’s side, and wants no part of Antuniet’s problem. Margerit is more patient and understanding, and draws Antuniet in. In fact, Margerit is slowly building a little community of women, straight and lesbian, who want to learn and grow beyond the patronizing allowances of the male-dominated university.
As you can see, there’s a lot going on in this book. Maybe it’s a little too much. The first book kept the story line pretty straightforward and the tension even and linear. This book was all over the place, losing the tension of the main plot while cultivating the subplots. It all does come together in the end in a big dramatic scene, so there is payoff. I just felt like we lost Antuniet in the middle of the book for too long.
I thought the prose of the book was lovely. I didn’t think the author really grew from the first to the second book, but kept her writing style pretty even. The characterization was quite good, with Jeanne and Margerit developing from the one dimensional characters of the first book to three dimensional people in this one. I particularly liked Jeanne’s development from playgirl to serious relationship material.
I give this book three stars out of five. It’s a good book, but not quite as good as the first. I really do like this universe that Jones created, finding it well developed and the magic systems fascinating. I like all her main characters so far, though I like Margerit and Jeanne the best. I’m still looking forward to the third book, which is the award winner. There’s a fourth book out as well, which I guess I’m also going to have to read.