Manners and Monsters

Series Title: Manners and Monsters (to date: Manners and Monsters, Galvanism and Ghouls, Gossip and Gorgons, and Vanity and Vampyres)
Publisher: Ribbonwood Press
Author: Tilly Wallace
Pages: +200pp each
Prices: $2.99-$4.99 (ebook) / $14.99-$15.99 (paperback)

Hannah Miles is a first generation aftermage. The daughter of a famed scientist and England’s only female mage, Hannah has no magic of her own. But she does possess a keen curiosity, quick intelligence, loyalty, and a determination to do something useful with her life. As such, when she is asked to assist Viscount Wycliff investigate a murder at her best friend’s engagement party, she readily agrees — even though she finds him rude and obnoxious. Over the course of their initial investigation and those that follow, they uncover new information about the curse which turned so many high society women into the Afflicted (yes, they are zombies, but no one dares to call them anything so uncouth); become entangled with mad scientists, immortals, vampyres, werewolves, and even the Fae; and come to discover that there is more to one another than they had initially realized ….

The Manners and Monsters series popped up on a recommendation list. The description of the first book sounded interesting, and it was on sale, so I decided to give it a chance. I am so glad that I did. This is one of those series that seems flighty and silly and escapist on the surface, but which is so much more. Yes, there are fancy dresses and balls; but there is also scathing analysis of gender construction, the power gap between men and women, classism, prejudice, the dangers of fear and mob mentality, the struggle between science and faith, and so much more. By the fourth book, I can safely say that the series has become Jane Austen meets The Addams Family, by way of Mary Shelley and Mary Balogh, with a touch of Victor Hugo.

I love the relationships in the books, and how they evolve. Hannah deeply loves her parents, as they do her; but she chafes under the restrictions society imposes on her as an unmarried woman and an aftermage. She slowly begins to come into her own, in large part because of her sparring with Wycliff; she has to stand up to him, to prove her intelligence and usefulness, and in so doing begins to realize her own worth as herself. Wycliff, himself, changes as a result of Hannah’s influence; his opinions of women and the Afflicted (as well as other Unnaturals) become more nuanced and complicated. He also comes to terms with the trauma he experienced as a soldier in the Napoleonic Wars, and comes to trust Hannah enough that he actually reveals his greatest and most shameful secret (sorry, no spoilers).

Even better is the role that mythology and pre-Christian religions play in the series. The curse that created the Afflicted seems to tie back to the Egyptian idea that the heart is the seat of the soul (and the curse was only created after Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt). Vampyres are linked to Prometheus of Greek lore. There are repeated references to Hades and Anubis. Even real historical events are given a magical, mythical twist: King George was driven mad with grief after his illegitimate half-Fae son was murdered.

The fifth book, Sixpence and Selkies, will be out in April of 2021. I can’t wait to read it.

Highly recommended to fans of Mary Robinette Kowal’s Glamorist Histories, The Harwood Spellbook by Stephanie Burgis, Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia Wrede, and Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke.

[Reviewed by Rebecca Buchanan.]