Sunday 8 October 2023
CBR15 Book 53: "The Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels" by India Holton
Rating: 4 stars
Official book description, because I finished this book two months ago, and the plot is rather convoluted:
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.
This book will certainly not be for everyone. I can see how some people might find it too annoying, quirky, or simply rather uninteresting because they're not looking for something quite this whimsical. Do you like Gail Carriger? Then you might also like this. It's set in an alternate history, where magic exists. It's mainly used to make houses fly, and the secret spell that allows one to pilot the houses is mostly in the hands of women. Thievery and piracy also seem to be perfectly above board, as long as certain rules are followed. Our heroine, Cecilia Bassingtwaite, is a junior member of the female crime organisation, the Wisteria Society, and despairs that the older members refuse to see her as a worthy of promotion to the big table, a full member at last. So when she opens the door to find a rather flustered assassin on her doorstep, this is very promising, because ladies whom someone wants to murder are obviously more scoundrelous, and therefore more worthy of promotion.
Of course, our hero, Ned Lightbourne, who goes by MANY different names and identities over the course of the story, has no intention of actually murdering Miss Bassingtwaite. He's not really an assassin at all. Nor is he a loyal henchman to her insane father, who has tasked Ned to abduct Cecilia from her aunt's house. Ned wants to do no such thing. Cecilia finds him both intriguing and exasperating, he finds her delightful and is instantly smitten. They keep meeting and bantering, usually while also fighting each other with sharp weapons, and obviously fall in love in the process.
To begin with, I was honestly not entirely sure what was going on with the plot, or the rather flowery language, but it was amusing me and I just let the story sort of flow over me. The many references to the Brontës, and especially the utterly useless Bramwell, were fun. I'm not entirely sure how this society actually works, but piracy and thievery seem to be the done thing in the upper classes. It also seems to be a very matriarchal society, where the husbands are left to take care of the household, although they're clearly also allowed to run around wielding swords and firearms occasionally, as Ned is doing. Possibly they only need to become homebodies after they marry?
I'm probably overthinking it. This was fun, it made me laugh, and since I've waited several years, the entire trilogy set in this strange alternate Victorian world is already completed. The next one involves witches (and a male pirate), so it also promises to be entertaining.
Judging a book by its cover: This is really cute. I love the flowing vines of wisteria flowers, complete with other elements from the story twisted in. The teacup, the flying house, the sword and pistol, and obviously our adventurous little couple at the bottom, each sporting their own gun.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.