I have a warning I wish to impart most urgently to all young ladies of delicate breeding who wish to embark upon lives of adventure:
—Peggy Fitzroy, Palace of Spies
I liked Sarah Zettel’s Dust Girl. Over at Bookshelves of Doom, I described it thusly: “Fairies! Human-sized locusts! A secret princess! In the Dust Bowl! Bonus Woody Guthrie songs!” What’s not to like, right? While I liked that one well enough, Zettel’s new book, I loved. Loved so much that I’m this close to breaking into a Caps Lock–riddled freakout that culminates in 35 or so exclamation points. Loved so much that I just subjected my husband to a LENGTHY monologue about all of its various delights.*
Lines like, “There is nothing so much noticed or so long remembered as a girl’s gown, especially by those who are not her friends” are bound to draw comparisons to Jane Austen, but its romp-y nature puts it more in line with Georgette Heyer’s Regency romances. I have no doubt whatsoever that Heyer fans—especially those who prefer her more hijinks-heavy stories—will find it similarly witty and fun and just…HAPPY MAKING. There IS romance—with an artist’s apprentice with “steel-gray eyes,” no less—but Palace of Spies is very definitely more about the mystery and the social maneuvering than the romance itself. All of that, plus it’s set during the Georgian era, which, HELLO, AWESOME: Wigs and face patches, bowing and curtsies, card sharps and ladies-in-waiting, spies and plotting revolutionaries and hidden documents!
Our heroine, Margaret “Peggy” Preston Fitzroy begins her story with “I must begin with a frank confession”—a sentence that, while not supremely original, perfectly conveys her narrative tone, her attitude and the fact that she’s about to launch into a juicy story rife with Shocking Secrets. And, just in case you didn’t pick up on all that from those seven words, she immediately follows that up with more hints about what’s to come: A betrothal that leads to her homelessness! A man who goes by the name Mr. Tinderflint! Her decision to impersonate a dead girl! AT COURT!
I just want to sit down and read it all over again. But before I do, I’ll share one more thing that made me squee.
Like a lot of historical heroines before her, Peggy has plenty to say about her era’s fashion, and very little of it is positive. Rather than romanticizing the pretty gowns, the beautiful fabrics and the ever-useful fans, she complains about them constantly, and she’s consistently funny without stepping out of character or out of period. Unlike every other historical heroine I can think of, when she’s forced to disguise herself in men’s clothing—I wouldn’t have invoked Heyer if there hadn’t been at least A LITTLE BIT of cross-dressing—she’s not comfortable with those duds, either: partly because she feels way too exposed in them, and partly because, GO FIGURE, the clothes she found don’t magically fit her. (Until that scene, it’d never occurred to me to wonder where all of these heroines are finding all of these pairs of perfectly fitting—and, of course, totally flattering—breeches.)
Long story short, THIS BOOK IS AN ABSOLUTE JOY.
*He tuned out halfway through, but MY PASSION WAS SUCH THAT I COULDN’T STOP.
If she isn't writing Bookshelves of Doom or doing her librarian thing, Leila Roy might be making stuff for her Etsy shop while re-watching Veronica Mars, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Babylon 5, Black Books or Twin Peaks. Well, that or she’s hanging out on Twitter. Or both.