“Mr. Smith, I am aware that society thinks young ladies have not a brain to pass amongst them, and no skills other than playing the pianoforte. I assumed your organization might prove more perceptive, but perhaps it would be less frustrating to educate children than to reason with dull, plodding tortoises such as yourself. Nonetheless, I have a duty to serve my country. I shall be in touch.”
—Murder, Magic, and What We Wore, by Kelly Jones
Does the suggestion to “take up knitting” as a way of shooing a woman out of public discourse make you want to put your own knitting needles to violent use? Then this is the book for you.
Do stories about women using traditionally feminine—and therefore stigmatized—hobbies and interests in order to run circles around The Man (and bad guys in general) hit your sweet spot? Then this is the book for you.
Did you ever wish that the hat shop portion of Howl’s Moving Castle was longer? Then this is the book for you.
The year is 1818. Annis Whitworth’s father was just found dead in a ditch, and now she and her beloved aunt are so broke that they’re going to be forced to wear off-the-rack mourning clothes. QUELLE HORREUR!!
But! While attempting to alter a ready-made monstrosity into something a little less horrifying, Annis and her maid discover that she can sew magic into clothing:
I blinked at her. “Don’t be ridiculous. I can’t sew glamours; only glamour modistes have that talent, not ladies.”
She shrugged. “Well, most ladies don’t need to sew their own dresses, miss, so how would they know if they could? And who would they tell? They’d have no reason to set up shop.”
And so Annis stomps down to the War Office, determined to put her talent to good use by helping the government figure out who murdered her father. Because, you see, Annis’ father was a spy—she’d figured that out ages ago, though he didn’t know that she knew—and she knows very well that there’s no earthly way that he actually died in a carriage accident.
But, of course, she’s a sixteen-year-old girl, so all she gets at the War Office is some condescension and a metaphorical pat on the head. Which only serves to strengthen her determination—not only to unmask her father’s killer, but to prove to the War Office that they’re short-sighted fuddy-duddies.
Murder, Magic, and What We Wore is pure, unadulterated fun and the perfect read to ride out a weekend of negative-degree temperatures. It features espionage and mystery, witty dialogue, a winning heroine, and page after page after page of utterly delightful descriptions of working magic with a needle and thread. The cast is largely female, and Jones does a great job of allowing Annis to recognize that her position as an impoverished lady is still a much more protected position than her maid’s position as an impoverished commoner—in other words, on top of all of the fun, there are also strong threads about social class and privilege in the Regency Era.
But back to the fun! As in many a Regency novel, Jones mentions and features lots of historical figures from the time—including Countess Lieven, who I need to research ASAP, because HOW DID I NOT ALREADY KNOW ABOUT HER??? More unusually—and possibly more delightfully?—she works in a whole cast of characters from OTHER Regency and Regency-adjacent fantasy novels. AND she very helpfully includes a list of titles at the end, so that fans can read until they’ve sated their Regency Hunger or until their eyes are red and scratchy, whichever comes first.
In addition to running a library in rural Maine, Leila Roy blogs at Bookshelves of Doom, is currently serving on the Amelia Bloomer Project committee, is a contributor at Book Riot, hangs out on Twitter a lot—possibly too much—and watches a shocking amount of television. Her cat is a murderer.