I received this book for free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Creatures of Will & Temper by Molly Tanzer
Published by Mariner Books on November 14 2017
Genres: Adult, Fantasy
Buy on Amazon
Before I begin my real review, I’m going to do something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. And that is, I want to compile all the “notes” I took on my Kindle while reading this book. Together, they form a sort-of review, an overall impression of this very strange story. So forgive me for indulging in this experiment! Without further ado, here are the NOTES I took on my Kindle, in order:
dum dum (as in, an expression of anticipated terror)
I love evadne
she can sense the demon
something to do with the demon?
something to do with the demon? (yes, I literally made the same note twice)
snuff makes her understand the demon?
it’s like a drug
the demon wants her?
I love that she fences
I love the descriptions of fencing gear
this seems out of place
the painting has a kind of power
I still don’t understand why she really wants the demon in her. I feel very distant from the idea of the demon, unless she’s going to really explain things.
what’s up with him?
a huge twist!
at its core, this is a story of the strong bond of sisters
it seems this is an excuse not to have to make the demon a character
so the demon is going to help her save them
the painting was keeping him captive
you have to take risks to truly live
Anyone who reads with a Kindle (which is most of us, right?) will totally understand these random, seemingly unrelated notes, LOL. There might be minor spoilers in my notes, I just realized, but I don’t think there is anything that really gives the story away, seeing as most of these are sentence fragments!
But, this story does deserve an actual review, so now that I’ve had some fun, let’s get to it!
The nitty-gritty: A delicious tale of manners, trysts, fencing and demons, although a little too heavy on the romance for my taste.
Creatures of Will & Temper is a retelling of Oscar Wilde’s The Portrait of Dorian Gray, a book I read before I started blogging and then promptly forgot about. (I’ll admit I had to look up the summary on Wikipedia to jog my memory!) In Molly Tanzer’s version, she’s done some gender swapping to make this a much more interesting story. Dorian Gray is now Dorina Gray, a young, beautiful and flighty girl who enjoys the company of other women, who loves art and is determined to become an art critic. Her older sister Evadne is the proverbial spinster, a woman who loves the sport of fencing more than finding a future husband. One summer, the girls are invited to stay at their Uncle Basil’s home in London. Dorina’s goal is to observe and interview her uncle, who is an artist, but the real reason she wants to go to London is to have fun, meet new people and explore the city. Evadne is forced to go with her sister as a chaperone, but all she really wants to do is stay home and practice her fencing maneuvers.
Once in London, the girls meet the worldly and intimidating Lady Henrietta Wotton, or “Henry” as she calls herself, and Dorina is immediately smitten with the much older woman. Evadne, on the other hand, dislikes Lady Henry immediately, and suspects that her sister will try to seduce her. As Henry takes Dorina under her wing and begins to introduce her to her friends, Evadne discovers a fencing club in the neighborhood and boldly starts taking fencing lessons (not a normal activity for women at that time). As the girls drift further and further apart, both begin to notice odd characteristics about their new acquaintances. Dorina observes Henry’s obsession with ginger: she smokes ginger infused cigarettes, sucks on ginger flavored candy, and even grows ginger in her garden. Meanwhile, Evadne notices the strange behavior of her uncle Basil, who is obsessed with a portrait of his dead lover Oliver. Evadne herself seems drawn to the painting, which seems to have a mesmerizing effect on whoever looks at it.
But soon enough, both girls are drawn into the secret world of demons, unbeknownst to each other. Dorina begs to join Henry’s secret “aesthete club,” where members explore their five senses in tantalizing ways, while Evadne meets a demon hunter at the fencing academy named George. They don’t realize it, but both girls are on a collision course that is sure to end badly, and maybe even in death.
This is a tough story to summarize, because there isn’t really a quick “elevator pitch” that I can use to describe it. Maybe that’s one reason that I ended up with mixed feelings about this story. On one hand, I enjoyed the Jane Austen-esque story about manners, romance and family bonds, but I went into this thinking it was going to be much more focused on the speculative aspects than it was. Because of this, the first half of the story was extremely slow for me. By itself, it worked well as a story about the complex relationship between Dorina and Evadne and their introduction into the sophisticated world of Victorian London. But I kept waiting for something to happen, and although the author drops hints about the supernatural events to come—the world of diabolists (people who coexist with demons)—it wasn’t until the last 20% of the story that the reader really gets to see the demons in action.
But I want to talk about what I really enjoyed. First of all, I loved the queer relationships, and I especially loved that Dorina is so open about her sexuality. For a girl of seventeen, it seemed very unusual, and even more so because of the strict and proper time period that the story takes place in. Romance lovers will really enjoy this book, because there is plenty of “shipping” going on. Dorina falls in love with Henry, a man named Jonas falls for Evadne, Evadne falls for George, and so on. It was quite entertaining, although not quite what I was expecting.
I also loved the fencing scenes! Evadne’s passion is fencing (again, highly unusual for a woman at that time) and when she finds her tribe at the fencing club in London, I was so happy for her. Tanzer has clearly done lots of research on the subject and gives plenty of details about the sport, the equipment, and the sheer physical strength required to fence correctly.
The story’s downfall, at least for me, was the supernatural element. To briefly sum up the relationship between humans and demons, in Tanzer’s world, a demon’s essence can be absorbed by humans by eating plants or other food that has been infused with the spirit of the demon. Confused yet? Well, I’m not surprised. If a human makes a deal with a demon to enter his or her body, the demon can provide wonderful benefits, like staying young forever (and that’s where the similarities to The Picture of Dorian Gray come in) or giving someone superhuman strength. As long as the human keeps eating that particular substance, the demon can pass on those gifts. But as in all dealings with the devil, there is always a price to pay. It’s a pretty cool concept, but unfortunately the demons involved were barely even characters in the story. A demon can only communicate with impressions or dreams, so you can’t even talk to it directly.
But when the story hits about the 80% mark, I started flying through the rest of the pages. Tanzer’s final showdown had several twists that I didn’t see coming and she brought everything together beautifully. My only wish is that the pace had been consistent from the beginning, but I can’t deny that Molly Tanzer is a talented writer, and I’m eager to read more of her work.
Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy.