Whoo, it’s been a while since I’ve posted an actual review! One reason is that I’ve read decent stuff, but nothing that truly sparked joy. This book, though! For context, Stephanie ran a giveaway back in… February maybe? Some time ago anyways, for her newsletter subscribers. So I nabbed this for free, and it’s been at the back of my mind since then.
Then over the weekend, I was in the mood for a short and sweet romance, and I thought, let’s do it! Readers, I was not disappointed. My sleep schedule took a hit though, as I absolutely had to finish it, even if it took me to 3am… that’s what bank holidays are for, though, right?
When a grumpy inventor meets her outrageous new neighbor in the big black castle down the road, more than one type of spark will fly!
Mia Brandt knows better than to ever again allow her true powers to be discovered. Ever since her last neighbors burned down her workshop in a night of terror and flame, she’s been determined to stay solitary, safe, and – to all outside appearances – perfectly respectable…
But Leander Fabian, whose sinister castle looms over her cozy new cottage, has far more dangerous ideas in mind. When he persuades Mia into a reluctant alliance, she finds herself swept into an exhilarating world of midnight balls, interfering countesses, illicit opera house expeditions, necromantic duels, and a whole unnatural community of fellow magic-workers and outcasts, all of whom are facing a terrifying threat.
Luckily, Mia has unnatural powers of her own – but even her unique skills may not be enough to protect her new found family and help her resist the wickedly provoking neighbor who’s seen through all of her shields from the beginning.
This novel-length collection includes all four stories and novellas originally published on Stephanie Burgis’s Patreon in 2020-2021: Good Neighbors, Deadly Courtesies, Fine Deceptions, and Fierce Company.
I’ve really enjoyed Scales and Sensibility previously, so I got this book knowing it was a historical romance, but not much else. I didn’t read the blurb or anything, just knew others whose opinion I trust loved it, so I went into it expecting a regular romance, and was pleasantly surprised to find out it had magic and necromancers and a heroine who’s a metalworker and wears pants (well, coveralls) most of the time! I’m a sucker for a woman with a job, especially in historical romance so this was a great start!
Now, technically this isn’t one novel, so much as a collection of short stories, all linked together. But it reads as one, or at any rate, like different acts of the same story.
I have to say, I love a good grumpy heroine as well. Mia just… doesn’t want to make friends! She doesn’t want to socialize! She’d rather stay in her workshop and drink her tea and never see anyone but her dad all year long! I can entirely relate, minus the workshop. Her grumpiness extends to telling her neighbours exactly what she thinks, and that includes the handsome necromancer who’s trying his best to invite her to tea (and get her to fix his minions). Which makes for hilarious and cute interactions.
As in any good romance, you can clearly see how the both of them are yearning for each other, and their flaws and insecurities complete each other so well and make for the best miscommunications! The last two stories were my favourites, as they take a little longer to develop and see our two heroes come together to make the world a better place, and look, I’m also a sucker for stories of found families and communities fighting against injustice. Also, “there’s only one bed” and fake dating tropes in the third story just made me very, very happy!
It’s also refreshing to read a historical romance where the main characters are like “propriety? I don’t know her” and like, share a carriage alone together. Or a room. No chaperones or anything like that, and nobody who matters really cares. It’s not exactly your regular historical romance. But it did remind me of other romance novels like Olivia Waite’s Feminine Pursuits series, if only for the working women and the community coming together. Also, while it’s a f/m story, there are background queer characters that are absolutely great, and I really hope the author gets around to the novella about some of them she mentions in the afterword.
Overall a great, light and short romance with some adorable (yet headstrong) characters in a historical-ish setting. With pet sea serpents and minions and skeletal dragons… and the idea that love – in all its forms – triumphs after all.