Hello, all! Welcome to another week of “Sam is late on her ARC reading.” I received The Ruthless Lady’s Guide to Wizardry from Netgalley and Berkley Publishing a little before the publication date and flew through it as quick as I could, but missed the publishing date by two weeks (so go order your copy now using the links at the bottom!) I could NOT resist the cover, synopsis, and fun name, so I am so happy that I as chosen for the ARC. So thank you Netgalley for this opportunity! Without further ado…
From the Publisher:
Sparks fly in this enchanting fantasy novel from the author of Unnatural Magic when a down-and-out fire witch and a young gentlewoman join forces against a deadly conspiracy.
Dellaria Wells, petty con artist, occasional thief, and partly educated fire witch, is behind on her rent in the city of Leiscourt—again. Then she sees the “wanted” sign, seeking Female Persons, of Martial or Magical ability, to guard a Lady of some Importance, prior to the celebration of her Marriage. Delly fast-talks her way into the job and joins a team of highly peculiar women tasked with protecting their wealthy charge from unknown assassins.
Delly quickly sets her sights on one of her companions, the confident and well-bred Winn Cynallum. The job looks like nothing but romance and easy money until things take a deadly (and undead) turn. With the help of a bird-loving necromancer, a shapeshifting schoolgirl, and an ill-tempered reanimated mouse named Buttons, Delly and Winn are determined to get the best of an adversary who wields a twisted magic and has friends in the highest of places.
What I Loved:
- The Romance. I have a confession: I am haven’t read a lot of books with LGBTQ romances at the forefront. Being a bit of a series addict, I don’t often stumble upon new books unless one of my go-to authors writes a new series, and my reading profile has been narrowed from it. Delly and Winn are frankly adorable together: Delly is introduced as a semi-hardened criminal in the fact that she often has to do anything possible to get money, and she immediately felt a flirtation with Winn and saw her as a potential “mark.” It is an old trope given new life, since Winn is completely conscious about her own wealth, has very few doubts about how great Delly actually is, and has Delly rise to the occasion. Delly’s internal fight to actually *want* to be a better person for Winn and falling in love with her while still trying to convince herself that Winn is just money bags makes Delly a much more intriguing character than her other personality traits (more on that below). It is fun to see how complicated Delly wants it to be, with how uncomplicated Winn knows it is. I would love to see short stories about their shenanigans together.
- The Misfit Band of Talented Women. I am a huge fan of many sub-sub genres, but two stand out: “band of rogues on a mission,” and “women helping other women in particularly witchy ways.” Ruthless Lady’s Guide combines these tropes in a delightful way. All of the women hired to protect bride to be Miss Bastennes are talented in unique ways, and all of them are decidedly their own characters. Delly the fire witch and self-proclaimed guttersnipe; paired with a middle-class old necromancer named Mrs. Totham; her daughter the dainty Miss Totham who becomes a raging boar; the gorgeous Miss Dok who is secretly an expert chemist and academic nerd while also being a snob outwardly; and Winn the troll/nobility/expert in hand to hand combat. Yet somehow by the end, the women are all friends and face insurmountable odds together, with each of their strengths being necessary at some juncture. This is a book driven by its characters, and the characters are all women you would want to know.
What Didn’t Work so Well:
- Dellaria Wells. For a book so driven by its characters, the main character Delly can be a real pain in the behind. In the beginning of Ruthless Lady’s Guide, Delly is hard up for cash and acting pretty impulsively because of it. She takes a job she doesn’t listen to the instructions for, drinks half her money away on gin when she can’t afford rent, and acts at least 50% stupider than she is just to piss people off. As Delly grows her fire witch powers and learns from the band of women, she becomes more tolerable, but still has a chip on her shoulder the size of London, and refuses to listen to her heart until maybe the last 50 pages. Did she show a lot of growth? Yes. Was she ever my favorite character in this book of great characters? Absolutely not. I could have used a different point of view thrown in every once in a while.
- The Pacing. This may actually be related to how much we have to listen to Delly’s internal monologue, but the first half of Ruthless Lady’s Guide dragged for me. Prior to hitting to road with the other women, Delly is just in this universe’s version of London, drinking and having sex with random people, worrying about her mother and her rent and not doing anything about it but getting herself thrown in jail. This goes on for at least four chapters, so the first ten percent of the book is, frankly, boring. It takes a while for Ruthless Lady’s Guide to get to the plot, but not much is done in those moments.
- The Worldbuild. This is a bit of a caveat, because the little bit of Delly and Winn’s world I saw I liked. A sort of pseudo-Victorian world where trolls can be nobility, women can enter professions, being “householded” is essentially a sanctioned mistress gig, and necromancers, schools for witchcraft, and flying metal spiders exist. However, none of it is explained, there is no context for any of the races or the magic, and the class system is a cheap imitation of gutter-London. They use unusual curses and talk about religion, but none of it is explained. The government system goes completely unremarked upon, even though we know Winn’s father is some sort of higher-up in government. We don’t even know if there is a queen, a mono- or poly-theistic religious system, or more races than just trolls and humans. While sometimes high fantasy and urban fantasy novels get bogged in the details of their worldbuild, here, I was just left feeling confused and like I was missing something.
Despite its flaws, I really enjoyed The Ruthless Lady’s Guide to Wizardry, and I am really glad I stuck it out to the end. The second two thirds of the book were fun, fast paced, and interesting, and you left very invested in the characters’ futures. I love a good “women supporting women” story, and this took it a step further by having almost all of the protagonists and villains be women. I would recommend The Ruthless Lady’s Guide to Wizardry to my patient fantasy readers who like a slower burn, and anyone who loves a well-developed LGBTQ romance. If ever a sequel is on the horizon, I would love for Waggoner to give us readers a better look into the world. Also not to spoil anything, but my by far favorite character is a portentous skeleton mouse, and I would reread this just for Mr. Buttons.
Three and a half waves! But don’t take my word for it – go pick up The Ruthless Lady’s Guide to Wizardry here (on sale with Bookshop!)