I received a digital advance reader’s copy (ARC) of The Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels by India Holton. Since this version is just a proof and not the final version, I won’t quote directly and will keep my comments general.
I didn’t expect to ever use “swashbuckling” and “Jane Austen–esque” in the same sentence, but here we are.
In The Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels, Cecilia is determined to be a proper lady—to charm the others of society, to display the correct etiquette at dinner, and to blackmail and pillage treasure just like her aunt’s sorority of pirates. So when she learns that someone has hired an assassin to kill her, Cecilia knows she’s well on her way to success. Of course, things get complicated when she has to team up with the very person being paid to bring her to harm—or is he? Soon, Cecilia is on an adventure through England to prove once and for all that she’s a true scoundrel.
I did not know what to expect going into this book, apparently. I thought it was going to be a feminist historical fiction with some romance. Don’t get me wrong; it is that, but there’s also so much wacky piracy and magical flying houses to spice things up.
Firstly, I like Cecilia. She’s spunky and brave, but also a little naive about the ways of the world (again, very Austenian). I like the chemistry she has with Ned, who is charming and almost arrogant, but fun. The other characters are fun as well, but none stood out to me as much as the main two.
The story is fairly action-packed the entire time, featuring attempted assassination, thievery of an entire building, and sword fights. However, there are some nice character moments, as well as plenty of swoony romance. I wanted there to be a little more time taken with the later sometimes, but the plot still kept me interested the whole time.
The sort-of defiance of gender roles was especially entertaining. All the ladies are determined to be prim and proper, but their definition of proper is certainly not what the actual Victorians believed. This book really shows that women can be powerful and strong without sacrificing femininity, which is a message that—while obvious—I really like seeing.
In the end, The Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels is absolutely bonkers. It’s an odd combination of typical Regency/Victorian romance, a feminist fantasy, and a pirate plot, and it works. The characters are silly but fun, the love story rather predictable but cute, and the adventure strange but high-stakes. This isn’t anything to take that seriously, but what’s wrong with that?
Overall rating: 8.5/10
The Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels is now available!