I recently reviewed Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s novel The Beautiful Ones and said that it was perfect for Bridgerton fans looking for a little bit more magic in their lives. Did you know there’s an entire genre dedicated to this trend? Often referred to as “fantasy of manners,” these books take place within the confines of an elaborate social structure. They see protagonists pitted against their neighbors and peers instead of monsters or grand forces of evil. Here are five novels and series that combine the charm and formality of Regency romance with magic, spells and even dragons.
Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho
Zacharias Wythe is a former slave and the newly appointed Sorcerer Royal of the Unnatural Philosophers. Zacharias inherited his adopted father’s position after his suspicious death and the rest of the sorcerers aren’t thrilled. He finds himself traveling to Fairyland to solve the steady decline of magic. On the way, he crosses paths with a school for gentlewitches where families send “inconveniently magical daughters” to learn restraint. Here, he realizes it may not be the entire world losing its magic, but just England and only the gentleman. Teaming up with a woman with immense power, Zacharias sets off on a path that may alter magic worldwide.
Sorcerer to the Crown is both a magical adventure and a comedy of manners. People, particularly the gentleman sorcerers, constantly trip over themselves to maintain decorum despite their pervasive racism and sexism. Unlike Bridgerton, there’s only a hint of romance; however, the book is incredibly funny and charming and easily makes up for it.
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke
I have to start out completely without objectivity and announce how much I love this book and Susanna Clarke in general. With that out of the way, a summary: English magicians once commanded fairy servants that gave them magic and power over everything from the wind to death itself. By the 1800s, they lost this knowledge. One magician, Mr. Norrell, collects forgotten books from England’s magical past; he aims to bring back magic through intense study and hard work. Soon, a new magician appears on the scene, Mr. Norrell’s opposite in every way. Jonathan Strange: handsome, charming, a true gentleman and attracted to the wildest forms of magic. Soon, his pursuit of long-forgotten magic threatens Norrell, England and the entire world.
Clarke gradually builds an incredibly rich and complex fantasy world. She channels Jane Austen and Oscar Wilde, and the characters are solid and interesting, as lovable as they are flawed. Like Bridgerton, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell is now a show. The BBC adaptation does it justice, but it’s really in your best interest to read this gem of a book.
The Glamourist Histories by Mary Robinette Kowal
In Shades of Milk and Honey (the first book of the series), Jane feels destined for spinsterhood. She possesses all the talent in the family – art, music, magic – but is already 28 and apparently past marriageable age. Her sister Melody, on the other hand, is lovely and young and sought after. While they love each other deeply, both sisters love the same eligible gentleman, although only Jane knows it. Pushing herself to do what’s right for her sister, she channels her energy into the magic of glamour and the people around her. And don’t worry, there’s also a duel for a lady’s affections.
Kowal put a great deal of effort into developing glamour – the novel’s magic system – as a form of ladylike art. Like drawing or playing the piano, well-bred women must practice glamour if they want to find a husband. It can be applied to music, allowing it to loop in the air after someone stops playing or bringing paintings to life. Men both desire it as a skill they want in a wife and dismiss it as a womanly pursuit. The first novel of The Glamourist Histories is self-contained, but there are four sequels after it if you can’t get enough.
His Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik
As Napoleon’s army rampages across Europe and his navy lies in wait, the war takes to the skies. Aviators join the fight riding dragons bred for size and speed. Will Laurence doesn’t start out as one of these men; he’s a naval captain who happens across a dragon egg that instantly bonds with him when it hatches. Soon he’s swept up in aviator training, meeting entirely different types of people than he’s used to and going on grander adventures than he’d ever expected.
This one is a little bit of a wild card as far as Bridgerton comparisons go. His Majesty’s Dragon and the rest of Naomi Novik‘s Temeraire series are light on romance. Still, it does take place during the Napoleonic Wars and so features all of the manners and formality expected of Regency-era nobility and commoners alike. Laurence has a strong sense of propriety and dedication to doing what’s right and does start the novel a little stuffy. Still, he relaxes as he gets to know his dragon and the other aviators and even has a little romance of his own. This is a complete series of nine books, so perfect for anyone in it for the long haul.
The Midnight Bargain by C.L. Polk
Bargaining season has arrived in Chasland and Beatrice must secure a wealthy match to elevate her debt-ridden family. But marriage means losing the magic she loves. Beatrice dreams of someday becoming a Magus and practicing advanced magic as men do. She collects forbidden grimoires and studies in secret, hoping to learn enough to help her father’s business instead of getting married. She summons a spirit to help her in her quest, but her new ally asks a price: Beatrice’s first kiss, one she steals from her adversary’s handsome, compassionate and wealthy brother Ianthe Lavan. Soon Beatrice must decide what’s more important to her, magic and renown, or love?
Beatrice is a spirited and strong-willed heroine, one who won’t let society’s expectations tie her down. Similar to Eloise Bridgerton, she dreads the day she’ll be married off (although in Beatrice’s case, marriage also brings a collar that locks away her magic until after she’s past childbearing years). If you love Regency books and mannered dramas combined with full-blown fantasy worldbuilding, C.L. Polk‘s The Midnight Bargain is just right for you.
There you have it! Five fantasy of manners books and series to keep you going while you wait for season two of Bridgerton!
This article was originally published 4/28/21
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