Goodreads: Murder, Magic, and What We Wore
Series: None (yet?)
Source: City Book Review
Published: September 19, 2017
Miss Annis Wentworth has always suspected her father was a spy for England, so when he dies under mysterious circumstances, she takes it upon herself to do some spy work herself to find the murderer. However, her sudden lack of financial support means she has to balance her sleuthing with her new (but completely secret) job as a glamour modiste—a fashionable dressmaker who can imbue her clothes with magic.
Murder, Magic, and What We Wore fits into the small trend I’ve noticed of Regency era YA books that focus on fun and flirting and try not to take themselves overly seriously—even when discussing things like, well, murder. Think of Cindy Anstey’s Love, Lies and Spies, and you’ll understand the type of tone Kelly Jones has adopted here, though personally I think Anstey does it better.
Jones seems to struggle with finding the right balance for Murder, Magic, and What We Wore because there’s simply so much going on in the book. There’s the looming issue that protagonist Annis Wentworth believes her father was a spy for England and has been murdered by his enemies and that she needs to uncover her killer and deliver whatever news he was carrying related to the exiled Napoleon. Yet…weirdly this major, serious plot thread is not always the focus of the novel. In fact, I’d say most of the novel is focused on the “magic” and “what we wore” part, as Annis tries to live a double life, disguising herself as a fashionable, magical dressmaker (because no self-respecting woman of her station would run a shop) and attempting to maintain her status as a young lady of society known for her fashion sense and advice.
Annis herself isn’t a character I personally warmed to. Jones tries her best to make Annis strong, brave, and smart, but I often thought she leaned towards the frivolous and made some fairly dire mistakes. This is reasonable, of course, considering she has zero spy training and naturally would be bad at simply deciding she would like to be a spy, but it doesn’t make me respect her. Maybe I’m an old grump, but I was half on the side of the people who wanted her to just go home, mind her own business, and leave the espionage to the professionals. After all, she does have a pretty cool dress shop to run as an alternative career.
So, basically I found Murder, Magic, and What We Wore entertaining but not necessarily thought-provoking or moving. It’s one of those books that I enjoyed while I was reading it, but I don’t think it will be likely to cross my mind again. For fluffy Regency books, I really do prefer Cindy Anstey, and for books that are more serious about intrigue and the threat of Napoleon, I adore the School for Unusual Girls series by Kathleen Baldwin.