It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of Stephanie Burgis’s Harwood Spellbook series, which combines Regency romance, magic and feminism into wonderfully cozy, comforting, enjoyable reads. The newest novella in the series, Moontangled, is out today!
Book: Moontangled by Stephanie Burgis
Read before: No
Ownership: E-ARC sent free of charge by author; physical copy purchased by me. All opinions my own!
First things first, look at that stunning cover! It’s designed by Ravven and it’s just SO beautiful – the colours are phenomenal. All the covers of this series have been beautiful so far, but this is definitely in the running for my favourite. I can’t wait til I have the physical copy in my hands.
The Harwood Spellbook series is made up of a mix of novels and novellas. In Snowspelled and Thornbound, the novels which provide the main narrative, the protagonist is Cassandra Harwood, a young woman who is determined to beat society’s expectations by becoming the first female magician, and later opening a school for other women who want to learn magic. In this version of Regency England, the country is ruled by the Boudiccate, an all-female goverment supported by male magicians. As well as navigating gender politics, humans must also survive alongside capricious elf-lords and other magical beasts, and it’s all just a delightful tangle of etiquette and politics, with dangerous magic thrown in! There’s a healthy dollop of romance too – Cassandra’s somewhat fraught relationship with her ex-fiancé Wrexham is the backbone of the first novel, and the novella Spellswept jumps back in time to show the courtship of Jonathan and Amy, Cassandra’s brother and sister-in-law (and takes place in an underwater ballroom…).
Moontangled is the story of Juliana Banks and Caroline Fennell, who have appeared in the previous stories as side characters – their relationship is the focus this time. Yep, this romance is f/f! Their engagement was established early on in the series, kept secret not because same-sex relationships are frowned upon in general, but because the world is set up so that politicians (who are nearly all female) must marry magicians (who are nearly all male). Caroline is a rising star in the world of politics, and therefore needs a magician to marry; Juliana is a student at Cassandra’s school, training to become a magician, in part due to her own brilliance, and in part determined to be wife material for Caroline. But Caroline is determined to break up, as she feels Juliana will be better off without her… When things start to fall apart at a party at the school, it seems as though there might not be a happy ending for this couple – and that’s before the elves start getting involved!
I loved that we got a chance to see a bit more of Caroline and Juliana – pretty much all the side characters of the novels look like they have interesting stories to tell, and these two definitely do. The world needs more queer historical romance in general, and this series, with its nuanced look at gender politics, is an excellent place to have it. Both women are wonderful characters, and you can’t help but understand their actions, even when you might be internally screaming at them to be more sensible! As with many of the author’s heroines, both Juliana and Caroline are spot-on portrayals of realistic women: stubborn, smart, ambitious, humanly flawed. The romance is sweet and utterly believable – it plays with the tropes of the genre but manages to make them feel just right for this particular couple. It’s dramatic, romantic, sweet and very satisfying. And there are some stunning dresses (which is always a bonus for me)!
A wonderfully fluffy, witty, cozy read that adds a lot to the main series. You could start here, but I recommend going back to the beginning to experience all the loveliness of this series – Cassandra is very much in the background here, but it’s amazing to see how much she’s changed the world already. Five out of five cats!