As you saw in my 20 Books of Summer TBR post, this is my oldest review copy. I’m so pleased to have finally made time to read it – and I enjoyed it just as much as I’d hoped!
Book: A Dress for the Wicked by Autumn Krause
Publication date: 6th August 2019
Ownership: Review copy sent free of charge by Harper360. All opinions my own.
Content warnings: minor violence; sexual assault implied/discussed in very limited detail.
Nothing much happens in the sleepy town of Shy in Avon-upon-Kynt. And for eighteen years, Emmaline Watkins has feared that her future held just that: nothing.
But when the head of the most admired fashion house in the country opens her prestigious design competition to girls from outside the stylish capital city, Emmy’s dreams seem closer than they ever have before.
As the first “country girl” to compete, Emmy knows she’ll encounter extra hurdles on her way to the top. But as she navigates the twisted world of high fashion she starts to wonder: will she be able to tailor herself to fit into this dark, corrupted race? And at what cost?
Of all the YA tropes, I like two most of all: beautiful dresses and cut-throat competitions. So when I read the blurb for A Dress for the Wicked, I knew I was going to have a huge amount of fun with it! This is fluffy, fun YA alternate history, set in Britannia Secunda, which seceded from England and as such is very similar, but not exactly the same, as Victorian London. Add to that a mix of modern and historical fashion, and a Project Runway-style series of fashion design challenges, and you start to understand what this book is about. It’s just sheer fun to watch Emmy’s journey closer and closer to fashion fame – if you’re a fan of The Selection and books of its ilk, this will be right up your street.
The worldbuilding is, I’ll be honest, a little shaky. Britannia Secunda’s political situation doesn’t quite make sense – there’s a monarchy, and rebels agitating against them, but everyone from the royals to the rebels seem very concerned with fashion. Fashion seems to be the national industry to the exclusion of all else, which seems a little bit odd and unworkable – do they import everything else? Only one fashion house exists, because it shuts all the others down by the power of gossip and fashion, which means if you’re not in favour with the regime, you have to have your clothes made by a private seamstress; this is framed as inherently bad, as if it were completely impossible for an unaffiliated seamstress to make anything fashionable. Emmy’s place in the competition is the result of a political manoeuvre to make fashion seem more accessible, and the political subplot comes into play more and more as the story develops, and on the whole I was just a little bit baffled how this was a functioning country. It’s one of those books where you just kind of have to agree not to think too hard about the worldbuilding – and to be honest, you won’t want to, because it just romps along beautifully
There is a romance thread, but it’s definitely a subplot, and it doesn’t cause a lot of drama, which was quite refreshing. I was quite hoping this would be an f/f book, with Emmy falling for one of the other girls in the competition, and the story seems to lean that way a little at first (she’s very observant of how attractive the other girls are), but in the end there was no queer content whatsoever, which was a little disappointing. However, it did mean that there were strong themes of friendship and sisterhood instead, which is also important to have, especially in a book like this where it would have been easy to have Emmy feel pitted against all the other girls. There is plenty of rivalry, of course – it’s a competition! – but there’s enough depth to all of the characters that it isn’t just ‘pretty fashionable girls are mean’. It’s also a very female-heavy cast, which I always like in YA (as a whole, even stories about girls tend to see them spend a lot of time thinking about boys) – I think there are only three men of any importance in the whole book, so this is very much a woman’s world!
A Dress for the Wicked is the kind of book you’ll know immediately if you like the look of or not. It’s not promising anything more than a good fun time, and it delivers that combo of beautifully described dresses and weirdly high-stakes skill competitions that I absolutely love from this side of YA. It would make a great summer holiday read – light, fluffy, and a little bit silly. I had a great time. Four out of five cats!