A pitch-perfect Regency tale of a middle-aged woman finding her place in the world – oh, plus dragons!
Book: Miss Percy’s Guide (to the Care and Feeding of British Dragons) by Quenby Olson
Publication date: 26th October 2021
Ownership: E-ARC sent free of charge by the author. All opinions my own.
Content warnings: Emotionally abusive/controlling family.
Miss Mildred Percy inherits a dragon.
Ah, but we’ve already got ahead of ourselves…
Miss Mildred Percy is a spinster. She does not dance, she has long stopped dreaming, and she certainly does not have adventures. That is, until her great uncle has the audacity to leave her an inheritance, one that includes a dragon’s egg.
The egg – as eggs are wont to do – decides to hatch, and Miss Mildred Percy is suddenly thrust out of the role of “spinster and general wallflower” and into the unprecedented position of “spinster and keeper of dragons.”
But England has not seen a dragon since… well, ever. And now Mildred must contend with raising a dragon (that should not exist), kindling a romance (with a humble vicar), and embarking on an adventure she never thought could be hers for the taking.
It should be immediately obvious from the blurb why I was so excited to read this book, and I can tell you that it was everything I could have hoped for and more. This is a charming delight of a book, one that it’s just so lovely to sink into and be carried away by. I read it after a run of books that put me through the emotional wringer, and while I wouldn’t say that Miss Percy’s Guide is entirely fluffy, it does have that comfort read quality that makes it a wonderful Sunday afternoon kind of book. The writing is wry and mannered in the best Regency style, but perfectly readable, and I only wish it had been longer – not because the plot needed it, but because I was just having so much fun.
I couldn’t have enjoyed Mildred’s voice more. The titular Miss Percy herself is a fabulous main character; a woman in her forties whom life has passed by until now. That a mousy, middle class woman, with no particular specialness but her wit, should be the heroine of an adventure is still (sadly) a real novelty in a fantasy book, and she isn’t even the only older woman in the main cast! Mr Wiggan’s housekeeper, Mrs Babbington, is even older than Mildred, and is still allowed to be a well-rounded character. In fact, with the exception of the dragon, these people are so extremely normal, but engaging. It’s impossible not to root for Mildred when she’s just so very relatable (whether that’s on the subject of cake, aching backs, or what to feed a dragon). At times there’s the odd non-Briticism, but I’m a real stickler for that kind of thing and it was nowhere near enough to put me off.
The romance is sweet, but understated – much more Austen-esque than you might expect if you’re a modern day Regency romance reader who expects sexual chemistry front and centre. While there’s no doubt that Mildred and Mr Wiggan have a good solid foundation for their love (and their romance is no less swoonworthy for its sensible nature!), this is wholly Mildred’s book and it’s her character development that forms the emotional progress of the story. Romance is one part of that, but so is regaining her sense of self, and her place in the world, after years of being manipulated into a shadow of herself for her sister’s family. And oh, how you’ll love to hate Mildred’s sister Diana and her daughter Belinda! Their subtle (and not so subtle) awfulness is eerily well-written, as is the way Mildred’s folded up her entire personality and dreams under their jabs. It’s an absolute joy to watch her recover her backbone and decide she is, in fact, worth an adventure.
This book is so warm and funny. For someone who loves fantasy with very personal stakes, and domestic wit like Austen and Cranford, it couldn’t have been more perfect. I’ve barely even talked about the dragon, because even though that side of things is wonderful, I just loved the human side of it so much. I’m so glad there are two more books to come! Five out of five cats.