I don’t think it’s possible for Stephanie Burgis to write a story I don’t love, but her lockdown project, a collection of four short stories and novellas about a grumpy metal-mage and her cheerful necromancer neighbour, might just be my new favourite…
Book: Good Neighbors: The Full Collection by Stephanie Burgis
Publication date: 2nd February 2022
Ownership: I’m subscribed to the author’s Patreon so I read these individually as they came out as part of the perks of that subscription, which I pay for myself; however, she provided me with a review copy of the final boxset free of charge. All opinions are my own.
Content warnings: Minor violence and injury (non-graphic); necromancy (light-hearted); parental neglect/emotional abuse (in past, confronted on page); fantasy xenophobia/harassment of magical population.
When a grumpy inventor meets her outrageous new neighbor in the big black castle down the road, more than one type of spark will fly!
Mia Brandt knows better than to ever again allow her true powers to be discovered. Ever since her last neighbors burned down her workshop in a night of terror and flame, she’s been determined to stay solitary, safe, and – to all outside appearances – perfectly respectable…
But Leander Fabian, whose sinister castle looms over her cozy new cottage, has far more dangerous ideas in mind. When he persuades Mia into a reluctant alliance, she finds herself swept into an exhilarating world of midnight balls, interfering countesses, illicit opera house expeditions, necromantic duels, and a whole unnatural community of fellow magic-workers and outcasts, all of whom are facing a terrifying threat.
Luckily, Mia has unnatural powers of her own – but even her unique skills may not be enough to protect her new found family and help her resist the wickedly provoking neighbor who’s seen through all of her shields from the beginning.
This novel-length collection includes all four stories and novellas originally published on Stephanie Burgis’s Patreon in 2020-2021: Good Neighbors, Deadly Courtesies, Fine Deceptions, and Fierce Company.
This kind of book is absolute catnip for me: fantasy romance that’s sweet and cosy, with a historical-ish setting and a hefty dose of feminism. Fans of Burgis’s other fantasy of manners (The Harwood Spellbook series in particular) will be delighted by this. For me, it’s the perfect recipe: take one snarky, practical heroine with a vulnerable centre, add a hot dramatic wizard for her to bicker-flirt with, stir in a bucketload of fun tropes, and top with a heaping of sneaky emotional development. I devoured each of these stories in a single sitting, because they’re just so much pure fun, you won’t want to stop!
It only took me a few sentences before I was completely hooked on Mia as a main character – she’s just got such a great voice and I absolutely loved how determined she was to live her life on her own terms. She adores her father and would do anything to keep the two of them safe, including isolating herself totally from any kind of relationship with anyone else – so it’s fantastic to see how annoying she finds the overtures of friendship from Leander, her necromancer neighbour. Leander himself is such an enjoyable character – think of every stereotype of a gorgeous Gothic sorceror, but then give him a great sense of humour and a sweet side. I loved how irritating they found each other, but also, as the stories progress, they discover how well they complement each other and it’s a total joy to watch their romance unfold. Mia and Leander are the central characters throughout, but all the characters in this series are wonderful, and the focus widens over the course of the four stories to bring the rest of the cast into the spotlight too, giving this a really warm, community- and friendship-focused feel by the end of the book.
All four stories together still only make up a short book, and yet there’s so much packed in here – really interesting magic, a midnight ball, a minor revolution, to name but a few fun things! – and Mia and Leander really grow as people. If you’re a fan of T Kingfisher’s fluffier fiction, or Patricia C Wrede’s Enchanted Forest Chronicles, this should hit the spot for you. I could read a dozen more books in this series – it’s pure wonderful comfort reading, and I highly recommend it to anyone looking for fun, cosy fantasy. Five out of five cats!
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