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Book: “Half a Soul” by Olivia Atwater
Publishing Info: Orbit, June 2022
Where Did I Get this Book: ARC from the publisher!
Book Description: Ever since she was cursed by a faerie, Theodora Ettings has had no sense of fear or embarrassment – a condition which makes her prone to accidental scandal. Dora hopes to be a quiet, sensible wallflower during the London Season – but when the strange, handsome and utterly uncouth Lord Sorcier discovers her condition, she is instead drawn into dangerous and peculiar faerie affairs.
If Dora’s reputation can survive both her curse and her sudden connection with the least-liked man in all of high society, then she may yet reclaim her normal place in the world. . . but the longer Dora spends with Elias Wilder, the more she begins to suspect that one may indeed fall in love, even with only half a soul.
Review: I was so excited when I received an ARC of this book from Orbit (thank you!). The book description alone checks so many personal favorites of mine that it’s kind of ridiculous. It’s also been a while since I’ve read a good faerie story, so I was particularly excited to revisit this fantasy fan favorite topic.
As a young girl, Theodora Ettings, or Dora, fell prey to a malicious faerie curse. In the blink of an eye, she lost half of her soul and along with it all the sharper edges of emotion. As a young lady, while unconcerned herself with others’ dismay, Dora recognizes that her strange ways and habit of blurting out whatever she is thinking will likely prohibit her from every finding her own marriage match. She’s content, however, to simply help her beloved cousin and make a home with her as a slowly aging spinster. But life takes an unexpected turn when she stumbles into a strange mystery leaving children cursed in a comatose state. Also on the case is the prickly and antisocial Lord Sorcier. As they work closely together, each begins to question their pre-established views of their own futures.
In my opinion, the biggest question with any historical work, be it fantasy, mystery, what have you, is whether the author has a decent handle on the language of the time. Poor word choice, stuttered style, and anachronisms are the surest way to immediately lose me as a reader with this type of book. Immediately, I was relieved to find that not only did this author have a solid handled on this aspect of the story, but she was adept at inserting witty turns of phrase and leaning on some of the inherent ridiculousness of pairing faeries and magic with proper Regency language. This clever writing style was present across prose and dialogue, and there were several laugh-out-loud moments for me during this read.
I also really enjoyed Dora and the effect her curse has on her life and her interactions with the people around her. If you try and think to hard about how the curse truly works with limiting her emotions, you can likely run into a brick wall of confusion, as we do see Dora forming strong attachments to characters throughout the book. But given the explanation that Dora herself gives at one point, I thought it made enough sense for me. Plus, I was having too much fun with the way her curse was playing out on the page, as well as the slow-burn romance that was developing between her and Elias, the Lord Sorcier, to ever feel the need to question or complain.
The mystery around the children was interesting as well. Through this portion of the story, the author shines a clear light on the terrible working/living conditions of the poor living in London at this time. Not only did she highlight the challenges facing this population, but she neatly described the vast distance (partly physically, but mostly through intentional looking away) between the classes and the unwillingness of those living a comfortable life to turn their eyes to the despair surrounding them. There was also a pretty great twist towards the end of this mystery which really added to the story as a whole.
This was a light-hearted, fast-reading romantic fantasy. Fans of Regency romance are sure to enjoy it, as well as those who want a more playful look at faeries and faerie courts. I loved the heck out of this book, and now am even more excited to check out the next one coming out from this author later this summer!
Rating 9: A purely joyful reading experience all around!
“Half a Soul” isn’t on any Goodreads lists yet, but it should be on Regency Fantasy Books.