In Creatures of Will and Temper, Molly Tanzer gives us an urban fantasy. As long as you don’t mind defining urban as Victorian era London. Alternately, it’s historical fiction with a distinct supernatural twist. Either way, it’s a romp on the wild side of an oh-so-cultured time.
At first I thought the titular creatures were the main characters, Evadne and Dorina. Dorina, a 17-year old art critic wannabe, is headed to her uncle’s London home for a few months. The older of the sisters, Evadne, catches her in an indiscretion and is included somewhat unwillingly in the trip as chaperone. In London, Uncle Basil introduces them straightaway to Lady Henrietta Wooton (Henry for short). Lady Henry becomes their connection to a circle of aesthetes that Dorina gobbles up, and Evadne immediately rejects.
Sister-related melodrama ensues, with neither one feeling entirely comfortable in this new environment. Soon enough, though, Dorina settles into a close relationship with Lady Henry and Evadne finds her place as a fencing student.
Tanzer takes this setting and injects demons in a very cultured way, indicative of the time and place. The demons aren’t running rampant in an overt way. They have subtle power and control over humans who allow them into their minds. And, truthfully, the connection isn’t always subtle. But don’t expect actual creatures on the streets of London.
However, in Tanzer’s imagined world, their are multiple demons each with its own goals and desires. Hence, the simple sister-sister conflict ramps up considerably. This is the part where I tell you very little because I’m a non-spoiler reviewer. But, trust me, there’s plenty of mystery and action once the fantasy clicks into the story.
Tanzer’s writing style is easy to read. She combines modern and Victorian sensibilities well in the world building and character development. I found the sisters to be fairly annoying and unsympathetic at first. But they grew on me. Just like demons in my own mind, I’d catch myself wondering what would come next while I was living other parts of my life. And in that regard, Tanzer pulls some cracking good plot twists that I hadn’t envisioned.
I’d give this 3.5/5 stars, and will look out for Tanzer’s earlier writing as well.
Thanks to NetGalley and the publishers, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and John Joseph Adams/Mariner Books for the opportunity to read the digital ARC in exchange for my honest review.