“…Lucy was tired of being manipulated and moved about like a game piece. It was time to make her own decisions. With hardly a thought of what it would mean, Lucy leapt up, hurled open the door of the coach, and threw herself onto the grass.”
- The Twelfth Enchantment, by David Liss
I had high hopes for this book, for reasons as follows:
- it looked like a Regency romance novel that had a slightly more in-depth plot and better writing, with magic in it- an emerging genre that doesn’t have a name yet. Alternate-history fantasy, but subset early 1800s England. Based on the cover, I classed it with Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrel and The River of No Return, both great books.
- It has a blurb by Deborah Harkness on the cover, author of the wildly popular All Souls Trilogy, basically Twilight for grown-ups. (I don’t need to link Twilight, do I? You know what that is, right?)
Sadly, it didn’t live up to those hopes. Lucy Derrick lives with her evil uncle, who is trying to marry her to a creepy old mill owner who is in the process of automating his mills. Just when she thinks she has no choice but to accept this marriage, Lord Byron (yes, that Lord Byron) shows up on her front step under a curse, tells her to “gather the leaves,” and passes out. This plunges her into an exploration of her heritage, and she becomes the central player in a pseudo-supernatural conflict over the industrialization of England.
The writing is vague and the heroine is weak, manipulative, and in denial for the first two thirds of the book. This changes around the time the quote above comes in- the first action she takes on her own is to throw herself out of a moving vehicle. Needless to say, she doesn’t come across as terribly intelligent either. I think Liss was trying to show Lucy growing and changing as a person, and drawing attention to the helpless positions of dependence women were forced into by the society of the time. Unfortunately, what actually happens is that Lucy spends a lot of time wallowing in self-pity, disbelieving in the evidence of her senses, refusing to think about the implications of anything that happens to her, and blindly trusting anyone that is nice to her.
The only interesting part of this book was thinking about job loss through the automation of manufacturing, which rings particularly true as we go through a digital revolution in our current era. It’s a topic worth pondering, but not via this novel.