Title: Daughter of Mystery
Author: Heather Rose Jones
Published by: Bella Books
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Where I got the book: Public Library
“Margerit Sovitre did not expect to inherit the Baron Saveze’s fortunes—and even less his bodyguard. The formidable Barbara, of unknown parentage and tied to the barony for secretive reasons, is a feared duelist, capable of defending her charges with efficient, deadly force.
Equally perplexing is that while she is now a highly eligible heiress, Margerit did not also inherit the Saveze title, and the new baron eyes the fortunes he lost with open envy. Barbara, bitter that her servitude is to continue, may be the only force that stands between Margerit and the new Baron’s greed—and the ever deeper layers of intrigue that surround the ill-health of Alpennia’s prince and the divine power from rituals known only as The Mysteries of the Saints.
At first Margerit protests the need for Barbara’s services, but soon she cannot imagine sending Barbara away—for reasons of state and reasons of the heart.” (Source)
You ever hear of a book and realize that you didn’t know you needed it? This was my exact reaction when I first heard about Daughter of Mystery. Author Shira Glassman was recommending it on Twitter and Tumblr and low and behold the Ottawa Public Library had copies of the first two books. Someone on staff there is really on top of buying small press queer books.
Set in the fictional European kingdom of Alpennia, Daughter of Mystery is a delightful historical romantic fantasy of manners. Right from the first page, Jones draw the reader in with incredible tone and writing that sets up the beginning of the story and world building. It starts out as the usual, young girl with no parents being raise by her aunt and uncle only for the story to turn on its head as she inherits her godfather’s fortune. Only she’s pretty sure he only did it to spite his nephew who received the title and estates but no money to maintain them. So off they go to the capital to attend some balls in public but study saintly mysteries at the University in secret.
Fantasy of manners is all about the relationships and the rules of what is proper that governs the characters’ interactions. If you’re unfamiliar with the genre, think Jane Austen but with magic. I love how Jones builds the characters’ relationships with each other, particularly Margerit and Barbara. This isn’t a story of a young noblewoman who winds up with a lot of cash and tells society to stuff it and does what she wants. But rather Margerit has to walk a narrow balance between her desires (to study at the university), what is proper (to get married) and her guardians’ desires for her (to find a suitable husband quickly). Throw falling in love with your female bodyguard in there and you’ve got an excellent mix of tension.
What’s also really interesting is the magic as it’s largely centred around a version of Christianity and saintly mysteries performed in church at specific events. Margerit has the ability to see the magical figure of saintly mysteries as they’re being performed, which puts her in a pretty unique situation as she’s the only person who can do so although it’s not all the fantastic talent it first appears to be.
Overall, Daughter of Mystery is a fantastic read that’s an excellent balance between romantic tension, the struggles of navigating balls, young women running off to university, saintly magic, court intrigue, newfound enemies, and more. I highly recommend this book and there will be reviews of the next two books in the series forthcoming.