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Creatures of Will and Temper by Molly Tanzer

Creatures of Will and Temper by Molly Tanzer
Book Name: Creatures of Will and Temper
Author: Molly Tanzer
Publisher(s): John Joseph Adams/Mariner Books
Formatt: Paperback / Ebook
Genre(s): Historical Fantasy
Release Date: November 14, 2017 (US) December 13, 2017 (UK)

When I first heard of Creatures of Will and Temper, I read descriptions calling it a gender-swapped, lesbian The Picture of Dorian Gray with swords and demons. While that was enough to get my attention (and it helped that I was a fan of Tanzer’s Vermillion), that description is both right and wrong. Yes, there is a lesbian POV character named Dorina Gray, an artist named Basil, and a Lady “Henry.” But it’s not a one-to-one analog of Dorian Gray. It is an inversion. As Tanzer writes in the introductory author’s note, “What if Dorian had no victims? What if his quest for aesthetic experiences were not portrayed as a journey into a moral and spiritual underworld? As in life, matters would not be nearly so clear-cut, nor would they be so easily and neatly resolved.” Whereas Dorian Gray was a story of descent into depravity and indulgence, Creatures of Will and Temper is a story of ascent of self-discovery, love, and beauty. And it’s also a story of demons and swordplay—that part was entirely accurate.

Creatures of Will and Temper takes place in Victorian London as seen through the eyes of the Gray sisters. Older sister Evadne has been forced, ordered by her mother, to keep an eye on her younger sister Dorina who can’t wait to go to London and begin her career as an art critic. While staying with their artist Uncle Basil, Dorina falls in with Basil’s friend, the aesthete Lady Henrietta “Henry” Wotton.

Once Evadne concludes that Dorina and her reputation are lost under Lady Henry’s spell, Evadne turns to a local fencing academy to pursue her own interests. There she meets George Cantrell, the charming but stern and demanding instruction. Evande finds herself working harder and harder to earn his praise and affection, earning the title of “George’s girl.” Things grow more complicated when he reveals that he is a vigilante, hunting down London’s diabolists, and Evadne learns that Lady Henry and Dorina might be his next targets.

I am such a fan the Gray sisters. Tanzer did a tremendous job describing their complicated relationship—one that seems underrepresented in genre fiction. As the story unfolds, there are so many moments that reminded me of my relationship with my sister—the older, “responsible” sibling trying to look after the wilder, younger sibling who doesn’t want or really need a monitor; a shared foundation of love and closeness that also arms each sibling with the weapons to hurt the other so deeply; and new, more mature love for each other forming only after each has spent time apart to discover who they each really are and what they really love. The fights, the bungled apologies, the tense silences, and the reconciliations were all honest and well presented.

In fact, I enjoyed all of Tanzer’s characters. Her cast is complex, layered, and harboring secrets under their public facades. As they reveal themselves over the course of the story, not only do they grow, but they also cause those around them to change. Some friends become enemies and others become lovers. These dynamic and deep relationships make for a very compelling climax, when each must react in the face of life-threatening danger. Creatures of Will and Temper has a character-driven plot that I am always on the lookout for.

Like any good magician, Tanzer has enough tricks up her sleeve and just enough misdirection to keep me as entertained and surprised. What starts off as a tale of two provincial girls coming to the big city builds into a darker, more dangerous, more explosive finale. Yes, there are quiet teas sipped in drawing rooms, but there is also blood and monsters and sex and violence. Tanzer’s quieter moments plant the seeds for danger and action to blossom later in the book.

And don’t let me forget about the demons. Although there are plenty of stories of demonic possession, Tanzer doesn’t go down a well-trodden path. Each demon is unique. They are each driven by its own goals and wants and needs. And because they are never able to fully cross over to the human realm, they communicate largely by emotional bursts that range from a second internal commentary to an irresistible compulsion. They bestow gifts and demand a price, but the particulars of that exchange depend upon the demon and the host. Tanzer’s demons reminded me more of djinns—elemental forces that change us in unpredictable, terrible, and terrific ways.

In the end, the Gray sisters are profoundly changed by their trip to London. And despite the diabolical and violent climax, the story ends with notes of love, hope, and peace. Like I said, it’s not Dorian Gray. What began as a riff on a classic becomes its own piece, separate and beautiful. And for those who enjoyed the book as much as I did, when Tanzer sold this book, it was a two-book deal, and I look forward to what she has in store for the Gray sisters, their comrades, and demon-filled London.


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