Review: Murder, Magic, and What We Wore by Kelly Jones

Murder, Magic, and What We Wore by Kelly Jones

Genre: Historical, YA, Fantasy of Manners

Publisher: Knopf Books for Young People

Source: Publisher

My thanks to the publisher for providing me with a digital review copy. No compensation was provided for this review, and all opinions are my own.

The year is 1818, the city is London, and 16-year-old Annis Whitworth has just learned that her father is dead and all his money is missing. And so, of course, she decides to become a spy.

  

MURDER, MAGIC, AND WHAT WE WORE is a  Regency romp featuring a young lady with many opinions about lies, spies, and fashions. This delightful tale is chock-full of wit and verve, and while readers may not be blown away by it, they’ll certainly find themselves charmed by Kelly Jones’ latest novel. The fact that it’s a standalone certainly doesn’t hurt!

Miss Annis Whitworth has spent most of her life as a society lady whose keen eye for style has earned her a reputation as a woman of taste; the latest sleeve styles, delicate lace, and even the occasional daring neckline are Annis’ raison d’etre. So when her father – whom she’s always believe to be a spy – dies suddenly and leaves Annis and her Aunt Cassia destitute, this lady of quality finds herself in something of a bind. Annis and Cassia need to find a source of income quickly, lest they be thrown in debtors prison and lose their position in society, but there are few respectable options for ladies and Annis refuses to become a governess or a lady’s companion. Instead, she turns her eye towards her greatest loves, needle and thread. For it turns out that Annis is more than just stylish: she can also sew glamours, transforming garments to look and behave completely differently. Under the assumed identity of Madame Martine, French glamour modiste, Annis opens a dress shop in a quiet country town with the help of her intrepid maid Millie (and a master of disguise). But there’s more at stake than a few truly hideous gowns and even the lady’s fortunes, as the spies who murdered Mr. Whitworth are still at large…

By far my favourite part of MURDER, MAGIC, AND WHAT WE WORE is its sly commentary on the state of women in the Regency era. All classes of women are represented here, with the ladies Whitworth joined by both Millie and a business woman named Miss Spencer. Each has specific circumstances relating to education, wealth, and class, but in the end they’re all in the same situation: they’re underestimated by their male counterparts and struggle to live independently. The camaraderie that develops between these characters, especially the genuine friendship between Annis and Millie, is wonderful to see. I particularly appreciated how Millie’s experiences as a servant opened Annis’ eyes to the difficult and dangerous circumstances for women in the working world. Add to all this feminist goodness the fact that Annis’ strength comes from sewing, which is dismissed as women’s work, and I was grinning from ear to ear.

Although there is magic to be found in this story, it’s fairly subtle and largely secondary to the primary plot of murder and espionage. There isn’t anyone in Millie’s life to teach her about her abilities, so her limits and the possibilities of her glamours are unknown even to her. Personally I would’ve preferred a bit more development on the magical front, as I found I had more questions than answers about how it all worked. That said, there’s something positively delightful about a protagonist who has the ability to sew a cloak of invisibility or a shawl that makes you look like someone else. The sewing of glamours is very well suited to a story about espionage, and while I found much of that story line rushed and somewhat obvious, I did enjoy how they complimented each other. If only Annis had been able to sew a handkerchief that’d open her eyes to the rather blatant identity of the enemy spy!

Overall, this is a funny feminist romp that any fan of historical YA or fantasy of manners will enjoy.

Have you read MURDER, MAGIC, AND WHAT WE WORE? If you could have any kind of magical garment, what would it be and what would it do? Let me know in the comments!

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  • I have no read this goodness, but it’s going on my TBR! Sewing glamours and the camaraderie and commentary on the time and women I can definitely appreciate (even with what’s missing). I think this is a pretty original idea, especially with sewing glamours.

    • As soon as I saw the title for this one I knew I had to read it. And I’m glad I did, because even though it wasn’t perfect it was so much fun! 🙂 The sewing of glamours was the best part, especially when Annis had to talk her customers out of a puce-coloured gown…LOL.

  • I would want to give this a try for the friendship element to it as well as the comments on what it’s like to be a woman in that era. I’m a little bummed to hear the magic elements aren’t as strong, and that you wanted more, but overall this sounds like a decent read.

    • Definitely a good read when you want something light on fantasy — and just light in general. Although the execution wasn’t perfect I was honestly so charmed by the fashion meets magic and woman power vibes!

  • This sounds adorable😀 I’m smiling about the idea of a young woman in that time period being obsessed with style and fashion!

    • It was completely adorable! Annis’ passion for fashion was one of my favourite parts of this story, and her fashionista moments provided lots of laughs. 🙂

  • This sounds really cool! I like that it sheds some light on all classes of people. I feel like in a lot of historical books (or historical-ish fantasy books), there’s either a fixation entirely on first-world-problems, or a simplified rags-to-riches (or riches-to-rags-to-riches) setup.

    • It was really cool, and unexpectedly (although happily, for this reader) political in terms of class and gender. I would love to see more class commentary in historical fantasy!

  • MaddalenaSpaceandSorcery

    Reading your review put me in mind of Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate novels, one of the most intelligently funny reads I can remember: this book seems to have the same flavor, and I’m certain I will enjoy it. It might not be a world-changing experience, as you say, but who cares when good humor can keep our spirits up? 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

    • Yes, there are definitely some Gail Carriger vibes in this story! Admittedly I do think Carriger’s books are above and beyond most historical fantasy (including this one), but it does have a similar droll sense of humour — particularly when it comes to bad hats. LOL.

  • ohh magic too 😀 yes please

  • I thought this was a lot of fun. I loved the friendship between Annis and Millie, and I thought the magical elements were pretty interesting. I wish the romance would have been more developed, but that’s because I love romance.

    • Annis and Millie are such a dynamic duo! I loved how much they supported each other in times of need, and their banter was fun too. Oh yeah, good point about the “romance” — it felt a bit out of place, didn’t it? I almost would’ve rather Jones left it out entirely since it felt so shoehorned in (even though I love me some romance too!).

  • I’d not heard of this book before! It sounds like a very smart book, and very fun too. More magic is always a good thing, so I understand where you’re coming from. 😀 I’m glad you mostly enjoyed this one, Danya!

    Have a lovely day. =)

    Alyssa @ The Eater of Books!

    • Smart and fun historical books are some of my faves — especially when there’s a smidge of magic thrown in. But yes, I could’ve definitely done with some more magic in this one!

      Thank you Alyssa, I hope you’ve had a great week! 🙂

  • Karen

    Sounds like a fun *palette cleanser* book!

    For What It’s Worth

  • Fun feminist romp sounds good, even if the magic aspect needed a bit of work. It does sound like a pretty awesome read. I like the sound of a good commentary on women of the regency era, I think it’s too easy to forget that women of that era did not have it easy so I’m glad that it looks at that well. I can forgive an obvious storyline if the rest of the book is good. I may gave this one a shot for when I’m looking for an easier read.

    • I had a ton of fun with this one, even though I found some aspects a bit lacking. I think I wanted more from it because I could just tell that the author had more in her, you know? Like the book was *this close* to being super epic. But still, I had a great time reading it and enjoyed the political side of it as well. As Karen said below, this is a great palate cleanser book, so I’d recommend it for that!

  • I actually like the sound of this one… I’m not going to go searching for it but if I come across it I’m definitely in – it sounds like a lot of fun and although the magic doesn’t seem well explored I think I might still enjoy it. Great review!

    • It was a cute, fun read for sure; well worth picking up, but like you said, maybe not one to go hunting for. Any time fashion and fantasy are paired together, I’m going to take an interest. Thanks, Di! 🙂

  • This sounds like a lot of fun! And the clothing glamour magic stuff sounds really unique! And great friendships are always nice to read about 🙂

    • For this fashion lover, it was a total dream. The only thing that would’ve improved it is more magic…and possible more shoes. LOL. The friendship between Annis and Millie was a lot of fun, too.

  • Lynn Williams

    Sounds okay, not sure it’s for me at the moment – trying to be very good with my book requests and wishlist. I think I will actually never catch up.
    Lynn 😀

    • I know that feeling very well indeed! This one’s a good one to read for a fun jaunt, if it comes your way when review books are thinner on the ground.

  • I have really been hopeful about this one so I’m glad to here it didn’t completely miss the mark and was fun. I love the idea of seeing more of a cross-section of Regency life since a majority of the books out there focus on the idle rich – I’m glad when a book departs from that. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I like me some fine ladies, dance cards and reticules but there was obviously a whole wide section of the population that would be interesting too!