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Monday, June 14, 2021

Book Review: The Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels by India Holton

The Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels (Dangerous Damsels)
by India Holton
June 15, 2021
336 pages
“The kind of book for which the word “rollicking” was invented.”—New York Times Book Review

One of Bustle's Best New Books Out June 2021

A Popsugar Best Summer Read of 2021

A prim and proper lady thief must save her aunt from a crazed pirate and his dangerously charming henchman in this fantastical historical romance.

Cecilia Bassingwaite is the ideal Victorian lady. She's also a thief. Like the other members of the Wisteria Society crime sorority, she flies around England drinking tea, blackmailing friends, and acquiring treasure by interesting means. Sure, she has a dark and traumatic past and an overbearing aunt, but all things considered, it's a pleasant existence. Until the men show up.

Ned Lightbourne is a sometimes assassin who is smitten with Cecilia from the moment they meet. Unfortunately, that happens to be while he's under direct orders to kill her. His employer, Captain Morvath, who possesses a gothic abbey bristling with cannons and an unbridled hate for the world, intends to rid England of all its presumptuous women, starting with the Wisteria Society. Ned has plans of his own. But both men have made one grave mistake. Never underestimate a woman.

When Morvath imperils the Wisteria Society, Cecilia is forced to team up with her handsome would-be assassin to save the women who raised her--hopefully proving, once and for all, that she's as much of a scoundrel as the rest of them.

The premise for this story is outlandishly quirky but stick with me. I promise it’s worthwhile. In an alternate imaging of Victorian England exists a group of elite upper crust lady pirates. These ‘lady scoundrels’ possess a sacred magical knowledge allowing them to maneuver their stately homes as weaponized flying pirate ships. Butlers and maids become part of an air-born crew of adventurous lady thieves who simply must pause for teatime whilst executing plots of abscondment and assassination. It’s all so weirdly wonderful and utterly charming.

At the centre of the story is Cecilia Bassingwaite and her great-aunt Miss Darlington, a long-time member of The Wisteria Society. Cecilia craves membership into the society and ardently trains her whole life to acquire necessary skills in combat and espionage. When dashing and deceptive Ned Lightbourne turns up in his too-tight pants, an assassination plot is revealed. Someone wants Cecilia dead, and Ned was charged with the task. Soon, a larger plot and more formidable foe emerge, and Cecilia and Ned must team up to defeat Lord Morvath and his looming gothic abbey.

This book was one of the most unique and entertaining books I’ve read in a long while. I was absolutely hooked from start to finish. It’s action-packed, hilarious, and sexy. The ladies are possessed and proud, deadly efficient and beyond witty. Every character captivates. Cecilia and Ned make a charming team, and the tension between them sizzles. As the big-bad, Morvath is a hysterically absurd caricature of male privilege. With the exceptions of Ned and Morvath, most men in the book take a back seat to the formidable ladies. Husbands are reduced to caretaking roles while their wives brave battle: “No men sat the table, having been left at home to mind the children, guard the treasure, or quite frankly stay out of the way of women’s business.”

Holton’s work is endlessly clever and satirical and oh-so-entertaining. The story has an irresistible Princess Bride vibe. It reads as a stand-alone, which is a little disappointing as I so want this to be a series. Nothing would please me more than to read further adventures of these ‘black stocking’ ladies and sky-high hijinks.

Five Sheep

Bianca Greenwood

About the Author:
India resides in New Zealand, where she's enjoyed the typical Kiwi lifestyle of wandering around forests, living barefoot on islands, and messing about in boats.

Now she lives in a cottage near the sea, writing books about unconventional women and charming rogues. Think slow burn with sudden explosions.

India's writing is fuelled by tea, buttered scones, and thunderstorms.

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