Jones has written an excellent, quiet novel about intellectual women, compelling in its intimacy and personal scale without ever being claustrophobic. The Mystic Marriage has the confidence to take its time. Its measured pace won’t be for everyone, but for me? It’s really very nearly perfect.
You know that joy you have when you first discover what it means to read for pleasure as a kid? That sense of losing yourself in another person’s imagination, of finding yourself so invested in their characters that you’re willing them on: that they become, if only for a brief moment, part of the fabric of your own mental world? This is precisely the joy I experienced reading The Mystic Marriage.
Antuniet is an incredibly compelling heroine. It’s hard to find a really satisfying “unlikable” protagonist, especially a female one, but Antuniet hits all my major bullet points. Although she’s competent and remarkably self-sufficient, she nonetheless manages to sabotage her own cause repeatedly, mostly by virtue of her own stubbornness. ... Altogether the book is stuffed with mysticism, history, political intrigue, romance and character growth. It’s a rich and dense reading experience, different to any other book I can recall recently reading. I’ve heard it called “Jane Austen with lesbians” but that strikes me as misleading. Jane Austen, after all, wrote lowkey domestic romances contemporary to her time. Alpennia has more the feel of a classic adventure novel, although none of the characters but Barbara are particularly apt to physical confrontation and the main action of the novel is mental. It’s still a romance, and still guarantees a happy end, though the twists and turns on the way to that end changes its shape dramatically from where it began. An unusual but satisfying ending.
Jeanne and Antuniet are both very flawed characters...we see inside them both to the raw hearts, the wanting something better of themselves as well as the world, the need for a love neither ever got. It works terrifically. Pretty much the entire romantic conflict is grounded in nothing more than their difficult personalities and lifelong emotional habits that need to be broken, and as a result we get an intensely believable and hopeful romance. This is a long book and full scale fantasy...which includes alchemy, politics, friendship groups and plotting against royalty. ... It's a huge world which makes it a really immersive read, you can just sink in. And the alchemical magic is just fabulous.
What I enjoyed the most were those four protagonists, each on with agency, each one with a purpose in life, who do not necessarily begin as friends, but who all know each other due to this also being a novel of manners, thus family and social connections are not only plot points but help define characters strengths, weaknesses and growth.
The characters! The worldbuilding! The derring-do! The alchemy! The interesting magic system! The romance! (Neither sappy nor over-eroticized, bless you Ms. Jones.) Even the Alpennian language was well-thought-out! I DREW FAN ART, OKAY? ... If you’ve ever enjoyed Austen or Heyer or Susanna Clarke stop reading this blog and go buy the first one right now.
It did take me awhile to submerge into this world (possibly because of skipping to book 2) but once in and having got the characters clear in my head the novel had a a nice sense of intrigue and some moments of genuine tension.