The chemistry between Barbara and Margerit builds ever so slowly until it’s finally crackling in the later stages of the book. ... The author makes it feels like we’re reading something that could have been written in the 19th century but, you know, with magic, kind of like Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke. Heather Rose Jones’s worldbuilding is superb. It’s clear that she’s done extensive research into European history during the time of the English Regency in order to create Alpennia as a setting that’s both relatable and unique all at the same time.
Abduction attempts, social sabotage and political intrigue follow, with both women in over their heads and dependent on each other for survival. This could so easily have been a story romanticising an abuse of power but Jones skillfully avoids that, with Margarite carefully keeping her feelings hidden until circumstances change to put them on an equal footing.
The world building is superlative – I never felt that I was being spoon-fed when I read this novel. The author fleshes out sufficient space for the reader to make sense of Alpennia as both a reflection of 19th century Europe and its ‘other’ – a realm of fantasy in which our awareness of religion and history might be turned on its head. The prose style both challenged and entertained, and I found myself unable to stop turning the pages as the narrative reached its climax.
Daughter of Mystery is a book which really, properly examines its magic system, and completely wonderful to read if you’re at all interested in the mechanics of a fantasy world. There are no easy answers here. Yet it does not forget its roots in historical fiction either, with recognisable and well-loved tropes such as chance meetings, issues of inheritance and propriety, and secret identities. There’s a marvellous eye for detail in everything from style of dress to archaic law in a way that even I, as a novice in historical fiction, was able to engage with and enjoy.
This was...one of the sweetest love stories I have read in a long time. Barbara and Margerit are believable in their roles, particularly Margerit who is at first a bit clueless about her feelings that develop for Barbara. When I began reading, I suspected that Jones would take us down the old trite road of an antagonistic relationship between the heiress Margerit and her initially reluctant bodyguard Barbara in order to heighten the sexual tension. But she didn't. She gave us something new - a genuine friendship built upon their shared interest in philosophy and theology. Their discussions about the meaning of texts and translations were some of my favorite dialog. One of my favorite romantic scenes happens as Barbara, more skilled in language, translates the love lament of an opera to Margerit, holding her gaze as she does.
I loved studious, quietly determined Margerit and loyal, troubled Barbara, and the chemistry between them was magical. I loved how much they bonded over their shared intellectual curiosity, and I loved the way their relationship explored trust, obligation and power dynamics from a number of angles.
This book managed to consistently confound my expectations. Every time I thought I knew what I was getting, I turned out to be wrong. ... I found this very compelling! I was so invested in the relationship between Barbara and Margerit, and I did manage to hand-sell this book to three people after I read it. If you like fantasy, Regency romances, and/or reading about characters piecing together history, I definitely recommend it.
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.