Fantasy Regency novels were so far off my radar that I had to Google “Regency novel” (basically, a novel set in early 1800s England with a lot of concern about social standing), but I knew about Krista D. Ball from some excellent work on social media addressing the gender imbalance in genre publishing and fandom (which apparently have been polished into a full-length collection of essays). And a book about people going through trunks of magic books actually sounded pretty fun, so I gave A Magical Inheritance a shot.
It is indeed pretty fun! A Magical Inheritance follows Miss Elizabeth Knight, an unmarried woman approaching spinsterhood (she’s almost 30!) who receives an extensive occult library upon the death of her uncle. There’s only
one several problems: her small corner of her father’s house isn’t nearly enough to house the books, her father would expect a significant cut of the proceeds if she sold them, and the Royal Occult Society refuses to be dissuaded from the opinion that several key volumes should be theirs in the first place.
If you’re looking for plot, this isn’t the book for you. The inheritance certainly changes Elizabeth’s life, giving her the means to carve out a degree of independence and setting up confrontations with family members with whom she had previously suffered an uneasy peace. But A Magical Inheritance mostly involves a group of women sitting around sorting through occult books and discussing how best to chart their paths in a society that doesn’t have much room for independent women.
But slice-of-life stories can be entertaining, and Ball does a lot to make this one fun. Elizabeth, her Aunt Cass, and her friend Maria are all spirited characters that are easy to like, and the ghost of Mrs. Egerton is brimming with snark and derision for the men of the Royal Occult Society. Add Maria’s affable and self-deprecating husband Henry, and you’ve got a group of people who are pretty entertaining even when they’re not doing a lot. With an easy writing style that evokes the period and enough conflict with troublesome relatives and entitled occultists to give our heroines the opportunity for some genuine wins, A Magical Inheritance is a cozy and uplifting read that’s short and doesn’t demand much of the reader—a perfect change-of-pace between heavier novels, or maybe a bit of a escapism in the middle of a global pandemic.
A Magical Inheritance has a satisfying ending on its own, but it also opens the Ladies Occult Society series, and it feels like one of those books that may get better in the context of a series. The core characters are likable, relatable, and fun, but there’s no one or two that really steal the show, and some of the more peripheral characters in the ensemble run together a bit. I often find that in ensemble series, it can take a bit more time for the characters to go from “fun and interesting” to “like my best friends.” The Ladies Occult Society may get there, but it’ll take more than one book. Additionally, while the writing does a generally good job of evoking the time period, there are spots that could be cleaned up a bit (there’s one particularly amusing mistake where “gentile” is inadvertently substituted for “genteel.”).
Overall, it’s a refreshing, cozy little story that doesn’t have much action but makes up for it with engaging characters, snark, and misogynists being put in their place. I imagine the whole series may be greater than the sum of its parts, but part one works perfectly well by itself.
Recommended if you like: slice-of-life, Regency settings, ensemble casts that genuinely like each other.
Overall rating: 14 of Tar Vol’s 20. Four stars on Goodreads.