I had been looking for this book for a while,and finally tried to put it on hold at my library. Apparently, it had been hiding in the romance section. (You cannot always tell where a librarian will put a fantasy novel. They will end up in the sf/f section, the fiction section or the romance section because of “supernatural romance” novels.)
This book takes place in a Regency England where it is very important for a “young lady of quality” to be skilled with crafting illusions, as well as being good with manners, music and other arts (and of course being pretty enough to capture the attention of a man.) Jane Ellsworth our heroine is good at the former, but is somewhat lacking in the latter. Note, this is what her family thinks, even when they try to encourage her.) She has a low self-esteem, and very little ambition. Convinced that she is unattractive and not likely to get married, she is resigned to caring for her father and mentally ill mother,hoping that her sister Melody will marry well, and she will be able to live with her sister when her parents die.
Jane accidentally comes into conflict with her sister, over an eligible gentleman,whom she is interested in. Jane tries to help, but the gentleman seems more interested with Jane than with Melody. Jane eventually befriends the gentleman’s younger sister. Later, she meets a shy and rather grouchy glamourist named Vincent, who hates being bothered, and dislikes it when people try to figure out his technique instead of appreciating the art. (Guess what Jane does by accident repeatedly.) Following encounters go much better, and Jane is inspired by him to start practicing to improve her skill.
Melody meanwhile ends up getting herself into a lot of trouble due to a childhood nuisance who has grown into a very dashing jerk. Jane is worried, but does not take action until she discovers that the rake in question is pulling this trick on a friend. She gets the evidence thanks to her skill in glamour, but reporting it results in a near disaster when various local forces come together. Then we go to the happy ending and the epilog describing Jane’s future career and other “what happened next” details.
The romance involved in the plot is delicate and intricate. It adopts many tropes from the romance genre and turns them slightly off-kilter, giving them more depth and psychological characterization. (I love that the author demonstrated the psychology behind the character interactions, without having the characters having anachronistic reactions to the demonstrations. I also liked the descriptions of the magic, and the historical references to the time period in which the story is taking place. I felt that the writer did some really interesting world building here–I really loved this book. (The only thing I disliked about the book is that I don’t know if there might be a sequel or not.)