Title: Half a Soul (Regency Faerie Tales Book 1)
Author: Olivia Atwater
Genre: Regency Romance, Fairy Tale Fantasy
Dora Ettings knows she will never be married. As a child, a faerie lord tried to steal her soul; he only got away with half of it. Since that day, Dora has never been able to act normally. She says the wrong things and feels very slightly, if at all. But her beautiful cousin Vanessa has a plan to cure her. Elias Wilder, the young Lord Sorcier, is the best magician in England; surely, he can find a way to make her whole.
Vanessa arranges for a trip to London, where Dora crosses paths with the cantankerous Lord Sorcier and his friend Albert. Although Elias has a great contempt for polite society, he is interested in what ails Dora. In the midst of society balls, marriage plots, and a mysterious plague, Dora and Elias grow closer. To the outside world it almost seems like the Lord Sorcier is courting the strange Miss Ettings. But Dora knows the truth: his attentions to her have only to do with case. For how could the most powerful magician in England fall in love with a woman with only half a soul?
I happened across Half a Soul randomly on Amazon, but I like regency romance (in the vein of Jane Austen) and I like fantasy, so it seemed like a good fit. I sampled the first chapter, and I was engaged with Dora’s plight from the beginning. I was curious to see how a character with half a soul would act and how her romance might unfold. The day I began reading in earnest, I was feeling drained and overwhelmed. I read the entire book without stop and finished it in a few hours. The next morning, I re-read my all favorite bits, which turned out to be most of the book. I found Half a Soul to be, not just entertaining, but also healing and restorative. It made me feel good.
One of the reasons why it was so easy for me to read was because I connected to Dora early on. After the faerie drains her passion, Dora becomes dreamy and erratic and can’t quite function in normal society. (I feel you, girl. Same here.) She is often insulted and treated poorly by those closest to her, and her response is subdued. Yet even though she doesn’t feel strongly, she does feel. In fact, she has a great capacity for caring, which comes out more and more during the course of the story.
Dora’s strangeness actually helps her during her first encounter with Elias, the Lord Sorcier. Elias has a reputation for impropriety, and boy, does he earn it, acting downright rude to Dora the first time he sees her. Dora is barely bothered by his insults and holds her own with witty comebacks. The relationship between Dora and Elias, which begins with verbal sparring, gradually becomes sweet and warm, as Dora learns more about Elias and comes to understand the depth of his character. The Lord Sorcier is a man of passion and ideals, unhappy with the ways of the world.
In theory, what brings Dora and Elias together is the Lord Sorcier’s interest in Dora’s condition. However, in reality, he doesn’t have much time to investigate Dora’s missing soul. A strange magical plague is sweeping through London and claiming the lives of children. Elias, Dora, and Elias’s doctor friend Albert all work together to unravel this mystery. Meanwhile, Dora’s aunt plots to marry Dora off to Albert and is furious that the Lord Sorcier keeps interfering with her match-making schemes. All these different plot threads--Dora’s missing half of her soul, the romance between Dora and Elias, the mysterious plague, and the aunt’s dashed match-making hopes--collide by the end of the book, creating a heartfelt climax and a satisfying conclusion.
But what really made Half a Soul stand out to me--and probably what made me feel so good afterward--was its critical examination of society. Most regency romances are obsessed with lords and ladies, balls and manners, romance and scandal. These things are quite fun, and Half a Soul has them and does them well. But the novel wasn’t afraid to look at some of the more unsavory aspects of this era, from the Napoleonic Wars to the terrible conditions of workhouses to the general assumption of who is considered undesirable--quite a lot of people, it turns out. Even the faerie realm underscores the attitudes that create injustice within society.
Our heroes struggle with this injustice, even as they acknowledge the part they play in it, as members of the upper class. Even with magic, these ills cannot simply be wiped away. What they are able to accomplish seems very small, but they keep trying. In this way, Half a Soul is both bittersweet and realistic. It made me contemplate what I could do to make the world a better place. In the afterword, the author offers her own solution, which I liked. On a personal note, right now I find the world to be overwhelming and discouraging, so it was nice to connect to people, fictional or otherwise, who are trying to make the world a better place.
Half a Soul is charming and wholesome. It has no profanity or sex and very little in the way of violence. Although its geared for adults, a younger audience might also be able to enjoy it. Half a Soul was a fun, light read with a surprising amount of depth. I recommend it.
Writer. Critic. Dreamer.