What do you get when you take the quirky humor, witty banter, and absurd plot elements of a book like Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and set it against a backdrop of late-Victorian England instead of the galaxy, replace spaceships with flying houses, and make your main characters pirates and witches instead of robots and aliens? Well, friends, you get the The League of Gentlewomen Witches, the second book in the Dangerous Damsels series by India Holton, a highly entertaining and romantic romp that will leave you wondering “What did I just read?” while at the same time exclaiming “How utterly delightful!” I received an eARC of this book from NetGalley. All opinions are my own.
RELEASE DATE: 15/03/2022
STAR RATING: 4/5 ✶
Miss Charlotte Pettifer belongs to a secret league of women skilled in the subtle arts. That is to say—although it must never be said—witchcraft. The League of Gentlewomen Witches strives to improve the world in small ways. Using magic, they tidy, correct, and manipulate according to their notions of what is proper, entirely unlike those reprobates in the Wisteria Society.
When the long lost amulet of Black Beryl is discovered, it is up to Charlotte, as the future leader of the League, to make sure the powerful talisman does not fall into the wrong hands. Therefore, it is most unfortunate when she crosses paths with Alex O’Riley, a pirate who is no Mr. Darcy. With all the world scrambling after the amulet, Alex and Charlotte join forces to steal it together. If only they could keep their pickpocketing hands to themselves! If Alex’s not careful, he might just steal something else—such as Charlotte’s heart.
Having not read the first book in this series, The Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels, I had no idea what to expect from this book. I was intrigued by the cover and the blurb, and having been told I didn’t need to read the first book to enjoy the second, I decided to jump in. I’ll admit, at first I was completely unsure of what exactly I was reading. The first time, for example, I encountered text with a strikethrough I was baffled, only to later realize it was not only purposeful, but also quite a novel and effective way to deliver a joke! And what about our FMC Charlotte’s references to the propriety of Jane Austen’s heroines while stealing a briefcase and inciting violence in a teashop? Or the image of a prim lady of the Wicken League carrying around a stuffed poodle? Was I supposed to take these things seriously? The answer, of course, was no – The League of Gentlewomen Witches is very much a purposefully whimsical satire that takes the reader on a fantastical adventure filled with pirates, witches, meddling aunts, burgeoning friendships, steamy romance, and plenty of tea.
The romance between the witch Charlotte and pirate (and therefore mortal enemy) Alex, was surprisingly satisfying. At first, I wondered if this book would deliver a full, A-plot Romance given its whimsical, quirky nature, and did it ever! Charlotte and Alex’s story is a true enemies-to-lovers tale. Witches and pirates are pitted against one another in age-old historical feud. And to make matters worse, Charlotte has been predestined to lead the Wicken League with exacting manners and uphold their feud with the improper pirates, while Alex hates witches after being horribly abused by one as a child. But throughout the course of the book, Charlotte and Alex grow together to overcome the limiting strictures of Charlotte’s upbringing and heal the terrible wounds of abuse that have turned Alex away from friendship and love. I was happy to see their character backstories explored and their relationship develop in deeply meaningful ways. I wasn’t sure it could be pulled off given the tonal context, but Holton did a superb job at delivering a truly satisfying and fleshed out Romance amid the chaotic adventure that is this book!
A word about steam – these are two thirsty protagonists! Both Charlotte and Alex’s gazing and the internal monologues they have about each other build a definite and palpable sexual tension, but, like other aspects of this book, it is done with wit and humor. When our couple finally comes together in a hilarious spin on the “only one bed” trope it is unexpectedly and deliciously steamy without being overly explicit – this book did a great job of threading that needle!
The League of Gentlewomen Witches is laugh-out-loud funny. The prose is easy to read while at the same time utilizing Regency and Victorian language reminiscent of Jane Austen. In fact, the book pays homage to Austen and Shakespeare, and fans of both will be pleased at Holton’s treatment of their favorite authors. I’d recommend it as a slump-buster or to anyone who loves Fantasy Romance and is looking to lighten their mood. I will most likely read the first installment of the series at some point as well as the third book, which is definitely coming given the Epilogue, but I will wait for the right time to do so, i.e. when I’m in need of a good laugh and a warm heart.