What do you get when you combine a feisty, slightly drunk heroine with a murder mystery, throw her in a fantasy version of Victorian England, and add a romance with a beautiful witch with a few tricks up her sleeve? You get The Ruthless Lady’s Guide to Wizardry, a hilarious and fun tale of hijinks and magic. If you’re looking for an unapologetically queer and feminist fantasy that will also make you laugh out loud, this one’s for you.
Based in the world created from author C.M. Waggoner’s first novel Unnatural Magic (not necessary to read to understand this standalone novel), the story follows Dellaria “Delly” Wells, a woman born on the wrong side of the tracks who scrapes by using her magic to con others. When she sees an advertisement for a bodyguard to protect a rich lady before her wedding, Delly smells an opportunity. All she’ll have to do is pretend to be something she’s not: a trained magician and higher class lady. But she gets more than she bargained for, both in the scale of the murder plot she’s supposed to stop and in her growing feelings for Winn, a fellow bodyguard who returns Delly’s affection who Delly initially plans to con into marrying her for money. In over her head, Delly is forced to take charge of the group of misfit bodyguards to track down the potential killer, all of whom have their own quirks. Will Delly and Winn find happiness together? Will this unlikely team track down the killer?
This novel is unique in many ways, but its strongest element is its characterization of Delly. A laugh riot and a bit of a mess, Delly is sure of who she is and cheerfully aware of her shortcomings. Her lines are snarky and quotable, like when she learns what’s required of her new position and notes that “she ought to do none of the things toward which she felt naturally inclined, and do all of the things she thought were a real pain in the tits.” It’s rare to see a protagonist this interesting and well characterized. She’s so fully formed that it feels like listening to an old friend tell you about her adventures. Delly is instantly memorable, and you want to follow her wherever she goes.
It’s Delly’s relationship with Winn that will likely win the hearts of readers, and it’s easy to see why. As Delly and Winn explore their growing feelings for each other, they fit together like puzzle pieces from their witty banter and instinctive understanding of each other. You root for this couple to succeed because they bring out the best in each other and are adorable together. The world of the novel does not deal with homophobia, with many queer characters that feel natural to the world of the story. This allows for the reader to relax, knowing that this will play out as a traditional romance and not be torn apart by prejudice. Delly is not shy about her bisexuality, having dalliances with both men and women in a breathtakingly casual way that feels authentic. It’s refreshing to read about a character so comfortable in her own skin and a world that allows her to be.
Of course, this novel has plenty to recommend it other than the strong lead character and romance. The writing itself is top notch, with so many witty asides that I found myself reading with a highlighter. Even the chapter titles are funny, with headers like “Wherein Dellaria Indulges Her Romantical Instincts, and Is Also Shot At” setting the irreverent tone for the pages ahead. The plot moves along at a breakneck pace and reads like a classic adventure tale, making it a joy to read. The side characters are just as funny as the main ones, with necromancer Mrs. Totham being a standout alongside a reanimated dead mouse named Buttons, who is absolutely the star of every scene he appears in. The entire team of bodyguards is female, which creates an unapologetically feminist dynamic that strengthens the story.
Perfect for fans of novels like The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, The Ruthless Lady’s Guide to Wizardry is a roller coaster of a good time that will keep you up at night to finish it. A queer love story with adventure, magic, and hilarity, it’s an excellent read that’s sure to be a classic.
The Ruthless Lady’s Guide to Wizardry is available today, January 12, wherever books are sold.