Blog Blitz and Arc Review: The League of Gentlewomen Witches by India Holton

Welcome to my stop on the League of Gentlewomen Witches Blog Blitz with Berkley Publishing. (This is also posted on my Tumblr book, art, & fandom blog Whimsical Dragonette.)

Publishing Date: March 15, 2022

Synopsis:

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the teahouse. . .

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.

About the Author:

India Holton lives in New Zealand, where she’s enjoyed the typical Kiwi lifestyle of wandering around forests, living barefoot on islands, and messing about in boats. Now she lives in a cottage near the sea, writing books about uppity women and charming rogues, and drinking too much tea.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I didn’t know how India Holton could possibly follow up the zany, madcap delight that was Wisteria Society, but somehow she managed it. I absolutely fell in love with Charlotte and Alex (not to mention the rest of the pirates and witches) as I laughed and swooned along on this romantic adventure.

This was just as hilarious and brilliant as the first. I absolutely love these characters and their adventures. I love the breakneck pace and the images painted in my mind — pirates will now forever be little old ladies wearing ridiculous hats flying houses through the air, drinking tea and shooting their enemies at the same time.

Charlotte learning to be herself was wonderful, as was the cast of Jane Austen heroines inside her head who she relied upon for the proper response to things. Charlotte had such strength, once she let herself use it, and the slow blossoming of her character was absolutely delightful to see.

It was lovely to see under the uncaring mask Alex shows the world and see why he does that, and what he hides underneath, and it was lovely to see him fall for Charlotte.

Cecelia and Opla and Ned were a delight, more so because I wasn’t expecting to encounter them again. I desperately hope there will be more pirate and witch feuding in the future because I can’t imagine ever being done with this world and these characters. I laughed more at this (and Wisteria Society) than anything since Terry Pratchett. It’s wonderfully clever and I loved it more with every page.

Dare I hope for another class of magic users to appear? Governesses, perhaps? Miss Dearlove was unexpected and wonderful and I feel like there’s so much more to her than what we’ve seen. And her exit from the scene gave me major Mary Poppins vibes, so. I am hopeful.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Berkley for providing an e-arc for review.

Favorite Quotes

“I see. So by contributing to your personal wealth I am helping the poor?”

“Exactly.”

He grinned. “You sure you’re not a pirate?”

She had come to the end of the short queue in front of the counter and was waiting in much the same way a stick of dynamite waits.

Now both men stared at her, their eyes dark, their hard jawlines taut. She felt a sudden, uncharacteristic leap of anxiety, appreciating finally that, in her haste to pursue the amulet, she had entered without a chaperone into the private company of a notorious scoundrel and his assassin-butler. Not even flying a bicycle in public touched upon the scandal this represented.

At that opportune moment, Bixby reappeared, tea towel and grenade in hand. “I beg your pardon, sir. There is a house following us.”

“Not the Dreaded Lightbourne of Leeds? I’ve heard he threw his own house off a cliff because he didn’t like the wallpaper anymore! Pirates, Judith, at our very door! Quick, hide the silver!”

Ned threw Cecilia an exceedingly married look.

“It’s ungentlemanly for you to tell me what to do. Actually, no, I take that back. It’s entirely gentlemanly. You, sir, represent all that is wrong with our patriarchal society.

That they had landed less than a quarter mile from a public house was coincidental only if you forget this was England, where many thousands of pubs thrive around the country. That it had just one bedroom still available will not be surprising to connoisseurs of romance. The sole astonishment was it contained two beds.

Mrs. Rotunder smirked. “Oh well, two beds, you’re quite right — that completely saves your girl’s reputation. Everyone knows two beds ins the best deterrent there is to seduction.”

“Excuse me,” she said, the words bristling with offense. “I am in no way piratic. I am merely hijacking your house, holding you and your servant at gunpoint, and preparing to steal that jewel around your neck.”

The pirates trooped in like a sentence full of adjectives, adverbs, and exclamation marks, punctuated finally by the tiny black full stop of Verisimilitude Jones, who was generally called, or more precisely, screamed, “Millie the Monster.”

She was no heroine, bravely facing whatever life sent her way. She was a witch, capable of inverting the laws of physics to get things done.

She began striding along the road, half-undressed and splashed with blood, her deadly boots clicking against the road like a tsking tongue, her eyes as fiery as the hovering battlehouse overhead.

Alex staggered, reaching for the nearest object to steady himself — a naked marble gentleman. It rocked beneath his hands, thus proving Charlotte, Cecilia, Miss Plim, and probably most women of England correct as to the unreliability of men.

God, but he loved that she didn’t automatically know how to be normal. He longed to fly her away into a wild sky where she’d have the freedom to be a strange and sensual and indescribably wonderful as she wanted to be.

Although, to be fair, they’d make the leap even with that understanding, thus leaving no actual difference between a witch’s arrogance and a pirate’s insanity.

The old stone cottage illuminated the darkening sky like a piratic moon as Bixby steered it one-handedly, a Thackeray novel in his other hand and half an eye on the horizon. He was heading nowhere in particular — “away,” Charlotte had told him, and while he did not approve, he obeyed.

The world beneath was indistinct, like the memory of a story but none of the words.

Excerpt:

THE LEAGUE OF GENTLEWOMEN WITCHES by India Holton

Berkley Trade Paperback Original | On sale March 15, 2022

Excerpt

A policeman’s whistle pierced the clamor of the crowd, and Charlotte winced. Pain from the noise ricocheted along her nerves. If only she could leave London with all its cacophony and retire to Hampshire, birthplace of Jane Austen, where green peace whispered wild yet gentle poetry to one’s heart. It was never to be-duty forced her presence in London, noble duty (and the fact there was not much of value to steal in the countryside)-yet still she dreamed. And occasionally took brief jaunts by train because, truly, there was nothing like leaving home for real comfort.

Thus imagining oak trees and country lanes while behind her the brawl intensified, Charlotte made her way without further impediment toward Almack’s. Its door stood open, a delivery boy’s bicycle leaning on the wall beside it, and the warm interior shadows promised respite from London’s inconveniences-as well as a back door through which she could slip unnoticed by policemen, pumpkin carters, and aggravated briefcase owners. She was almost there when she saw the child.

A mere scrap of humanity, he huddled within torn and filthy clothes, his small hand extended pathetically. Charlotte looked at him and then at Almack’s door. She came to a decisive stop.

“Hello,” she said in the stiff tones of someone unused to conversing with children. “Are you hungry?”

The urchin nodded. Charlotte offered him her wrapped sandwiches but he hesitated, his eyes growing wide and fearful as he glanced over her shoulder. Suddenly, he snatched the food and ran.

Charlotte watched him go. Two cucumber sandwiches would not sustain a boy for long, but no doubt he could sell the linen napkin to good effect. She almost smiled at the thought. Then she drew herself up to her fullest height, lifted her chin, and turned to look at the gentleman now looming over her.

“Good afternoon,” she said, tightening her grip on his briefcase.

In reply, he caught her arm lest she follow the example of the urchin. His expression tumbled through surprise and uncertainty before landing on the hard ground of displeasure; his dark blue eyes smoldered. For the first time, Charlotte noticed he wore high leather boots, strapped and buckled, scarred from interesting use-boots to make a woman’s heart tremble, either in trepidation or delight, depending on her education. A silver hook hung from his left ear; a ruby ring encircled one thumb, and what she had taken for a beard was mere unshaven stubble. Altogether it led to a conclusion Charlotte was appalled not to have reached earlier.

“Pirate,” she said in disgust.

“Thief,” he retorted. “Give me back my briefcase.”

How rude! Not even the suggestion of a please! But what else could one expect from a barbarian who probably flew around in some brick cottage thinking himself a great man just because he could get it up? Pirates really were the lowest of the low, even if-or possibly because-they could go higher than everyone else in their magic-raised battlehouses. Such an unsubtle use of enchantment was a crime against civilization, even before one counted in the piracy. Charlotte allowed her irritation to show, although frowning on the street was dreadfully unladylike.

“Possession is nine-tenths of the law, sir. Kindly unhand me and I will not summon a police officer to charge you with molestation.”

He surprised her by laughing. “I see you are a wit as well as a thief. And an unlikely philanthropist too. If you hadn’t stopped for the boy, you might have gotten away.”

“I still shall.”

“I don’t think so. You may be clever, but I could have you on the ground in an instant.”

“You could,” Charlotte agreed placidly. “However, you may like to note that my shoe is pressed against your foot. If I am so inclined, I can release a poisoned dart from its heel which will penetrate boot and skin to paralyze you within moments.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Ingenious. So you too are a pirate, I take it?”

Charlotte gasped, trying to tug her arm from his grip. “I most certainly am not, sir, and I demand an apology for the insult!”

He shrugged.

Charlotte waited, but apparently that was the extent of his reply. She drew a tight breath, determined to remain calm. What would Jane Austen’s fiercest heroine, Elizabeth Bennet, do in this situation?

“I consider myself a reasonable woman,” she said. “I take pride in not being prejudiced. Although your behavior is disgraceful, and I shall surely have bruises on my arm, I do appreciate this has been a difficult afternoon for you. Therefore, I give you permission to withdraw.”

“How kind,” he said wryly, although he did ease his grip on her arm. “I am going nowhere, however, without my briefcase.”

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