I’m a great fan of stories set in fantasy worlds that are similar enough to our own to be recognisable, but are far more than just a place and a historical era with some magic thrown in. When the concept works, it’s a grand feat of world-building, in which we are able to believe that both author and characters are fully familiar with all the events taking place and the background against which the story has been built. One such world is that of Hector, Nina and Valerie, in which old estates struggle to compete with new wealth, and new technologies similar to those of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries are contrasted by the telekinetic powers of a few talented individuals.
Hector is one of those with such gifts. Born to humble beginnings, he has made his fame and fortune as an entertainer and has now returned to the city where once he fell in love with a young aristocratic woman, who promised to wait for him but then married a boy from a wealthy family in order to safeguard her own family’s estates for the future.
Valerie does not regret giving Hector up in favour of the lifestyle and riches she craved growing up, even though she is far from satisfied with her husband. Charged with introducing her troublesome niece into Society, she is dismayed when the girl makes a point of introducing herself to Hector and inviting him to the house where she is staying.
Nina has telekinetic powers to match Hector’s, but has never been trained in their control or use, since such gifts are frowned upon by polite society, even as its members enjoy going to shows such as those starring the famous Hector. A young lady who doesn’t hide any powers she might have risks missing out on making a good match, but Nina is awed by Hector and soon falls in love with him. Hector, meanwhile, plots to renew his affair with Valerie through encouraging Nina’s friendship. And in the background, the rakish younger brother of one of Hector’s well-off friends plots to steal Nina for himself, provided she keeps her telekinesis secret after their marriage.
This was a wonderfully rich book, although it took me a while to be properly swept up by it. The characters and settings were alien enough to make Hector and Nina’s powers believable, while also familiar enough for the plots around manners and societal norms to be easily followed. Hector is something of an arse at times, and Nina can be rather immature, so a long-term happy ending may not be easy for them to achieve. I’m very keen to read more by this new-to-me author.
The Beautiful Ones by Silvia Moreno-Garcia is a sweeping fantasy of manners set in a world inspired by the belle époque.
In a world of etiquette and polite masks, no one is who they seem to be.
Antonina Beaulieu is in the glittering city of Loisail for her first Grand Season, where she will attend balls and mingle among high society. Under the tutelage of the beautiful but cold Valerie Beaulieu she hopes to find a suitable husband. However, the haphazard manifestations of Nina’s telekinetic powers make her the subject of malicious gossip.
Yet dazzling telekinetic performer and outsider Hector Auvray sees Nina’s powers as a gift, and he teaches her how to hone and control them. As they spend more and more time together, Nina falls in love and believes she’s found the great romance that she’s always dreamt of. But Hector’s courtship of Nina is deceptive.
Read an excerpt.