Title: Mary Bennet and the Bingley Codex (Regency Mage Book One)
Publisher/Author: Joyce Harmon
Price: $5.99 (ebook)
With three of her sisters now married off, twenty year-old Mary Bennet finds herself the unfortunate focus of her mother’s marital expectations. Desperate to escape, Mary travels to Pleasaunce, the estate of her sister Jane and brother-in-law Bingley, where she happily agrees to organize their inherited library. But the library is not all that it seems. Hidden among the geographical and historical texts, Mary finds something extraordinary: a codex of spells. Magic, it turns out, is quite real, and Mary has a knack for it. Unfortunately, her experiments have attracted the wrong sort of attention ….
I have a soft spot for magical retellings of and sequels to the novels of Jane Austen; especially stories which “fill in the blanks,” tales that happen between the paragraphs of the original novels, or which extend the adventures of secondary and tertiary characters. As such, I was delighted when I came across Mary Bennet and the Bingley Codex, the first in the Regency Mage series.
This is a gentle, character-driven, wonderfully engaging novel. Mary is terrific. Away from her domineering mother, freed from comparisons to her sisters, she blossoms. She is bright, intelligent, and inquisitive. She is also ruthlessly rational. When Mary first stumbles across the magical texts, she refuses to believe that the writings could be anything other than fanciful delusion. When she does finally attempt a spell, she does so on a lark. After it works, she embarks on a rigorous scientific regimen, demanding incontrovertible proof that magic is real.
Unlike many other paranormal Regency novels, Mary Bennet and the Bingley Codex is not a romance. Mary has no desire for a husband, as one would most likely interfere in her magical studies. If a man comes along who respects her intelligence and who will treat her like a partner, then she might consider an offer for her hand; but, until then, she is content with her books, her friends, and her magical studies.
I also particularly enjoyed Harmon’s clever reworkings of traditional British lore. Brownies are not tiny people; they actually look more like moles. Pixies are a nuisance, and fairies live in the wilds and want nothing to do with humanity. I’ll be curious to see what Harmon does with other mythical species over the course of the series.
Recommended to fans of cozy paranormal mysteries, as well as fans of The Lady Diviner series by Rosalie Oaks, the Manners and Monsters books by Tilly Wallace, Scales and Sensibility by Stephanie Burgis, and The Relics of Merlin series by Kathryne Kennedy.
[Reviewed by Rebecca Buchanan.]