Hi friends! Stephanie Burgis reached out to me about reviewing her Hardwood novella – and I asked if she’d be willing to grace us with a guest post! I’ve read the prequel novella to the Hardwood Spellbook series, Spellswept, and really enjoyed it 🙂 So without further ado, Stephanie!
Stephanie Burgis on Moontangled
In the world of 19th-century Angland, no extravagant Prince Regent or parliament of gentlemen rules the nation. Instead, a group of hard-headed and pragmatic women politicians form a ruling Boudiccate, leaving all irrational magic—by tradition—to the more “naturally” emotional and irrational gentlemen.
It’s the way that society has been divided ever since Boudicca first expelled the Romans with the help of her second husband, a mage. Even now, every ambitious young politician is expected to take a mage for her own spouse if she hopes to ever rise to the Boudiccate. Of course, because of all of those ingrained social rules, mages can only ever be male…
Until now. The formation of Thornfell College of Magic for Women (founded by the first known woman mage, Cassandra Harwood, in the novel Thornbound) means that every unthinking social rule is suddenly open to question. Society at large is reeling with the impact—and two young women are hoping to finally seize their chance.
Caroline Fennell has been in strict training to become a member of the Boudiccate ever since she was eight years old, under the patronage (and control) of her famous and powerful aunt—who has ordered Caroline to follow the expected path by marrying a gentleman mage no matter what her private inclinations may be.
Juliana Banks spent her own youth forced to hide all of her brilliance and natural gifts as her family was horrified by her forbidden magic. Finally, as a student at Thornfell College, she’s found a home where she belongs and she can shine. As soon as she graduates, she’ll be a certified mage and thus—if the rest of the nation will accept it—a suitable spouse after all for Caroline Fennell…who’s been her secret fiancée for years, unbeknownst to the rest of the world.
Everything seems to be on track for all their years of passionate hopes and dreams to come true…except that ever since the events of Thornbound, Caroline has suddenly gone strangely distant. Now, as Thornfell College prepares for a magical outdoor ball to be held on the edges of their enchanted woods, Juliana is determined to win back her secret fiancée—but Caroline is equally determined to break her own heart by giving up Juliana for Juliana’s own good…and no one has ever accused Caroline Fennell of being easy to dissuade from any of her principles.
When they sneak into the fey-ruled woods together, every one of their plans will be thrown into turmoil. They’ll need all of Juliana’s magic and Caroline’s tactical brilliance to save each other and their love by the end of the evening.
I grew up devouring Regency romances by Jane Austen, Georgette Heyer, Clare Darcy, and more, so it was natural that I would want to write them as an adult—in combination with the fantasy that’s so essential to my happiness. My first three novels formed the Kat, Incorrigible trilogy of Regency fantasy adventures for kids (and for adults, too!), telling the story of a mischievous younger sister who sets out on wild and magical adventures while her older sisters enjoy their own romantic misadventures in traditional Regency settings.
The magic in my Kat books was all hidden behind the scenes, while the rest of Regency England continued on as per usual, unchanged from our known history. When I decided to write a Regency fantasy series just for adults, though, I wanted to branch out and try something new: a history that was genuinely different.
As it happened, I started writing Snowspelled, the first novella in the Harwood Spellbook series, just after the 2016 elections…during which I had ground my teeth again and again at the oft-repeated (and ridiculous) maxim that women were too naturally emotional ever to be President.
It felt unbelievably cathartic to swap that stereotype around in my re-envisioning of 19th-century England! In my Boudiccate-ruled Angland, gentlemen—who are universally understood to be more emotional and less rational—can be hopelessly compromised if they’re ever witnessed being kissed by a lady in public. The reason why ladies withdraw after supper every night while the gentlemen stay at the table, drinking, is so that the ladies have uninterrupted time to discuss the serious political issues of the day without any unwanted gentlemen throwing in ignorant suggestions or finding themselves hopelessly confused by the complexities of governance.
Needless to say, those rules are every bit as irrational and unjust as the rules that governed our own history! The truth is, it’s deliciously enjoyable to explore alternate history, but I never envisioned Angland as a utopia. I’ve had a lot of fun working out the different ways in which history would have progressed in my alt-world, and some of the impacts of those changes did a lot of good…but others really didn’t.
As fun and cathartic as it can be to imagine a world with women in charge, the truth is: gender binaries aren’t good for anybody. Ever since the characters of Juliana Banks and Caroline Fennell were first introduced in Book 1 of The Harwood Spellbook series (Snowspelled), I’ve known that they would be pivotal to the arc of the whole series. The two of them are in love, and they’re perfect for each other, so I wanted very much for them to have a happy ending—but that couldn’t happen without shaking up a lot of social certainties first.
…And while they’ve earned their happy ending, they also more than deserved their own story to star in! As every married person knows, even the happiest of couples will have their own issues to work through at various points, and (as I can attest from my own experiences, back when I lived in a different country from my now-husband!) the pressures of long-distance relationships can sometimes exacerbate points of miscommunication.
It was so much fun to throw Juliana and Caroline together in the fey-ruled woods near Thornfell for a night, kick out all of their certainties and safety, and let every simmering spark explode! I really hope you’ll enjoy reading about it in Moontangled, too.
Here’s to nights of unexpected magic!
Bio: Stephanie Burgis was born in Michigan but now lives in Wales, surrounded by castles and coffeeshops. She writes wildly romantic adult historical fantasies, including the Harwood Spellbook Series and also Masks and Shadows. She also writes fun, funny fantasy adventures for MG readers, including the Dragon with a Chocolate Heart trilogy and the Kat, Incorrigible trilogy. You can find out more (and read excerpts from all of her books) at: www.stephanieburgis.com
Add a secret betrothal, a family scandal, and a heaping of dangerous fey magic in an enchanted wood…and watch the sparks fly!
For just one moonlit, memorable night, Thornfell College of Magic has flung open its doors, inviting guests from around the nation to an outdoor ball intended to introduce the first-ever class of women magicians to society…but one magician and one invited guest have far more pressing goals of their own for the night.
Quietly brilliant Juliana Banks is determined to win back the affections of her secret fiancée, rising politician Caroline Fennell, who has become inexplicably distant. If Juliana needs to use magic to get her stubborn fiancée to pay her attention…well, then, as the top student in her class, she is more than ready to take on that challenge!
Unbeknownst to Juliana, though, Caroline plans to nobly sacrifice their betrothal for Juliana’s own sake – and no one has ever accused iron-willed Caroline Fennell of being easy to deter from any goal.
Their path to mutual happiness may seem tangled beyond repair…but when they enter the fey-ruled woods that border Thornfell College, these two determined women will find all of their plans upended in a night of unexpected and magical possibilities.
So what do you all think? 🙂 Thank you for visiting with us, Stephanie, and congratulations on your upcoming release! I’m really looking forward to reading it! (Also, sidenote, but … aren’t her book covers freaking gorgeous?!?!)