Rating: 8.0 (out of 10)
Molly Tanzer’s Creatures of Will and Temper is the kind of novel that looks up at you with a mischievous smirk. It is the story of two Victorian-era sisters, Dorina and Evadne Gray, who go to spend a summer in London with their Uncle Basil. Dorina, 17 years old and the younger of the two, wants to be an art critic and is eager to soak up the culture of the big city; Evadne, eleven years Dorina’s senior, is conscripted against her will and charged with keeping her sibling’s wilder impulses in check. Once in London, the two are introduced to Lady Henrietta Wotton (Henry for short), a wealthy dandy who takes an interest in mentoring Dorina, to Evadne’s consternation. Unbeknownst to the Gray sisters, Henry traffics with a demon, one that seems to have something to do with the untimely death of Henry’s beloved twin brother, who was also Basil’s lover.
The novel’s greatest strength is its depiction of the Gray sisters’ combative relationship, which overlies their zealous devotion to each other. Even motives born of affection and goodwill seem to turn into grounds for conflict between them. The raffish Lady Henry makes the perfect deciding agent for their mutual antagonism, as she, by her very nature, leans to encouraging the very behavior in Dorina that Evadne was sent along to quash. But as Evadne grows more exhausted in a battle she seems destined to lose, she begins to pursue her own interests, which spins their story in quite an unforeseen direction.
Without delving into anything too spoilery, let me say that the final act of Creatures of Will and Temper is not for the faint of heart. It took me a minute to reorient myself from the supernaturally tinged melodrama I had been reading to the Grand Guignol horror show that it became, so I am compelled to pass along a friendly warning. But if your tolerance for viscera is sturdy enough, at least know that the novel stays true to the heart at its core, and is buoyed throughout by Tanzer’s lucid and lustrous prose.