THE STORY: In a nineteenth-centuryish elegant big city, Nina is a free-spirited country girl reluctantly dragged into her first season. Ducking one of the boors her aunt/guide Valerie forced on her, Nina meets Hector a music-hall performer famous and wealthy for his TK tricks. Although TK is very unfashionable in well-bred women, Nina has it and wants Hector to train her. She also finds him much more attractive than most of the men tossed her way as potential husbands. Hector agrees, but what Nina doesn’t know is that he and Valerie were once lovers, and Nina is simply his way back into Valerie’s social circle, and hopefully her heart.
MY REACTION: This is well executed, but it’s not my sort of thing. It’s very slow and mannered, reminding me a lot of a Victorian literary novel. While the concept of Hector teaching Nina to master her powers could have gone in lots of directions, this focuses more on the romance and the characters internal states (the latter was probably what lost my interest).
That said, Nina was a strong enough character and rounded enough that her enthusiasm for non-gender conforming activities didn’t bother me at all.
WHAT I LEARNED:
Mostly this got me thinking about the problem of writing a fantasy where the magic isn’t integral to the story.
Don’t get me wrong, The Beautiful Ones is unquestionably a fantasy. The TK element doesn’t feel tacked on the way the fantasy bits in the tedious Tam Lin did. At the same time, the magic could easily have been some perfectly mundane skill such as singing and I don’t think it would change much. I think the reason I don’t see it as a “just enough” specfic story is that the scenes of TK we do get are well-handled — what the power feels like, how you train it — that I bought them as more than window dressing. Still, if there’d been more magic, I might have been more engaged.
All of which is tied into the expectations I have when I pick up a fantasy novel. I pick up fantasy to get something I can’t see in the real world. If it’s too mundane, I feel cheated, which biases me against the book (I had the same problem with Jo Walton’s Among Others). But lots of people don’t have that problem (just look at the reviews for both); like I said, it’s not that The Beautiful Ones is bad, I just didn’t care for it.
Cover design by Kerri Resnick, photo of woman by Miguel Sobreira, all rights remain with current holder one