Twell and Wimper

It was the last book that I allowed myself to pick up off the shelf at the library, and the first book that I started to read once I got home: a paperback volume entitled “Creatures of Will and Temper” by Molly Tanzer. The blurb on the front promised a ‘pastiche’ of Oscar Wilde’s “A Picture of Dorian Gray”, and I was in like Flynn.

Before the end of the prologue, I was out again.

I mean, I read the whole thing, but I’d already lost the magic. I spent most of the rest of the time warring with myself over whether I should give an honest review (which was likely to be rather cutting) or to be kind (because someday some nosepicking critic will write a bad review for my work and I know I’m going to hate it).

At any rate, the concept was strong and took a few unexpected turns, so at least it had structure. The characters were distinct, but only seemed to be skin deep, and with only the barest threads of relationships. They were like very attractive paper dolls tied together with string: they jumped because their writer said to jump, not because they had any will of their own.

It read like queer, steampunk fan fiction. Considering that it was riffing off of Oscar Wilde, I’m not sure if this reads as a compliment or an insult. It was abundantly clear that the writer had a deep enthusiasm for the era. At least, it was clear that the writer had a deep enthusiasm for the trappings of the era- the clothes, the sentiments, the culture of occultism and the fascination with arts and style and food of the era- but none of the social constructions or constrictions that gave the era its strange and distinct warp. One female character dresses in men’s clothes. Another, a teenager who is distinctly set up as not being ‘out’ in society yet, is openly gay and comes and goes around Victorian London, spending the night at her lover’s house without raising so much as an eyebrow. Another character, unmarried, nearing thirty, takes up fencing lessons and comes and goes to an otherwise all male fencing club utterly unescorted and without the slightest worry about her reputation.

Meanwhile, in reality, Oscar Wilde was sentenced to hard labor for getting just slightly too careless about making his preferences known. Just saying.

I presume that the goal of the book was to tell a story like the fantastical, grotesquerie of Penny Dreadful, but Penny Dreadful could push the fantasy elements so hard because the historical elements were researched to within an inch of oblivion. Without that deep well of historical grounding, this book, regrettably, felt like a work of the glue-some-gears-on-it-and-call-it-steampunk variety.

Ouch. That’s terribly unkind of me.

All in, I didn’t hate it. I just wanted to love it way more than I did. I mean, what a title! “Creatures of Will and Temper” is a fantastic name for a book. In fact, my favorite line in the book is describing demons as “Creatures of will and temper, of want and ruin, of charm and hunger of pique and cunning as we mere mortals are [···]” which is a gorgeous line of wordsmithing. I probably respond so strongly to it because it is one of the few lines that naturally had multiple layers of meaning- it is supposed to describe demons but it also describes the two main characters and their sisterly relationship. *Layers*

~ by Gwydhar Gebien on April 18, 2018.

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