Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Book Review 2022 #7 - Lauren Willig's The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla

The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla by Lauren Willig
Published by: NAL Trade
Publication Date: August 5th, 2014
Format: Paperback, 496 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

Sally Fitzhugh spent all her time at Miss Climpson's Select Seminary for Young Ladies dreaming of the day when she would leave. Adventure was right outside the walls! Sometimes right inside the walls. Perhaps adventure is overrated. Sally is in her second season and she never thought the time would come when she would be bored with this life she dreamed of. Life was simpler surrounded by the four walls of Miss Climpson's. Life was wonderfully static. And her two best friends Lizzy and Agnes hadn't gone on a grand cross-county caper without her! And where was she? At another boring ball. As if things couldn't get worse the silly people of the ton are enraptured with Lizzy's step-mother's book, The Convent of Orsino, engulfing the little season in October in a vampire craze. The mania might have played itself out if not for the fact there is a member of the ton that perfectly embodies the vampiric ideal. He's moody, he's broody, he's been away for years, perhaps locked in a dungeon! He's an enigma to everyone, he's the Duke of Belliston. The newly returned Duke has been absent from England since the death of his parents years prior and all the rumors of anything supernatural comes to rest on his shoulders. He is the perfect vampire, or so everyone is saying. Everyone but Sally. She thinks it all too silly and is far more interested in the fact that Agnes and Lizzy are now out and perhaps they will enliven this dreary season. Only since their adventures after Sally left Miss Climpson's the trio is more a duo and Sally is feeling distinctly left out. At another interminable party abutting the regal home of the Duke of Belliston Sally dares to walk across the dormant gardens over to his house. Boredom and the assumption that she won't be caught make Sally rash and she strides straight into Lucien, the Duke himself. Events soon transpire to thrust these two together on a more daily basis... But is their relationship something the two of them might secretly hope for? Could Sally fall for a supposed vampire? Is there someone fueling the vampiric rumors? And, most importantly of all, was Lucien the adventure Sally was waiting for all along?

Lauren doesn't take herself too seriously and she is able to have fun with the historical genre while deftly skewering it at the same time with wordplay and modern nudges and winks. Here The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla vampire literature is lovingly lambasted. Just the idea that Miss Gwen, that bane of all young gentleman with her pointy parasol, would be the Stephenie Meyer of her day is a hoot. Miss Gwen not only has the ton in a virtual vampire frenzy, but she even has sparkly vampires, with Lauren creating parodies on so many levels, from what it is to be an author, to an author's fanbase, all the way to all the different vampire iterations over the centuries, that you can't help but fall for this book. This 19th century Twilight-Mania is far more entertaining than the actual Twilight-Mania was. Add to this the references to Monty Python's Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch and to The Princess Bride, Lauren's willingness to take liberties will make you smile. This series just gets better with each installment. And all these years later I still hope that a miracle will happen and new stories will appear. Because Lauren just keeps developing as a writer and I will always long to know what happens next. She was able to avoid many of the pitfalls of long running series by having each book be some offshoot of the first volume. Main characters will reappear, but never in more than background rolls, while the previous background characters take center stage. I love Sally Fitzhugh taking center stage, and yes, that's because I have a great love for all the Fitzhughs. But beyond that Sally is such an interesting character (but let's not talk about the chickens) with an indomitable will for one so young. And of course Sally's book would have to deviate from the staple of Napoleonic spies and secret leagues, with a murder mystery and a random attack stoat. Vampires and stoats and spies oh my! Give me more Fitzhughs or give me death!


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