For the winter season, my goal is to highlight excellent work published independently by self-published authors or small presses. There was therefore never really any question of whether I’d include something by Charlotte E. English, whose first novel, Draykon, was one of the very first indie books I ever read. I’m lucky enough to beta read for Charlotte these days, which means I get to be amongst the first to see her new books, and I’m never disappointed.
One corner of this faded chamber was different. A set of miniature furniture stood fastidiously arranged: a little oak table with two matching chairs, a tiny closet and a rocking chair. Sophy herself had sewn the tiny rag rug that covered the floor, and the cushions that covered the rocking chair’s hard seat and back.
Sophy sat down on the floor nearby, heedless of the folds of her dress, and laid the shirt carefully across the little table. She placed a tiny bowl of honey beside it, and a second full of clear water.
“Thundigle,” she called. “I have a gift for you.”
A puff of light erupted in the air before her, and the Landon household brownie appeared. He was a diminutive creature with dark brown skin, wild curly brown hair, and eyes the colour of autumn leaves.
“Miss Landon,” Thundigle said with a graceful bow. “You are generous, as always.”
Sophy smiled. “You haven’t seen what it is yet.”
In this Regency fantasy, Sophy Landon is the daughter of a struggling clergyman in a small Lincolnshire town. Society is hard on single women without wealth or title, and Sophy’s skill with a needle and thread isn’t going to be enough to win her a good marriage. Then her friend, the brownie Thundigle, arranges for her to visit the fae realm of Aylfenhame, where she discovers a world built on rather different social rules, and meets an intriguing young man named Aubranael.
There aren’t nearly enough books that blend fantasy adventure with a charming romance, in my opinion, and this book does it beautifully; it’s basically Jane Austen, with the added bonus of a magical world that sits alongside our own. There are brownies and occasional other fae who choose to live in England, but most of them live over the border, in a world infused with magic and not a little mayhem. Sophy’s introduction to Aylfenhame begins with a chaotic and colourful market, filled with material temptations that Thundigle warns her to avoid.
The romantic hero, Aubranael, is something of an outcast amongst his people due to his disfigured face, as the Ayliri value their physical perfection. Sophy is charmed and puzzled in equal part by his strange manners, oblivious as he is to the norms of English etiquette, but she enjoys his company from their first awkward meeting.
For his part, Aubranael is instantly smitten with his English visitor, but he’s accustomed to his face presenting an insurmountable barrier to courtship. When a witch offers a spell to make him beautiful for a month, he grabs the opportunity, hoping it will give him time to win Sophy’s heart, but the natural result is a comedy of confused identity and missed opportunities, until the inevitable heartwarming resolution.