Series note: this is the second Aylfenhame story; it contains minor spoilers for Miss Landon and Aubranael but in my opinion these books can be read equally well in either order.
“Isabel, my love, do come and look! The shoe-roses have arrived. Now, these will do very well with your lavender gown, do you not think?”
Mrs. Ellerby’s voice, penetrating in its enthusiasm, carried easily over the sounds made by the Ellerby household brownie as she vigorously swept the parlour hearth. Isabel’s mother chattered on, holding up handfuls of ribbons, shoe roses and other trifles for her daughter’s perusal and approval. With an inward sigh, Isabel set aside her needlework, and went to the parlour table.
“They are beautiful, Mama,” she said in a mild tone, “but I had thought we had decided upon my gown for tomorrow? Is it not to be the blue?”
Mrs Ellerby nodded absently, her attention fixed, apparently irrevocably, on the ribbons in her hands. “It is what we agreed upon, but think, my love, how much the lavender becomes you! It is the very thing to go with your hair. If you had been light-haired I should not venture to recommend it, for it can be a trifle insipid! But with your colouring I should think it the very thing!” Mrs Ellerby continued on in this style for some time while her daughter listened dutifully, playing about with a piece of gold ribbon which had fallen from the box.
In due course came the inevitable. “And I am persuaded, you know, that it is the very thing which Mr. Thompson would like.”
“Mama,” said Isabel gently, “we must not allow Mr. Thompson’s supposed preferences to rule us entirely. I should prefer the blue.”
Isabel Ellerby is anxious to appease her parents and make a good marriage, but she doesn’t want to give up on the idea of love. Her brother has recently married a young woman who makes him very happy, despite her poor background; his choice has put more pressure on Isabel to make a good match, but his happiness also serves to show her exactly what she could be missing out on if she settles for a union of convenience.
This is the second book in the Aylfenhame series, set in Tilby, where the practicalities of Regency England regularly brush up against the fae realm of Aylfenhame. Isabel’s lifelong friend Sophy has settled over the border, and Isabel knows things are a little different there. But she’s not expecting to acquire an unwilling cat-like companion by the name of Tafferty, nor to discover that she herself has Ayliri heritage and a suppressed talent for magic.
When her aunt arranges for her to take a short holiday to Aylfenhame, Isabel’s kind heart is captured by the mysterious Ferryman, his story lost to the mists of time, cursed to carry passengers back and forth between the worlds until such a time as someone recovers his name. On a whim, she promises to help.
Isabel’s dedication to the task is admirable, in the face of rather poor odds: she has no real idea where to start, but she recruits her friends to help and requests favours of strangers, eventually managing to gain access to a magical library full of historical records. Along the way, she stumbles into various adventures and encounters a cast of fae creatures large and small. And when she returns to Tilby, she finds her experiences have changed her forever.
There are hints of series-level plot scattered throughout the book, which I shan’t spoil by drawing attention to them. Suffice it to say that there are a number of interesting questions left open at the end, after Isabel’s story has concluded.