SPFBO Status: Finalist
Overview (No Spoilers):
A delightfully fun merging of Bridgerton/Downton Abbey and dragons, Miss Percy’s Pocket Guide is a feel-good read that everyone will enjoy. Mildred comes to realize that she’s unsatisfied with the direction her life has taken, having put the wants and needs of others repeatedly over her own, first with her ailing father, then by taking care of her self-absorbed sister’s children. She toes the line between family and staff in Diana’s house, a role that she has slipped into without any great proclamations, but by a measure of seemingly small and inconsequential decisions. Like a great grinding stone, Mildred has slowly resorted to complacency rather than incur her sister’s bright and sharp temper. Adding to her family dynamics are the societal expectations of the ever-judging residents of Upper Plimpton, such that Mildred can envision what her future holds with a markedly depressing degree of accuracy. That is, unless something (or someone) changes it…
With the passing of her Great Uncle Forthright, Mildred receives an unexpected inheritance that affects her life minimally at first, and then snowballs from there. Yanked from her routine, it was so much fun to find Mildred evolving and growing with each new and unique situation she has to navigate. I love that Olson’s novel features a main character who’s seen as a spinster, as I struggle to recall a story set in this time period where we get the perspective of someone society has already typecast into that specific role. In a way, I think it also added a unique and intriguing element to her relationship with Mr. Wiggan that leaves the reader eager for one of them to break through the rigid protocols of their era and stations.
I’ve focused a lot on Mildred so far in this review, but the supporting cast is just as wonderful, colorful, and distinct, from Diana’s reign of terror to Belinda’s infuriating life choices. Also, who can forget Mrs. Babbinton and her endless supply of baked goods that left me constantly hungry. I also really enjoyed how the story is written, with more of an omniscient narrator adding quirky asides and breaking the fourth wall throughout the book (as one does, even in reviews). Each chapter has a little prelude from future publications where the existence of dragons is known and accepted, so knowing that Miss Percy ends up alright does take some of the suspense out of the more animated scenes. In the middle of some of the more crazy sequences, though, one can’t help but get caught up in all of the shenanigans!
Overall, the story and setting as a whole set up such an entertaining read that I couldn’t help but get lost in Mildred’s plight of breaking free from the mold she found herself prescribed to by both society, and her family to reach a life she had only dreamed of, filled with traveling, adventure, and bringing legends to reality.
Additional Insight (Spoilers Abound):
- I fully expected Hawthorne to be the ‘bad guy’ but in many ways he was harmless until Belinda took on his case. Sure, Hawthorne was indeed a villain, but he would have been neutralized had Belinda not set her sights on him. What if Diana hadn’t made such a show of dismissing him, would Belinda have doubled down?
- Between raiding Mildred’s room at Ashby Lodge and following Fitz and Mildred to Great Uncle Forthright’s house in an effort to steal the dragon from her aunt’s rooms, Belinda was the true villain. How appropriate that her hair was burned! And what a crazy sequence of events to read!
- What will happen to the estate when Mr. Gorman passes?
- Did Belinda really burn Cynthia Bowlin’s hair?
- Is Belinda satisfied with her lot in life now as the Mrs. Hawthorne? I can’t imagine Reginald can support her preferred station in life well. Is Reginald regretting his decision with Belinda?
- I pictured Fitz just like a cat. Will Mildred and Mr. Wiggan find more dragons?
- How will Matthew and Nettie get along without Mildred? How will Diana?
- I’m so very happy that Mr. Wiggan and Mildred become a couple!
Aspic – a clear savory jelly (as of fish or meat stock) used as a garnish or to make a meat, fish, or vegetable mold
Augury – divination from auspices or omens
Chivvy – to move or obtain by small maneuvers
Codicil – appendix; supplement
Comestibles – food
Inveigle – to win over by wiles; entice
Maudlin – drunk enough to be emotionally silly
Moulder – to crumble into particles; disintegrate, decay
Pecuniary – consisting of or measured in money
Presage – something that foreshadows or portends a future event; omen
Stentorian – extremely loud
Stroppy – touchy, belligerent
Superannuated – outmoded, old-fashioned
Troth – loyal or pledged faithfulness; fidelity