Creatures of Will and Temper

Creatures of Will and Temper

by Molly Tanzer


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Creatures of Will and Temper by Molly Tanzer

“A delightful, dark, and entertaining romp . . . Molly Tanzer is at the top of her form in this beautifully constructed novel.”—Jeff VanderMeer, best-selling author of the Southern Reach trilogy
Victorian London is a place of fluid social roles, vibrant arts culture, fin-de-siècle wonders . . . and dangerous underground diabolic cults. Fencer Evadne Gray cares for none of the former and knows nothing of the latter when she’s sent to London to chaperone her younger sister, aspiring art critic Dorina.
     At loose ends after Dorina becomes enamored with their uncle’s friend, Lady Henrietta “Henry” Wotton, a local aristocrat and aesthete, Evadne enrolls in a fencing school. There, she meets George Cantrell, an experienced fencing master like she’s always dreamed of studying under. But soon, George shows her something more than fancy footwork—he reveals to Evadne a secret, hidden world of devilish demons and their obedient servants. George has dedicated himself to eradicating demons and diabolists alike, and now he needs Evadne’s help. But as she learns more, Evadne begins to believe that Lady Henry might actually be a diabolist . . . and even worse, she suspects Dorina might have become one too.
Combining swordplay, the supernatural, and Victorian high society, Creatures of Will and Temper reveals a familiar but strange London in a riff on Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray that readers won't soon forget.
“An artful, witty, Oscar Wilde pastiche with the heart of a paranormal thriller.”—Diana Gabaldon, best-selling author of Outlander

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781328710260
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date: 11/14/2017
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 627,914
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

MOLLY TANZER is the Sydney J. Bounds and Wonderland Book Award–nominated author of Vermilion (an NPR and io9 Best Book of 2015), A Pretty Mouth, the historical crime novel The Pleasure Merchant, and other works. She lives in Boulder, Colorado.

Read an Excerpt

The French doors stood open, letting in a breeze that stirred the plants on the veranda like playful fingers, but it remained stubbornly, oppressively hot in Basil Hallward’s studio. The heat intensified the odor of oil paints, canvas, and turpentine, as well as the heavy perfume of crushed flowers, but it was such a pleasure to look upon her friend as he painted that Lady Henrietta Wotton did not stir from the divan upon which she lay, a cigarette dangling between her fingers, the smoke of which carried the curiously potent odor of fresh ginger.

Basil did not speak as he worked, as was his custom​— ​and while it was hers to comment on matters of the day as he dabbed and daubed, today she only watched. She was content to simply hearken to the muffled rumblings of London that filtered faintly into the room from beyond the little oasis of Basil’s townhouse and patio garden.

The reason for Lady Henry’s quietude was respect for her friend’s recent poor health, as well as for his subject matter. Basil was hard at work on a portrait ​— ​in fact, was very close to finishing it. It was a unique piece ​— ​Basil typically painted only from life, and yet, much to their mutual dismay, the subject of this picture was no longer counted among the living. Even so, the painting had the startling appearance of vitality; its colors were not those of grief, nor was its subject somber in his funereal portrait. The slender man was laughing, just as he had done in life, standing carelessly against a pillar with his hands in his pockets, his expensive suit as artfully rumpled as his fair hair. And though said hair had a touch of gray in it, he was consummately youthful in appearance, and seemed as untouched by sorrow as a boy half his age.

Basil, however, looked years older than when he had begun to paint the piece, though it had only been a few months since he had applied gesso to the canvas.

Lady Henry raised the fragrant cigarette to her lips and inhaled deeply. As the mingled essences of the tobacco and ginger hit her bloodstream, she felt the independent presence that always lurked at the back of her mind stir slightly, acknowledging what she saw ​— ​seeing for itself, but through Lady Henry’s eyes. A sense of appreciation and longing touched her consciousness as the colors intensified. The shapes became more shapely; the beauty, more beautiful.

I miss him so much, she thought.

The presence lovingly acknowledged but did not partake of her sorrow. She did not expect it to. The demon that had been her constant companion for over a decade could not feel regret. It was not a part of its nature. Currently, it was more concerned with the painting. It really was as perfect a reproduction of the man as was possible. Lady Henry would know, for she had known the subject all his life. He was ​— ​or rather, he had been ​— ​her brother. Her twin, in fact. The only person in the world who might have known him better was the one who painted him now ​— ​the dark, brooding Dionysus to the brilliant Apollo on the canvas. Now that there was more silver mixed in with the black of Basil’s hair, he was even more the night, if the man in the painting was the day.

With a heavy sigh, Basil set down his brush and stepped back.

“Are you finished?” asked Lady Henry.

“I’ve done as much as I can today without risking muddying it,” he replied.

“Well then, let’s step outside and have a cocktail,” she suggested. “Or champagne? I don’t think it’s too early to celebrate your triumph. It’s your best work yet.” She paused. “Though before I get excited, I suppose I should ask if you have any decent champagne in the house?”

“By whose standards ​— ​yours, or mine?” It made her heart glad to hear him chuckle, even if it was only an echo of his former hearty laugh. “Decent enough to mix with absinthe, I’d imagine.”

“Lovely,” said Lady Henry. “Let’s do that.”

She rose as Basil rang the bell, and in a cacophony of crackling joints, stretched her arms, back, and legs. Lady Henry was wiry and fair, like her brother had been ​— ​youthful, but clearly in her middle years ​— ​and she, too, cut a dashing figure in her sack coat and trousers. Even before her brother’s death Lady Henry Wotton had scandalized London society by wearing men’s clothing in public, but while she and her twin had been built along the same lines, Oliver’s suits had been too large in the shoulder and too tight in the hips. She knew, for she’d tried them all on in hopes of pinching them.

After his death, she had had his wardrobe tailored to her own measurements, and not just because Oliver’s taste had been impeccable. She missed her brother every day, and it comforted her to wear his clothes.

A maid appeared without a sound, bearing a chilled bottle in a bucket filled with ice, and then departed just as silently as Basil uncorked it with a faint hiss. After splashing absinthe in two coupes, he topped them off with the champagne and handed one over to Lady Henry.

“To your finest work yet,” said Henry, toasting her friend as she admired the painting from afar. “I do hope when you’re finished you’ll bring it round and show it off to our ​— ​or rather my ​— ​colleagues? Give us the first look, before you send it anywhere?”

“I don’t think I shall send it anywhere . . . at least, not for some time,” answered Basil, his back to the painting. Henry wondered if he was trying not to look at it.

“Why on earth not?”

“Don’t laugh at me, but it is too personal. The wound is too fresh. I cannot have it judged by anyone, or remarked upon by common people. Or uncommon people, for that matter . . . save for you.”

Henry gave him a playful smile. “Really? Only me?”

Basil looked a bit uncomfortable. “Yes, though I know, of course, that you are never truly alone.”

The demon stirred again in Henry’s mind, hearing itself referred to, though obliquely.

“Neither was Oliver,” said Henry gently.

“I know, I know, but neither does that mean I am eager to show off this canvas to my former social circle.”

Henry almost choked on a swallow of champagne. “Former! But surely you do not mean your absence at my gatherings to be a permanent one?”

Basil did not answer; instead, he wandered onto the veranda. Henry followed him. She had designed the garden herself, and was pleased to see that enough light came in through the fronds and branches to keep the patio bright, while still creating the illusion that they were in a country garden rather than the heart of Chelsea.

“Baz,” she said, now as serious as she had moments ago been playful, “tell me truly. Do you mean to leave us forever?”

“And what if I did? Would you compel me to return?”

“Never,” she said. “It is not our way.” The presence in her mind heartily agreed, but she did not tell Basil this. “But . . .”


“But I will miss you! We all would. Your absence has been noticed, and not just by us.”

“Do not speak to me of that thing!” Basil hissed, whirling around, spilling his drink all over his hand. He cursed, and hastily sucked his fingers dry. “My apologies, Harry,” he said, his voice low lest they be overheard, “but surely you must see why it is impossible. Really, I’m astonished you remain in contact with it after Oliver ​— ​after he, after they . . .”

Henry put her hand on her friend’s shoulder and squeezed gently. “My dearest Basil, if there is one person in this world who regrets Oliver’s death more than you do, it is I. I was only his sister; the two of you, well, calling you lovers seems like an insult, given the depth of your connection. Oliver and I shared a womb, but the two of you shared a life.”

She wandered away from Basil and set her drink down on a low table in order to withdraw another cigarette from the silver case in her breast pocket. She did not offer Basil one, and though he did not as a rule mind smoke, he wrinkled his nose when she lit it. Out of courtesy, when she exhaled, she blew away from him.

“That said,” she continued, “he and I did share something, something that made us closer than siblings. When we decided to summon it, to invite it into our lives, our bodies, our minds, we knew what we were doing. And when Oliver did what he did . . . perhaps it does not comfort you, knowing he chose his fate, but he did choose it. You know as well as I that unlike others of its type our demon is not the sort to require that sort of sacrifice. Thus, I choose to remain a hierophant of that which has let so much beauty into my life. Beauty, after all, is the only thing that matters.”

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Creatures of Will and Temper 4.4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Millie_Hennessy More than 1 year ago
I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Bitter after learning her longtime friend has proposed to another woman, Evadne hopes to ruin her spoiled sister’s trip to London by exposing her scandalous relationship with another girl. Instead, Evadne is sent along with young Dorina to keep an eye on her as they visit their Uncle Basil, a painter. The girls meet Basil’s friend Lady Henry and while Dorina is immediately smitten, Evadne remains skeptical. As Dorina moves deeper into Henry’s world both sisters discover a link to the supernatural that could put both their lives at risk. While I DNF’d The Picture of Dorian Gray in high school, I was very much interested in a sort of gender-swapped reimagining. This is a slow burning story and one that I found highly immersive. Tanzer gives us a look at two sisters: Evadne, who is 29, strong-willed, judgmental and a stickler for the rules, but loves (and is excellent at) fencing, despite it being a very unladylike sport. Her much younger sister, Dorina, is 16 (er, or maybe 19, now I can’t remember, sorry), an unrestrained flirt, impetuous and spoiled, but dreams of being an art critic. The two sisters fail to find anything in common between the two and often fight. Neither can seem to understand the other’s motivations or actions. When Evadne catches Dorina being intimate with a female friend, her first thought is to wreck her sister’s London trip by revealing the relationship to their mother. Dorina is sly, however, and passes the incident off as an experimental phase. She still gets her trip to London, but now Evadne is forced to accompany her. Recently spurned by the man she admired and hoped to marry, Evadne is furious that her sister’s happiness was not wrecked too, though she tells herself that really she’s trying to look after her sister. I found both sisters realistic, as they were so flawed and their constant misunderstanding of each other is understandable due to their age gap and opposite personalities. There were moments when I sided with Evadne and others with Dorina and then times where I thought they were both acting the fool. Lady Henry is also a compelling character, but one I think best revealed through reading the book. I will say I pictured her as Cate Blanchett! The demons in this novel were presented in a way I’d never seen before. Rather than creatures evoked by performing some strange sacrifice, or ones that lurk in the shadows waiting to possess the innocent, these demons have to be cultivated by way of plants. I’m not 100% clear on how it works, actually, but it seems like certain plants have to be grown (ginger, for example) and then consumed, in order to create a connection with a demon. The demon then sort of inhabits a person’s mind, though without constant consumption of whatever the special food/plant/herb, the person would lose their connection. If this was a strong or long-term connection, losing it could prove to be fatal. In return, the demon grants something to whoever they inhabit (in addition to their constant mental presence) such as strength or enhanced senses. I thought this was wonderfully done and it made it very easy to understand why there would be societies dedicated to deepening their bonds with the demons and also why so many “normal” people might turn out to be diabolists (the book’s word for those who commune with the demons). I should also add that the demons aren’t necessarily good or evil – they seek
DeborahJRoss More than 1 year ago
Part Victorian Gothic, part sword-swashing adventure, part witchcraft and part romance, this is a thoroughly delightful tale. With a nod here and there to Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, the story concerns two sisters on a visit with their uncle in London. The older sister, Evadne Gray, loves fencing and the neighbor youth, but the latter has left her heart-broken by announcing his engagement to another. She’s in London as a diversion from her sorrow and also as chaperone for her vivacious, rebellious, artistic younger sister, Dorina Gray. Soon they’ve gone their own ways, Dorina to the salon of Lady Henrietta Wotton and Evadne to study at a fencing academy. But matters are not all they seem, for in this world of Victorian high society, demons bargain with their human hosts in pacts ranging from benign to bloody. This was my introduction to the work of Molly Tanzer but it won’t be my last. Besides the supernatural and mysterious, the depiction of a world of privilege and heartache, the story delves with sensitivity and insight into human relationships, thus setting it apart.
RAMcCandless More than 1 year ago
“Creatures of Will and Grace” by Molly Tanzer is a wonderful homage to the late, great Oscar Wilde and the only novel he published, “The Picture of Dorian Gray”. Readers concerned that they need to be intimately familiar with Wilde’s original need not worry. Tanzer has created a novel that stands on its own, while paying all due respect. Set in Victorian London, sisters Evadne and Dorina find themselves being introduced to society through Lady Henrietta “Henry” Wotten. Henry wears tailored pants (gasp), speaks her mind, and lives her life often in conflict with what is deemed acceptable. She is everything a rebellious woman of this era should be, while never quite crossing into the anachronistic of the modern. Naturally, Dorina is immediately and completely enamored of the older, wiser, and wholly engaging woman. While Evadne, athletic to the last, finds Henry's lack of conformity uncomfortable to say the least. Leaving her sister to her own devices, she evades the rule-breaking Henry with the lesser evil of finding a fencing master—her own, personal will. Almost in parallel, the sisters are introduced to an underground London, where magic and demon summoning are the rule of the day, and darker forces are at work. The pacing will be slow for some readers, especially those unfamiliar with Victorian era storytelling. However, the way in which Tanzer develops her characters and world is in keeping with the plot and the source material. Once all the pieces are in place, the pace picks up, almost too quickly. “Creatures of Will and Grace” is a delicious glimpse into an alternate history, with all the trappings of Victorian England and its “proper” society. Between Dorina, Henry and Evadne, readers will be able to peer through the shop windows and see a brilliant reflection of our own world.
JBronder More than 1 year ago
Evadne Grey has just been dumped by her fiancé. She then catches her sister Dorinia with another girl and tells their mother hoping to disrupt Dorinia’s trip to London. Instead Evadne is sent with Dorinia. Once in London, both girls meet Lady Henrietta, or Henry as she prefers to go by. Henry has a fencing school and connections. Although Evadne is put off by Henry dressing like a man she is enjoying the fencing lessons. Dorinia is taken with Henry and talks her into letting her attend a club with a secret dinner where she is going to be in for more than she expected. At the same time, Evadne attends another clubs dinner with the head of the fencing school and learns that there is a paranormal connection between the two clubs. Evadne is going to be recruited to fight demons but it seems her sister may have become a part of this club. Evadne and Dorinia are typical sisters. They care for each other but at the same time have a hard time getting along and tend to do things that will upset the other. But when they get to London they go in their own directions and find themselves on different sides in a battle. I have to say that the story slowly progressed in the first part. Yes, there was a Victorian world to develop and I have to say that I wasn’t as interested in that as I was for the demons and fighting. I did like the fencing training and the battle at the end. Yes, I was completely thrown off guard with the twist at the end. Over all I liked this book and will keep Molly Tanzer in mind for future book. I received Creatures of Will and Temper from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for free. This has in no way influenced my opinion for it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I received an ARC copy through NetGalley for review. Let me say that I absolutely loved this, Molly Tanzer's Creatures of Will and Temper is a dark, passionate, journey of two sisters and the ties that truly bind them, just as all around them seems set to tear them apart, possibly forever. Set in victorian London, it gives you everything you want in the vein of spiritualism, mysticism, and things not appearing exactly as you'd think. Not every monster is monstrous, not every kind face a reflection of truth. Two sisters go visit their uncle in London, the eldest Evadne, has a love of fencing, and wearing things other's consider unwomanly and unfashionable. Her little sister Dorina is the prim ideal of a young lady, all the while pushing against the rules of society in secret, she is fiery and full of life, ready to explore all it has to offer her. One sister a steady boil and the other a candle burning at both ends. But in the end they come to understand the love that binds them together, and the sacrifices they must make for each other to stay together. I really enjoyed this one, it far exceeded my expectations.