I don’t usually read fantasy fiction. I’m not sure why, exactly. I think if something requires suspension of disbelief, I prefer it to be on the uncanny side of speculative. I like being spooked but I’m less keen to dive into a parallel universe. Too lazy to absorb all the world-building, I reckon.

However, when Fly on the Wall Press sent me a book to review, the package also contained a bookmark. Shades of midnight purple and gold, a soulful, lupine eye surrounded by a swirl of violet fur and these words: A grouchy 100-year-old professor prepares to lead an underground rebellion against the dictator, with her sentient wolf. Feminist Fantasy. I mean, you had me at grouchy. So I made an exception to my rule and asked if I could review The Finery by Rachel Grosvenor.

I have never been more happy to leave my comfort zone. I loved this book. Now that I’ve finished, I miss it. I miss the aforementioned 100-year-old grouch, Wendowleen, and I miss Wolf. I quickly got past the association with Windolene (I think this is an unfortunate product of my age and hopefully not something that younger readers will notice) and became fully immersed in Wendowleen’s world – the land of Rytter: a pastoral incarnation of Britain with a steampunk edge. Actually, there’s no steam power in Rytter – horses pull their trains. Nevertheless, there’s a definite H.G. Wells vibe going on. It’s dystopian but also very funny. Think Orwell-meets-Pratchett.

I found the political side of this book fascinating. Anyone on the extreme left might feel a bit got at – if you believe that all property is theft, you’re siding with the baddies in this novel. But then, if you’re on the extreme left or right, you’re probably too busy tying yourself in ideological knots to read fiction, so just carry on getting tangled and don’t worry about it.

However, reading this as a rallying cry for individualism over collectivism would be too simplistic. The underground rebellion of Rytter is built on cooperation and pooling of resources. Freedom of thought, accessibility of knowledge, the right to be yourself – they are the central tenets of what heroes like Wendowleen and Auri are fighting for in this book. And I loved Grosvenor’s writing style. She somehow manages to strike a balance between cynicism and comfort, and between malevolent threat and cosy affirmation. That is no mean feat.

The Director is a great character, as is the Mayor. One is a proper bastard, the other is more complex and has a redemptive journey we can all get on board with. I had definite casting choices in mind for both of these in the screen adaptation that I hope will materialise. Wendowleen is the absolute boss, though – what a fantastic role it would be for the rarely-centre-stage older female actor. And Wolf, dear Wolf. I’m a sucker for anything vaguely doggy, so of course this aspect of the book was likely to appeal. Grosvenor’s rendering of this canine companion is masterful, and exactly what we want to believe goes on in the mind of man’s best friend.

I won’t summarise the plot because much of the joy here is in the unfurling of the bigger picture. But I can wholeheartedly recommend curling up with The Finery, imbibing its warmth like a mug of chestnut broth, and getting caught up in the rebellion like a farmer with a pan on their head. Trust me – if you read the book, this will all make sense. Buy a copy and find out what on earth I’m on about.

By Amy Stone

All images courtesy of Fly on the Wall Press


The Finery is available to buy now. For more information, click here