Mab Morris looks back at the Mask and Dagger duology by Teresa Edgerton, published in 1991.
Writing a review for Teresa Edgerton’s Goblin Moon swiftly became a bit tricky, when I set out to do it. I had not read the book in years, and instead of writing, I just wanted to READ. That was, from the first, one of the reasons I fell in love with her work. Like Susanna Clarke, Caroline Stevermer, Paula Volsky, and Patricia Wrede, Edgerton writes in the subgenre often called “Fantasy of Manners”, also called, amusingly, mannerpunk. Imagine Austen, Dumas, Orcy, and Collins, all set in a world of fantasy.
Edgerton’s work definitely fit that particular bill. Goblin Moon, and its sequel Gnome’s Engine (now called Hobgoblin Night), also fits rather nicely within the steampunk genre (as the former title might suggest).
From the beginning—and I had no preparation for this when I first read it—the book ensured it would be different. It starts off with Caleb Braun and his grandnephew Jedidiah hauling trash out of a river to sell. They discover a coffin that should have remained lost. Within is a strangely preserved body is within, along with sorcerous books.
They take the casket—and all the books—to Caleb’s former master, Gottfried Jenk. Jenk had once studied magic and alchemy, with such focus he lost his fortunes, his wife and daughter, though his granddaughter comes to live with him for a time. She is named Seramarias, after the stone that is the Elixir of Life. Wanting the best for her, he sent Sera off to her wealthy relations.
Through Jed’s friendship with Sera, we’re introduced to higher ranks of society. Sera is protective of her seeming frail friend Elise, “One of them slight, pale, and golden-haired, the other a statuesque maiden with glossy dark brown curls…” And it appears that there is a sense of doom enshrouding Sera’s dear friend, and all the dangers that surround her. “I am the one growing morbid…,” Sera thinks, “Elise has only to sigh, or turn pale, or say that she is faint, and I am instantly convinced that the awful moment has come, that her doctors have finally succeeded in killing her.”
A dangerous Jarl is pursuing Sera’s friend Elise. Jarl Skogsrå is a “a middle-aged dandy in high leather boots like a cavalry officer. Except for the boots there was nothing military about him. He wore his hair unpowdered and neatly clubbed at the back, but the front hung loose in dark golden lovelocks; his garments were laced, fringed, and beribboned to a remarkable degree; and he carried a tiny black fan. To many a susceptible maiden, he was a perfect figure of romance.”
Jed also brings us to the Glassblower Society, and introduces other hints of subterfuge and alchemy. One prominent member is the dashing Lord Francis Skelbrooke. Like Elizabeth contemplating Darcy, Sera ponders her reaction to the man after Elisa declares, “There is not a more courteous man in Thornburg.”
“Sera herself did not understand it. Proud men and dissolute men did nothing to ruffle her composure; she could ignore the discourtesies of the one sort just as coolly as she crushed the pretensions of the other; therefore, it was a mystery to her (and the cause of great resentment) why Francis Skelbrooke, with his soft voice, his faint Imbrian accent, his speaking grey eyes, and his gravely respectful manner, never failed to discompose her.”
The great thing about mannerpunk, or any fantasy of manners, is that they often have the refinement of a good Jane Austen novel with the swashbuckling romance of Baroness Orcy’s Scarlet Pimpernel. Here, there’s also the clear influence of Willkie Collins’ The Woman in White. Sometimes mannerpunk eschews magical creatures, but Edgerton brings them in with a sense of glee, even in this somewhat dark story. Gnomes have a sense of dignity, with a facade of both goodness and “much to account for”. Trolls and goblins masquerading as human noblemen have designs upon our heroines.
If you love Jane Austen, Willkie Collins, Baroness Orcy, then you can have all of them in the wonderful works of Teresa Edgerton. That said, I need to get back to re-reading this wonderful series!