book reviews

Fantasy-of-Manners Books

I’ve been calling my own books ‘gaslamp fantasy’ since I published them, but more recently, I’ve started calling them by another term as well: fantasy of manners.

What is fantasy of manners?

Fantasy-of-manners is a subgenre of fantasy where the societal setting lends itself to intimate, complicated social interactions and (you guessed it) manners. Think ballrooms and manor houses rather than battlefields. The name draws from ‘comedy of manners’, and while fantasy-of-manners books aren’t always humorous, they often do have a whimsical / tongue-in-cheek tone.

Wait, how is fantasy-of-manners different from gaslamp fantasy?

I’ve been musing on this (I do love musing on subgenres). I think there is naturally a lot of overlap between gaslamp fantasy and fantasy of manners and that many books (including mine) are both. Gaslamp fantasy describes the world’s technology level / historical time-period feel, and fantasy of manners describes the society and focus of the story’s conflicts.

Why is fantasy of manners so great?

  • Ridiculous rules and constraints create massive potential for delicious interpersonal drama and / or humorous situations.
  • Aesthetics. There’s just something about balls and men in waistcoats, isn’t there?
  • Intimate focus. Politics, rumours, and clever conversations rather than battles and action sequences.
  • The fun of seeing how something as wild as magic fits into a world of rigid societal rules.

So what are some examples of fantasy-of-manners books?

I’m so glad you asked! Here is a list of fantasy-of-manners books I have read and enjoyed. These are all books with strong romantic elements, because that’s how I roll. Please do recommend more in the comments – I love this subgenre, so I’m always happy to find more.

15 (Romantic) Fantasy-of-Manners Books

(in no particular order)

The Lord of Stariel by AJ Lancaster

Yes, I know. Tacky. But I have to add my own books to this listicle for SEO purposes, and technically I have read and enjoyed them! Marketing shmarketing and the hustle of the self-published author and all that. Anyway, if you like large-extended-family antics, melodramatic fae, and magical sentient estates, you might like my books.

Self-published: Yes
Steamy scenes: Not in this book, but some later in the series.

The Lady Jewel Diviner by Rosalie Oaks

These books have the spirit of cosy mystery novels combined with Regencies. Plus vampires and selkies. It works wonderfully, I promise. The main character can magically sense gemstones.

What I particularly adore about this series is how joyful it is. Very much not taking itself too seriously, and I absolutely cackled my way through especially the climax in this book. There’s a slow-burn enemies-to-lovers romance with the high-handed (but well-meaning) Earl of Beresford.

Self-published: Yes
Steamy scenes: No

Subversive by Colleen Cowley

Oof, this trilogy was so addictive I read all three in a row. They have an almost thriller vibe to them with lots of politics and secrets. I loved the enemies-to-lovers romance and the fascinating exploration of all the ways that magical oaths might go wrong.

Self-published: Yes
Steamy scenes: Yes

The Midnight Bargain by CL Polk

My favourite thing about this book is the magic – magicians make bargains with spirits to do their bidding. I choose to imagine them as demonic pokemon.

Self-published: No
Steamy scenes: No

Half a Soul by Olivia Atwater

A whimsical Regency fantasy romance (with capricious fairies) that manages to touch on darker issues whilst remaining overall light in tone.

Self-published: Yes
Steamy scenes: No

Tea & Sympathetic Magic by Tansy Rayner Roberts

What impresses me most about these cosy novellas is how satisfying they are. Each contains a mystery, furthers the romantic arc, and includes a cast of entertaining secondary characters. I have no idea how Tansy fits so much in to such a short length.

Self-published: Yes
Steamy scenes: No

Sorcerer to the crown by Zen Cho

This book is so good I can’t actually encapsulate its goodness with words (ironically). Zacharias, the titular Sorcerer to the Crown, is my favourite and I just want an endless amount of nice things for him.

Self-published: No
Steamy scenes: No

Empath’s Lure by Jen Lynning

A hero who can manipulate emotions (but not sense them) meets a heroine who can sense emotions (but not manipulate them) on opposite sides of the treaty negotiation talks between two nations. Full of courtly intrigue and political shenanigans as well as the burgeoning romance between these enemies-turned-eventual-allies.

Self-published: Yes
Steamy scenes: Yes

A Marvellous Light by Freya Marske

The magic system fascinated me in this one – magicians cast using hand motions based on the cat’s cradle game. I also loved how many scenes are set in libraries and just how much William Morris wallpaper features.

Self-published: No
Steamy scenes: Yes

Snowspelled by Stephanie Burgis

A magical manor-house mystery set in a kind of gender-bent version of Regency England (with added trolls and fae). It’s a novella, and I read it in one go and regret nothing.

Self-published: Yes
Steamy scenes: No

The Magpie Lord by KJ Charles

This m/m romance has a real gothic feel with the terrifying curse afflicting one of the heroes and the ominous magpie imagery.

Self-published: Yes
Steamy scenes: Yes

Scales and Sensibility by Stephanie Burgis

Regency romance with pet dragons! The moment I heard about this book, I knew I must read it, and I was right. I inhaled this delightful confection in a single sitting (seems to be something of a trend for me with Stephanie Burgis’ books).

Self-published: Yes
Steamy scenes: No

Witchmark by CL Polk

m/m and includes fae and magical soulbonds!

Self-published: No
Steamy scenes: Fade to black

Soulless by Gail Carriger 

My heart will always hold a huge soft spot for Lord Maccon, gruff but well-meaning werewolf alpha.

Self-published: No
Steamy scenes: Yes

Sorcery & Cecelia by Patricia C Wrede & Caroline Stevermer

This was the first fantasy-of-manners book I ever read, many years ago and before I knew the term for the subgenre. It’s told as letters back and forth between two friends as they each get embroiled in their respective mysteries / shenanigans, and it is pure delight. Maybe time for a re-read, in fact.

Self-published: No
Steamy scenes: No

6 thoughts on “Fantasy-of-Manners Books”

  1. The Magpie Lord and subsequent books in this trilogy are superb, as is just about everything K.J. Charles writes. I have A Marvelous Light on my TBR list and can’t wait to read it. I read Sorcery and Cecelia years ago (I love the epistolary format) after reading The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede aloud to my kids. Those books, although they are ostensibly Juvenile fiction, also fit the Fantasy of Manners criteria. I highly recommend them, even for adults.

    I’ll add Deven and the Dragon by Eliot Grayson, a sweet, gender-bending novella with a Beauty and the Beast retelling. One of my favorite finds of 2021 has been Salt Magic, Skin Magic by Lee Welch.Set in an alt-history Victorian era, Soren is being trapped on his family estate by some kind of malevolent magic. A visiting magician (sent to the estate under cover to find out a different secret) offers unexpected help. The magic system is clever and unusual, and the romance is very sweet (also it’s pretty much fade to black).

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  2. Melissa McShane’s “Burning Bright” – a young women from an aristocratic magical family in 19th century England, struggling with the constraints of societal and family expectations, turns to service with the War Office as a means of making full use of her talent. Book 1 of the Extraordinaries series, and all of them are good!

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  3. I’m surprised you didn’t include one of the classics: Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner. She uses the term Mannerpunk to describe it (in the vein of Cuberpunk, steampunk, etc)

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  4. Surprised at the omission of The Goblin Emperor which – no offense – I think is the best fantasy of manners novel currently extant.
    BTW many plaudits for your Stariel quartet, from slightly clunky beginning to satisfyingly dramatic and romantic conclusion. I read them almost in one go on Kindle and shall buy the books.

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