Nat’s Review: Creatures of Will and Temper
I’ve never read “The Picture of Dorian Grey,” the story that provided the inspiration for Molly Tanzer’s “Creatures of Will and Temper.” Everything I know about it comes from references in pop culture. However, what little I do know about Dorian Grey was enough to pique my interest in a gender-swapped reimagining of the tale.
Set in Victorian England, “Creatures of Will and Temper” tells the story of of Evadne and Dorina Gray and their adventures in London. Dorina’s visit had been planned for awhile—she yearns to become an art critic, and their uncle is painter; Evadne is sent along against her will to chaperone her sister. It’s the price Evadne pays for tattling on her sister to their mother after she busted Dorina enjoying some good times with a woman (not cool, Evadne.)
Upon arriving in London they meet their Uncle Basil, along with Lady Henrietta “Henry” Wotton. Dorina is immediately smitten with Henry, despite there being a substantial age gap. Various outings ensue, and the sisters frequently clash (they have very different interests). Eventually they both find their own path, with Dorina spending time with Henry and her “appreciation society” and Evadne joining a fencing school.
And then the demons show up. Well, actually, the demons have been there all along, but I don’t want to go into spoiler territory.
Overall, I liked the book. The premise was interesting and the writing style was elegant, but still accessible. It was nice to see two female protagonists, with their occasionally conflicting goals, drive a story. (There were male characters too, of course, but they were mostly in supporting roles.) And, as always, I am here for swordfighting and the gays.
However, the central romantic relationship between Dorina and Henry didn’t really work for me, even after I tried to picture Henry being portrayed by Gwendoline Christie (don’t judge me). It’s not badly written by any means, and I liked both Dorina and Henry; I just had a hard time buying into the two of them having some sort of grand love. (Some lusty good times, maybe.) I definitely got hung up on the age gap. I could buy Henry being really flattered by having some hot young woman making googly eyes at her, but, for all of her positive traits, Dorina was still an impulsive, fickle, seventeen year old—someone who didn’t seem ready to settle down, however strong her feelings were.
And despite Evadne being an ass in the beginning, I generally liked her. The conclusion of her story arc wasn’t particularly satisfying for me. I felt it was ultimately rooted in seeking approval and acknowledgement from others, which was what motivated her from the beginning. She did grow more tolerant of people’s individuality and eccentricities over time, which was nice; I would have liked to see her love and respect herself more in the end is all.
Despite having prominent female characters and gay characters it was not a very diverse book. There are a couple supporting characters of color, but, unless I missed something in the descriptions, the entire main cast is white. Given that the book was willing to push on against some boundaries (e.g. heteronormativity, expectations of women) it would have been nice to see some more variety with the major characters.
Problematic elements aside, I still think if anyone is looking for a fun story about family, sword fighting, and demons, “Creatures of Will and Temper” is worth the time to check out.