“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.