Anne here, and today it's my pleasure to welcome Emily Larkin to the Word Wenches.
I first met Emily at a romance writers' conference in Australia — she's a New Zealander, and she was writing Regency Historical romance (under the name of Emily May for Harlequin Historicals) so of course, because I'm always interested in new Regency writers, I read her first book. And immediately bought the next two.
She's the kind of Regency writer who Gets Things Right — I suspect she was raised on Georgette Heyer. She also writes darker fantasy novels as Emily Gee — in fact in 2008 her book, Thief With No Shadow finalled in two sections of the RITA — Best First Book and Best Mainstream with Romantic Elements — as well as being shortlisted for the prestigious Sir Julius Vogel award (NZ). And since I also read fantasy, I bought and thoroughly enjoyed those books, too.
But today, she's here as Emily Larkin, and is launching a new series combining Regency with a touch of magic. I've read the first one and it's a cracker of a tale — a Cinderella with a twist story. (Photo © 2016 Tim Cuff)
Anne: Emily, tell us about Unmasking Miss Appleby.
Emily: Hi Anne! Thanks for the intro. I was indeed raised on Georgette Heyer, and I do try very hard to Get Things Right! I’m so glad you enjoyed Unmasking Miss Appleby. ☺ It’s the book I’ve been wanting to write for years. It takes everything that I love about writing Regency romances and adds a little bit of what I like about writing fantasy novels. It’s Jane Austen plus a dash of magic, and was a lot of fun to write.
Here’s the blurb: On her 25th birthday, Charlotte Appleby receives a most unusual gift from the Faerie godmother she never knew she had: the ability to change shape.
Penniless and orphaned, she sets off for London to make her fortune as a man. But a position as secretary to Lord Cosgrove proves unexpectedly challenging. Someone is trying to destroy Cosgrove and his life is increasingly in jeopardy.
As Charlotte plunges into London’s backstreets and brothels at Cosgrove’s side, hunting his persecutor, she finds herself fighting for her life—and falling in love…
Anne: Historical readers are used to the "chick-in-pants" story — but this is a very different take on it. Care to explain?
Emily: The heroine, Charlotte, isn’t merely dressed as a man, for parts of the book she actually is a man—hairy chest and dangly bits and all. And while Charlotte is a very intelligent and well-educated young woman, she knows very little about men and nothing at all about being one. She doesn’t know how to tie a neckcloth or how to swear or throw a punch or ride without a sidesaddle—in fact, there are a lot of things she’s going to have to learn.
But this is a romance between a man and a woman, so Charlotte also has a number of things to learn as a woman, too!
Anne: The scenes where the very innocent Regency miss was learning about how a man's body works — from the inside — were such fun. But there were serious sides to the book as well — and it's far from "sweet".
Emily: You’re right, it’s definitely not a “sweet” novel. Unmasking Miss Appleby is more sensual that my previous Regencies, and a bit darker and grittier. There’s more sex and more adventure, but also some violence and bad language.
While Charlotte’s situation gave me lots of scope for humour, it also allowed me to expose her (and readers) to the seedier side of Regency society. Charlotte encounters footpads and whores and hired thugs, plus she ventures into the slums and sees poverty up close. Also, the hero, Lord Cosgrove, is fighting to abolish the slave trade, so this novel definitely has its serious moments.
Anne: For me it was an excellent combination, and gave you the opportunity to explore areas where a Regency Miss usually wouldn't venture. And for what it's worth, I didn't think that any of the violence or bad language were unjustified or hard to deal with. What inspired you to combine Regency-era stories with magic?
Emily: Oh, lots of different things! About twenty years ago I read Sorcery and Cecelia (or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot) by Patricia Wrede and Caroline Stevermer, and totally loved it and ever since then I’ve thought that Regency England and magic go very well together.
Then, about ten years ago I read a magazine article in which celebrities were asked what magic power they’d choose and why. That got me thinking! (I’d choose shapeshifting, by the way.) Plus, while I love writing Regencies, I felt the urge to expand my backdrop a bit. I wanted to give readers the opportunity to rub shoulders with some of Regency England’s seedier inhabitants, as well as its aristocrats and heiresses and dashing rakes.
Put all that together, and you get . . . the Baleful Godmother series.
Anne: Excellent. Could you give us a taste of Unmasking Miss Appleby, please?
Emily: Here’s a short excerpt from Charlotte’s first day as Lord Cosgrove’s secretary. It’s evening, and they’re searching for Cosgrove’s heir, Phillip Langford.
Phillip Langford’s manservant gave them the name of the brothel his master had been frequenting recently. “This will be an education for you, lad,” the earl said, as they clattered back down the stairs to the street.
He hailed a hackney and gave the jarvey an address.
“Is it in Covent Garden, sir?” Charlotte asked, as they climbed in.
“Wouldn’t it be better to wait until tomorrow morning, sir? When Mr. Langford is . . . isn’t occupied?”
“By tomorrow morning, Phillip will be too drunk to string two words together.” Cosgrove stretched out his legs and crossed them at the ankle.
“But wouldn’t that be the perfect time to question him, sir? When he’s unable to prevaricate?” Apprehension churned in her belly. She wished she hadn’t eaten so much for dinner.
“Chin up, lad. I won’t let Mrs. Henshaw’s girls debauch you.”
Charlotte’s cheeks burned in the dimness of the hackney carriage. “I am not afraid of whores,” she said stiffly.
If anyone would like to read a longer excerpt, the first two chapters are on my website:
Emily: I guess you could call the series “Jane Austen meets Maleficent”. In fact, the series tagline is actually a riff on Austen’s famous opening line: It is a truth universally acknowledged, that Faerie godmothers do not exist…
It’s called the Baleful Godmother series because the Faerie godmother, Baletongue, bears no resemblance to the godmother in Cinderella! She doesn’t like humans, and while she’s bound to grant a wish to the descendants of a particular bloodline, she’d much rather harm them if she could.
Unmasking Miss Appleby is the first novel in the series, with the next five books coming out in pretty rapid succession. Each book has magic in it—some more than others—but I don’t think of them as paranormal romances. They’re historical romances with heroes and heroines who could step out of a Georgette Heyer novel, and any characters who possess magic are doing their very best to hide it.
After those first six books, I’ll branch out into two interconnected series about two families of Regency cousins who have Baletongue as a godmother but don’t know that the other exists, the Garland cousins and the Pryor cousins. At the moment I see eleven books in the Garland and Pryor series—and lots of opportunity for humour and adventure and passion. I’m looking forward to writing them!
However, if readers don’t like magic with their historical romance, my earlier Regencies are being revised and reissued under my current pen-name, Emily Larkin. The first two will be out this month, and the others early next year. You can check them out on my website ( www.emilylarkin.com/books ).
Anne: I'm looking forward to the new books. I enjoyed those earlier Regencies, and am glad they're now available again. I understand you’ve written a prequel to the Baleful Godmother series? Can you tell us a little about it?
Emily: Yes, there is a prequel. It’s a collection of four short fairy tale novellas called The Fey Quartet. The novellas explain how this particular family acquired its Faerie godmother, show how dangerous Faeries can be, and illustrate what happens when wishes go right…and when they go wrong. You don’t need to read the prequel to enjoy the Baleful Godmother series; it’s just a bit of fun backstory. It’s available for sale, but I’m giving it away free to any readers who join my mailing list. (www.emilylarkin.com/newsletter)
Anne: Oh, nice idea. Thanks so much for joining us on the WordWenches, Emily. (Late addition to the post — I just found out that not only has Unmasking Miss Appleby just gone on sale, but that it's also Emily's birthday. HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Emily!)
Emily: Thanks so much for having me on the Word Wenches, Anne! I’ve really enjoyed talking with you!
Anne: I didn't even touch on Emily's adventurous and interesting life, but if you'd like to read about that, read the interview here. Emily is giving away an e-copy of Unmasking Miss Appleby to someone who leaves a comment or answers this question: What magic power would you choose and why?
NOTE: The Winner of a copy of Emily's UNMASKING MISS APPLEBY has been chosen and notified by email. Thanks for all the comments.