Nathan’s review of Miss Percy’s Pocket Guide to the Care and Feeding of British Dragons.
One of my favorite recent trends in speculative fiction is the popularization of so-called “cozy fantasy”. These are fantasy stories that have low(er) stakes, often quaint settings, and overall just make you feel warm and fuzzy inside. Publishing sensation Legends and Lattes by Travis Baldree is currently the poster-child for this sub-genre (and was one of my favorite reads of 2022!).
If you are interested in cozy fantasy, you absolutely cannot miss reading Miss Percy. This follows a 40-something year old spinster in Victorian England in Mildred who doesn’t have a bad life but doesn’t have a very exciting life either. She lives with her opinionated and stuck-up sister and brother-in-law and their three children. She spends her days essentially as a live-in nanny and caretaker but doesn’t have a life of her own. That is until she receives an inheritance from a great uncle who has recently passed away. Initially Mildren thinks these are just a collection of old books and trinkets, until one of the “rocks” she hatches into a baby dragon. From here, the book deals with the very real (and often funny question) – what do you do if a dragon is immediately thrust upon you?
I have heard it said that there are two types of cozy fantasy – hearth fantasy and backpack fantasy. This definitely falls under the “hearth” variety because the Mildred doesn’t travel, nor does she go on epic quests. Instead this is a smaller scale story of a single community and the internal politics of a family. (Although the end of this book does imply that book two will have a bit more “backpacking” travel and adventuring!).
Mildred isn’t the only standout character in the novel. Mildred’s love interest, is the town vicar and scientific hobbyist. I cannot tell you how refreshing it was to have a love interest who isn’t described as particularly handsome, or hot, or charming. Instead, he is an everyday, caring man. This is not a romance novel per se, but I really enjoyed watching the slow burn unravel. I also smiled with delight every time the vicar’s housemaid, Mrs. Babbinton, appeared on the page. She is another older protagonist we often don’t get to see in fantasy novels very often. She was funny but not the butt of the joke as older characters (and particularly older female characters) often are. I cannot overemphasize how wonderful this cast of characters is. You will root for Mildred and seethe at the villains (particularly Mr. Hawthorne, who feels like the dragon egg is his inheritance by right and will do anything to get the egg back).
Miss Percy is also hilarious for those of you who appreciate witty, Austen-esque British humor. Olson has such a unique and powerful authorial voice throughout the novel. The narrator of the story is pretty much a character themself. There are many self-aware and self-referential asides that had me laughing out loud while reading my Kindle on the bus.
Concluding Thoughts: Quenby Olson has a real winner on her hands here! I cannot wait to dive into the second novel (which has already been published). Highly recommended for all of you cozy fantasy fans out there.