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Daughter of Mystery is set in the fictional European country of Alpennia, sometime in the early 19th century. Chapters alternate between Barbara’s perspective and Margerit’s. Barbara knows she’s of noble birth but has no idea who her parents are. Her father lost everything due to his gambling debts and sold her to Baron Seveze when she was only a baby. She is now the baron’s armin (formal bodyguard/duelist).
Margerit Sovitre is the baron’s goddaughter, although he generally hasn’t been in her life much. Margerit is an orphan who was taken in by her aunt and uncle. She has no interest in attending balls or getting married, but that’s the direction in which her life seems to be going, until Baron Seveze dies and everyone learns to their shock that he has left her his entire fortune. He also left her Barbara, despite his promise to free her, and made it so that Margerit cannot free her before she (Margerit) comes of age without most of the baron’s fortune going to the Convent of Saint Orisul instead. Margerit is willing to do this, but her uncle, who still controls her life, isn’t willing to let her. However, Margerit’s efforts win her Barbara’s loyalty. With Barbara at her side, Margerit pursues her heart’s desire: studying philosophy and theology at the university in Rotenek. Meanwhile, Barbara digs into the mystery of her own past.
I hate writing reviews of things I actually enjoyed. I came very close to just pushing out three bulleted lists: What I Liked, What I Didn’t Like, and Things That Didn’t Fit Into the Other Two Categories. ::sigh::
I adored the first half of this book. Sure, it was slow, but in a good way. It reminded me strongly of Katherine Addison’s The Goblin Emperor, if that book had been written from the perspective of its women. There was Barbara, who usually dressed as a man and was a skilled bodyguard and duelist. And there was Margerit, who, like The Goblin Emperor’s Maia, was abruptly thrust into the limelight by her changed circumstances. She was expected to find a husband, manage his household, and bear his children, and instead the baron’s money opened up a path to all the things she’d really wanted (plus at least one thing she hadn't even considered).
The setting had a definite sense of weight and depth to it, and the politics was intriguing, if occasionally confusing. I was fascinated with the way religion and magic seemed to be intertwined, even as I worried that Margerit was happily and blindly heading towards being declared a heretic. Even though Barbara spent more of the book in on-page danger than Margerit, I tended to worry more about Margerit than her. Barbara was cool, competent, and definitely more politically savvy.
The pacing occasionally got too slow for my tastes, especially in the second half. There were times when I wished some of the political details and Margerit and Barbara’s analyses of religious mysteries had been tightened up a bit. To be fair, many of the things that looked unimportant or unrelated did eventually tie together in the end, it just took longer than I expected.
Barbara and Margerit’s relationship was one of those things I both enjoyed and had issues with. I liked that it took a while for them to go from bonding over shared interests to mutual secret attraction, and finally to discussing how they felt about each other. Considering the difference in their positions - after all, Barbara was technically Margerit’s inherited property - it would have felt weird if things had progressed more quickly. Which isn’t to say that I didn’t occasionally get frustrated with how long everything took.
For the most part, Barbara seemed to be more acutely aware of the difference in their positions than Margerit...up until a scene late in the book when Margerit told Barbara “You forget your place” during an argument. I was horrified, Barbara felt like she’d been kicked in the gut, and Margerit immediately regretted it. I kept waiting for them to talk about it. Margerit mentioned the scene once, a little, when she voiced her fear that she’d lost Barbara for good, and they talked more about some related issues near the end, but I still felt like the author brushed that one scene aside a bit too much.
Despite my issues with the pacing and my slight dissatisfaction with the way Margerit and Barbara’s relationship was handled, I really enjoyed Daughter of Mystery and am looking forward to reading the next book. I wish I'd purchased the whole series while it was still on sale at Kobo.
(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)