I “had” to reread this in preparation for the new book, but it was (of course) absolutely no hardship. I got into it right away, this time; before, it’d been a while since I read the first book, and I had to adjust a bit and remind myself of who everyone was. This time, it was all fresh enough to plunge right in, and it doesn’t disappoint. Brennan handles Isabella so well: we get to see all aspects of her life, like her relationship with her son (realistically painful, given the death of his father before he was born), her feelings about the religious/social stuff she has to bow to, her relationship with her family, and her attempts to make headway in the world of scholarship.
I was surprised when Marie Brennan mentioned that Tom Wilker was an incidental character who she didn’t expect to spend so much time with. For me, the books would be very different without Tom sharing Isabella’s dangers and trials. I have to confess that at one point I rather hoped he would be Lord Trent, though actually I do enjoy the intellectual friendship between them, and their support of each other without ever (well, almost ever) letting the fact that she’s a woman and he’s a man get in the way. People seem to find male-female friendship hard enough to grasp in today’s world, let alone a pseudo-Victorian one.
Also, yay for casual representation: Natalie Oscott does not, of course, have the words for it, but she’s asexual (not sex-averse, just it doesn’t drive her).
If you don’t love Isabella, I don’t know what to do with you. She’s resourceful, clever, but flawed as well, and her “deranged practicality” is exactly that, and if you weren’t reading her memoirs you’d be sure that she’d get herself killed that way. (Unless, of course, they do, and someone is reconstructing her memoirs from her notebooks, using her voice… It seems unlikely, but I’m suspicious-minded.)
One thing I would love to know: does Marie Brennan see Tom Wilker’s Niddey origins as having a direct analogue in our world? I’ve been picturing him as Welsh since, on one occasion when it said his accent was pronounced, he used a rather Welsh phrasing.