After the Newington Emerald is stolen at the height of a conjured storm, eighteen year-old Lady Truthful Newington goes to London to search for the magical heirloom of her house. But as no well-bred young lady can hunt the metropolis for a stolen jewel, she has to disguise herself as a man, and is soon caught up in a dangerous adventure where she must risk her life, her reputation… and her heart.
Balancing twin roles as a young lady coming out in her first season and as an intrepid young man up against an evil sorceress isn’t easy, but Truthful has to manage it. Her father’s life and even the fate of England may depend upon her recovering the Newington Emerald.
I was eager to read this book pretty much as soon as I heard about it. The combination of Garth Nix, fantasy, Regency England rom-com, and cross-dressing sounded like someone took several things I loved and tossed them in a blender. Luckily, Newt’s Emerald lives up its promise of being a light and solidly entertaining romp of a book. I’ve heard comparisons being made to Kat, Incorrigible which I haven’t read, but this book did remind me of Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer’s Sorcery and Cecilia, in setting, tone, and the prominence of the female characters.
You can tell Nix had a lot of fun writing this book. It is heavily influenced by Austen and Heyer, but there is a self-awareness which keeps the tone light, and I liked little grace notes like the offhand mentions of famed dandy Brummel as a “glamorist” (aka illusionist) and the spoof on The Mysteries of Udolpho. That being said, the historical fantasy world-building overall wasn’t as evocative and memorable as I was hoping. It’s good, with little info-dumping and bits of intriguing details tucked away here and there, but overall it’s missing the haunting atmosphere and well developed magic system which made his Old Kingdom series so amazing.
The plot is a nice mix of action and Regency rom-com hijinks, and though there weren’t any really unexpected twists it was engaging enough to keep me turning pages. The main romance is cute and I liked that Truthful is a grounded and sensible heroine while still being a believable teenager and product of her society. As for the other characters, special mention must be made to Truthful’s great-aunt Lady Ermintrude Badgery, who pretty much stole the show for me. She reminds me of the Dowager Countess Violet from Downton Abbey, with a fez and sword cane. Overall, I would love for there to be more books which further expand upon the world-building, but as a standalone novel Newt’s Emerald lives up to its premise as a fun tale of romance, magic and cross-dressing.
- How much I enjoyed it: 8.5 out of 10
- How good I thought it was: 7.5 out of 10