Cover Image: The Ruthless Lady's Guide to Wizardry

The Ruthless Lady's Guide to Wizardry

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Member Reviews

Last year I was delighted and surprised by Waggoner's Unnatural Magic because she managed to blend a murder mystery with a slow-burn romance, and just ... a surprising amount of emotional richness and sensibility into her characters, and make everything fit together very naturally. And I'm happy to report that she's managed the same feat in the Ruthless Lady's Guide to Wizardry. I've seen narratives about down-and-out con artists trying to land a scheme to survive, but I've never *felt* one the way that I felt this one, as Waggoner introduced us to Dellaria and her plight: earn enough money to pay her overdue rent and avoid a "hard promise" (a curse that will lead to seeping pustules, "mostly on the face"), while also finding a way to rescue the drug-addicted mother who has rarely, if ever, come through for her. Dellaria may seem too good to be true, but she's also an opportunist, which is why the prospect of pursuing higher class Wynn as a marriage prospect seems like a good idea to get her the wealth and security she needs. Of course, things don't go quite to plan.

Though I can't go into detail without spoiling the plot, Waggoner excels at showing a wide range of ruthless women -- in good and bad ways. Dellaria and Wynn are sweet, and full of heart, and yet, not so much to the point of being saccharine. And Waggoner isn't afraid to twist the knife in exacting the consequences of prior actions.

Finally, Waggoner's "Buttons" is a uniquely odd character who, frankly, shouldn't work, but somehow does, and Buttons and his bonging will stay with me for a long time after. I really hope that we continue to see more set in this world -- not least because I want to see Onna and Loga again, even if it's just a cameo!
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Unnatural Magic was a solid read that was hard to pin down at times, then comes this authors second book and I enjoyed it JUST AS MUCH. Once you learn how to go with the flow, the book might end up surprising you in the best way possible. A novel which strives to tackle traditional fantasy in a fresh and unique way, C.M. Waggoner offers a cleverly transformative tale that explores love, ambition, and humor all rolled into one.

Amazing female leads, and two completely different adventures but it all comes together to make one amazing read.
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Dellaria Wells is the most fun protagonist I've read in a while. She and Wyn are a delight and Waggoner manages to create an entire crew that lives and breathes on the page.
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A little whimsical, slightly sweet, and somewhat odd, "The Ruthless Ladies Guide to Wizardry" is a lovely little tea cake of a book. 

Part historical fantasy and part romance with a hint of mystery and action, this new novel by C. M. Waggoner follows ex-drunk alley cat Dellaria Wells as she gets a proper job guarding a wealthy well-to-do lady from being murdered before her wedding day.

A cast of peculiar characters and a quirky half-humorous narration style that’s half British slang and half total tomfoolery sets a particular tone for the book that many will love. Meanwhile, with women taking their rightful places as all the main characters in a world where queer courtship is ordinary, the setting of "Ruthless Lady's Guide" is one many will be fond of slipping into. 

But the story seemed surface-level at best and hovered uncertainty between adult language and young adult tropes and themes. For all the exciting things taking place—steampunk zombie creatures, a magic drug ring with child mobsters, and homicidal wizards—the romance took the stage far too often...but didn't shine. An old-fashioned love story is all fine and dandy when it's interesting, but there was no conflict or tension involved, leaving readers doddling along after the doting pair waiting for the wedding bells. 

The plot of "Ruthless Lady's Guide" had so much potential but lacked the mystery and subtlety to make it really something. And although I loved to see a full cast of female characters, they could have had a lot more depth and intrigue. Instead, the most fleshed-out character of all may have been the re-incarnated skeleton of a mouse. And the most interesting bit of the book was the last, which ends up being just a tease and leaves no room for explanations of the wackier things that occurred or characters' motivations, returning instead, once again, to love. 

If you’re wondering why I haven’t talked about the magic yet, that’s because—for a book with wizardry in the title—this story had a sad amount of spell casting. The magic system is less of a focus and more of a background aspect, which is never fully explored or explained. Talk about false advertising. A "Girl’s Guide to Getting a Rich Wife" may have been more suitable.

A sweet puffed pastry empty of cream, I’d love to have heard the voice of Delly tell a story that had more substance. I rated "The Ruthless Lady’s Guide to Wizardry" 2.5 out of 5.

Thank you to Netgalley and Ace Books for an early copy in exchange for an honest review.
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This book left me feeling conflicted. 
On one hand, I loved the characters and the story. I greatly enjoyed following on Delia and Winn's journey each new piece of the puzzle was revealed. Some of the characters were very complex and interesting. 

On the other hand, I felt that there were several drawbacks that will keep me from purchasing the book for my library. There are several features of the world that just... aren't explained. I'm uncertain if this is because there's meant to be a glossary added later, or if the writer feels that they should be obvious. Clanholding for example is something that is very important within the world, but not something that is made clear. The book starts off slow and it takes some time before you get into the action. At first Delia sounds more whiney than likeable, although that does shift by the third chapter, you just have to get there. There's also the matter of the magic system. Although there is a difference between info dumping and weaving details into the story, I wish that I could have had more of an explanation about things, given how important certain details are to events. 

Although I don't plan to purchase this for my library, I do intend to keep an eye on the author and hope that they continue to improve. I'm intrigued by this world and the characters and hope to get to learn more about them in time.
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This book was a charming delight. From the vocabulary (“ensatisficsting”, “gutter witch”) to the sweet love story, to the brisk plot, this novel has a lot to offer fans of Theodora Goss.
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While filled with interesting magic and adventure, this story just did not pull me in. I enjoyed that there was a main character was LGBTQ, however she did not develop as well as I hoped. Overall, while a good read, it could have been better. Many of the characters were flatter than I liked, and the overall storyline was predictable.
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“The Ruthless Lady’s Guide to Wizardry” follows Delly, a fire witch and petty criminal looking for the quickest way to get out of the crime life. She finds an advertisement searching for a group of women to act as bodyguards for a princess. Delly thinks this could be a career opportunity and a chance to fund drug rehab for her mother. 

This premise sounds exciting, and yay, girl power, but this one fell flat for me. It was unfortunate to discover that the big event happens in the first act, and then we are carried off on another adventure. I enjoyed the beginning of the novel and read through the chapters with ease, but once the first mystery is solved, it felt like it took forever to get to a disappointing end. 

I believe that this book could have done with quite a few more chapter breaks. The chapters were long, and I feel like more separation would have made the action and adventure more exciting. 

I enjoyed the language, and I thought C.M. Waggoner did a great job incorporating Victorian slang and syntax. Unfortunately, I felt that there was just far too much dialogue that led nowhere with sprinklings of action. There came to be a point where I would jump through paragraphs to get to the meat of the story. 

Finally, something I loved was the sapphic relationship not being a plot motivator, but rather just a story with a sapphic relationship. There were no hoops they had to jump through or discomfort among other members of the cast. It was nice to see them merely existing in this world. Now I wish we got more out of their relationship. There was some flirting and an almost steamy moment, and then it is squashed. I also feel like Delly drops a massive bomb at the end, and Winn simply forgives it. In any relationship, what Delly said needed to be met with some attempt at an apology. 

I loved the premise, and I thought that the language was well done. It left me wanting more and feeling deflated because it had such an incredible opportunity to be something different. Thank you, C.M. Waggoner, Berkeley Publishing, and NetGalley, for the ARC.
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I received an ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

The plot summary sounded really cool. A bunch of magical ladies protecting a young woman from being assassinated? Heck yeah, sign me up!

The start of the novel was pretty strong. I liked Delly Wells, the poor fire witch who seemed to put her foot in her mouth more oft than not. She's stumbled along life, trying to get by as best she can. When we see her, she's making a "hard promise" with her landlady to where she'll get horrible pustules on her face if she doesn't pay her rent on time. She happens to find her way to answering an advertisement about protecting a rich young woman until her wedding occurs and Delly thinks this is the start of her making it big--at least big enough where she won't get the pustules on her face.

At the beginning, it sort of reminded me of a "lower class" Parasol Protectorate by Gail Carriger and I had hopes for it. However, as the novel progressed, the enthusiasm waned. The plot arc mentioned in the summary occurred and then it started to be some sort of weird revenge plot that involved a lot of dialogue, a re-animated dead mouse, making drugs called "red drip," and the occasional friction between Delly and her love interest, Winn.

I wanted to like it, but it sort of dragged along. I do think that the author did some interesting worldbuilding and I'd definitely read another book by them.
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I listed this title in LA County Library's February Staff Picks list:
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WOAH, what a book! 

I read this title as part of the #BerkleyBuddyReads #BerkleyWritesStrongWomen group & what I love about joining book clubs is that SO often books you'd never pick up end up surprising you in the best way! As someone who avoids synopsis at all costs, this book had such spunky, whimsical characters it was easy to fall for it. Our reading group couldn't get over the unique writing style - it was almost like Dellaria & Winn had their own language, but it made the writing style as colorful as the characters! 

One of the things I enjoyed MOST about this particular book was that so many of the characters were accepting - appearance, gender, sexuality - made no difference to them. Dellaria was by far one of the most entertaining characters I've ever read, and this book had a little bit of it ALL - magic, romance, historical fiction, any reader could enjoy this one! 

Thank you to Berkley Publishing + NetGalley for providing me a copy in exchange for my personal review.
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The Ruthless Lady’s Guide to Wizardry by C.M. Waggoner describes itself as historical fantasy taking place in the fictional city of Leiscourt, following a poor fire-witch/con artist hired to protect a noblewoman. Ms. Waggoner is an American author, this is her second novel.

Dellaria Wells, Delly, is a hard-drinking thief, about to be evicted from her apartment in Leiscourt. Delly is also a talented fire-witch, but has no idea how to hone her skills. Delly fast-talks herself into a good paying job, protecting a young rich lady from assassination.

Delly thinks that this will be an easy job, but soon her and the team of lady witches/bodyguards she’s working with realize that they might have gotten in over their heads.

This book is not up my alley, you witches, lesbians, romance, an all female cast … not things I’m interested in. maybe that’s why I sought it out – it sounded interesting even though not the typical book I’d read. Besides, I thought in need to make more of an effort to read books somewhat outside my reading likes, not much mind you – a few steps outside the periphery will do. Many times I quite enjoy them and venture even further.

The first thing that struck me when I started reading The Ruthless Lady’s Guide to Wizardry by C.M. Waggoner is how beautifully it was written. The storyline was a delight, combining comedy and action with the mundane all told by an unreliable, yet witty, narrator. I enjoyed the author’s unique and quirky style of writing, crafting her words earnestly, but never taking herself seriously and somehow always managing to get her point across.

I did feel that the last quarter of the book dragged. There wasn’t much there to keep me interested and focused mainly on the romance between Delly and her fellow witch from high-birth. Once the mystery was solved, the book launched into another, unexpected direction. The pacing was slow throughout the book, which was absolutely fine and worked for the vast majority of the narrative.

I did enjoy historical fiction paired with the fantastical. I have read several books in that vein and frankly enjoyed most of them, if not all. This is one of those genres that deserves its own category for the simple, and quite selfish, reason that it would be easier for me to find.
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Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell meets a Sapphic regency romance, with a dash of Bertie & Jeeves. It sounds severely weird, but after you get used to the rhythm of it (and the rhythm of Delly's speech), you really start to enjoy yourself. I can't wait to see if this is the first in a series. If it is, I look forward to the further adventures of Delly & Winn!

TLDR: Give it about 3 chapters before giving up. Once your brain adjusts, it's a fun ride.
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This book was refreshng and fun and I loved every second of reading it. The strange vernacular just pulled me into Delly's world and I was pulling for her the whole time. The accessory characters were colorful and fun and I am hoping there will be sequels featuring them in the future. I would buy it in a heartbrat!
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I did not read the author's first book (Unnatural Magic) that is set in the same world but I do not think it had to be read prior to getting intwined in this story. The Ruthless Lady's Guide to Wizardry has the subgenre vibes of Steampunk and a lady Western. A group of six female wizards/body guards are hired to protect a lady on her travels to her wedding and new home. A few assassination attempts later they discover exactly who is after the bride-to-be and why. A majority of this story is about tracking down the lady's would-be-killer (turned killer of one of the body guards) in a rough town riddled with a bad drug problem. It just so happens that this troubled village is where our protagonist Dellaria (one of the wizard/body guards) calls home. Through family drama, romantic prospects, and the addition to their team of one mysterious living-dead rat, Dellaria leads her fellow guls in this dangerous hunt for vengeance. For fans of the graphic novel series Rat Queens and Gail Carriger.
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Okay this was one of the most unique books I have read recently. The beginning had me questioning my choices because of all the characters, phrases,  and fantasy aspects but I am so glad I stuck it out. I thought the ending was good, and after the first half it was pretty fast paced. Also can I have more of Mr. Buttons? I would definitely read more by this author or this story if it is continued on!
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TW: Drug addiction and violence. This was a really confusing book at first but once I got the hang of all the characters, new lingo, and world-building, then I became immersed in the story and couldn’t stop reading. Waggoner practically invents a new language for this book and a glossary probably would have been a bit useful in the beginning, but the more you read, the more the words make sense. I really liked the concept of magic in this book and how spells are cast using parameters. Also, soooo much happens in this book, there are like 3 parts to the story. Since a lot happened, there were parts in the first bit of the book that I completely forgot happened until they were mentioned again near the end. There was also a major thing that happens in the first quarter of the book that sets the stage for the rest of the story and I was not expecting that AT ALL. I had to take a moment because I was so shook. I loved the whole revenge plot the girls come up with and it was highly entertaining to read about, but it also covered a lot of dark topics surrounding drug addiction and how it affects the addict and members of their family. I don’t have any experience with this specifically but I think this book did a good job in showcasing the emotional toll and trauma that happens to a person who has a parent who struggles with drug addiction. I also thought the contrast between Dell and Winn’s upbringing in poverty vs. wealth was very interesting to read about. The romance between Dell and Winn was very sweet although they were not without their troubles. I also liked how Dell’s sexual relationships with other people were very consensual and respectful. I like how they showed that you can sleep with someone and still be friends and have good intentions for each other even when the sexual aspect of that relationship ends. Now to fangirl over some characters. Abstentia was such a sassy lady and I enjoyed reading her banter with Dell and even though they didn’t get along most of the time, they still band together when it counts. My favourite character hands-down was Buttons the zombie mouse. This mouse communicates so much personality through his “Bongs” and other sound effects and I’m so here for it. I want some Buttons fanart because this character was great. Overall this book was a bit slow to get into due to the language, but once you get used to that, the characters and the story are very entertaining and you won’t want to put this book down! I need to go read Waggoner’s other book now.
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What I Loved:

The Romance. I have a confession: I am haven’t read a lot of books with LGBTQ romances at the forefront. Being a bit of a series addict, I don’t often stumble upon new books unless one of my go-to authors writes a new series, and my reading profile has been narrowed from it. Delly and Winn are frankly adorable together: Delly is introduced as a semi-hardened criminal in the fact that she often has to do anything possible to get money, and she immediately felt a flirtation with Winn and saw her as a potential “mark.” It is an old trope given new life, since Winn is completely conscious about her own wealth, has very few doubts about how great Delly actually is, and has Delly rise to the occasion. Delly’s internal fight to actually *want* to be a better person for Winn and falling in love with her while still trying to convince herself that Winn is just money bags makes Delly a much more intriguing character than her other personality traits (more on that below). It is fun to see how complicated Delly wants it to be, with how uncomplicated Winn knows it is. I would love to see short stories about their shenanigans together.

The Misfit Band of Talented Women. I am a huge fan of many sub-sub genres, but two stand out: “band of rogues on a mission,” and “women helping other women in particularly witchy ways.” Ruthless Lady’s Guide combines these tropes in a delightful way. All of the women hired to protect bride to be Miss Bastennes are talented in unique ways, and all of them are decidedly their own characters. Delly the fire witch and self-proclaimed guttersnipe; paired with a middle-class old necromancer named Mrs. Totham; her daughter the dainty Miss Totham who becomes a raging boar; the gorgeous Miss Dok who is secretly an expert chemist and academic nerd while also being a snob outwardly; and Winn the troll/nobility/expert in hand to hand combat. Yet somehow by the end, the women are all friends and face insurmountable odds together, with each of their strengths being necessary at some juncture. This is a book driven by its characters, and the characters are all women you would want to know.

What Didn’t Work so Well:

Dellaria Wells. For a book so driven by its characters, the main character Delly can be a real pain in the behind. In the beginning of Ruthless Lady’s Guide, Delly is hard up for cash and acting pretty impulsively because of it. She takes a job she doesn’t listen to the instructions for, drinks half her money away on gin when she can’t afford rent, and acts at least 50% stupider than she is just to piss people off. As Delly grows her fire witch powers and learns from the band of women, she becomes more tolerable, but still has a chip on her shoulder the size of London, and refuses to listen to her heart until maybe the last 50 pages. Did she show a lot of growth? Yes. Was she ever my favorite character in this book of great characters? Absolutely not. I could have used a different point of view thrown in every once in a while.

The Pacing. This may actually be related to how much we have to listen to Delly’s internal monologue, but the first half of Ruthless Lady’s Guide dragged for me. Prior to hitting to road with the other women, Delly is just in this universe’s version of London, drinking and having sex with random people, worrying about her mother and her rent and not doing anything about it but getting herself thrown in jail. This goes on for at least four chapters, so the first ten percent of the book is, frankly, boring. It takes a while for Ruthless Lady’s Guide to get to the plot, but not much is done in those moments.

The Worldbuild. This is a bit of a caveat, because the little bit of Delly and Winn’s world I saw I liked. A sort of pseudo-Victorian world where trolls can be nobility, women can enter professions, being “householded” is essentially a sanctioned mistress gig, and necromancers, schools for witchcraft, and flying metal spiders exist. However, none of it is explained, there is no context for any of the races or the magic, and the class system is a cheap imitation of gutter-London. The use unusual curses and talk about religion, but none of it is explained. The government system goes completely unremarked upon, even though we know Winn’s father is some sort of higher-up in government. We don’t even know if there is a queen, a mono- or poly-theistic religious system, or more races than just trolls and humans. While sometimes high fantasy and urban fantasy novels get bogged in the details of their worldbuild, here, I was just left feeling confused and like I was missing something.

Despite its flaws, I really enjoyed The Ruthless Lady’s Guide to Wizardry, and I am really glad I stuck it out to the end. The second two thirds of the book were fun, fast paced, and interesting, and you left very invested in the characters’ futures. I love a good “women supporting women” story, and this took it a step further by having almost all of the protagonists and villains be women. I would recommend The Ruthless Lady’s Guide to Wizardry to my patient fantasy readers who like a slower burn, and anyone who loves a well-developed LGBTQ romance. If ever a sequel is on the horizon, I would love for Waggoner to give us readers a better look into the world. Also not to spoil anything, but my by far favorite character is a portentous skeleton mouse, and I would reread this just for Mr. Buttons.
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This book was incredibly fun to read. The victorian setting paired with fantasy elements created a very whimsical atmosphere. I have to say that Winn was my favorite character by far. She was so lovely. I also enjoyed how much everyone's accents and dialects came through in the writing, I could really hear them speak, especially Dell, our main character. And what a character she was; gutterwitch and petty thief turned bodyguard and bounty hunter. Her relationship with Winn was quite sweet, although not as developed as I would have liked. It seemed that Winn let Dell get away with everything, even when she said hurtful things to her. I would have liked to see a bit more world building, given this is a society where not only humans, but trolls, and half-trolls live. The ending was actually quite anticlimactic and I probably would have given the book 4 stars had it ended less flat. Overall, it was a fun and easy read with a cute sapphic romance, but lacked some depth that I feel would have aided the story in its entirety.
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Dellaria is short on her rent, her mother’s rent, and needs a job fast. After having a “hard promise” put on her by her landlady, Dellaria must come up with rent or risk having her face covered in pustules through magic. When a shady card game leads to her arrest, Dellaria falsely claims she is needed at an interview for a powerful and wealthy family, and is completely surprised when a Lady comes and retrieves her from the jail for her fake interview. Turns out, Dellaria is a fire witch and would make an excellent bodyguard for a wealthy woman if Dellaria can only keep her focus and not run off to have drinks and shenanigans with the local men. When Dellaria’s employer is attacked through magical means, Dellaria and her fellow bodyguards discover that they are in far more danger than they were led to believe. Now, Dellaria is caught up in the mystery of who wants to attack Dellaria’s employer, how that connects to the rising drug problems in the area, her growing attraction to one of her wealthy colleagues and should she pursue her for love or the possibility of wealth and safety. The Ruthless Lady’s Guide to Wizardry is an engaging and thrilling adventure full of humor and action. It has a delightful cast of characters, nearly all women with magical abilities and all incredibly interesting. Dellaria develops what seems to be her first set of real friends and she really struggles to learn how to accept help and positive encouragement. The world found within this story is very interesting. While it appears to be set in old-timey England, with its social classes and fancy dress shops, it’s actually quite progressive. Those with money and social power can “household” another person which I took to mean a relationship similar to marriage. I could be wrong, but that’s how I understood it. These household relationships don’t have to be male-female. Same sex relationships are completely ordinary, happen all the time and it was just so nice to see it treated that way. Slight spoiler-when Dellaria finds herself in the position of potentially be householded, she is all flirty eyebrows and waggly eyebrows and her potential partner is all, slow down girl, we have all the time in the world and Dellaria is just floored! Who turns down Dellaria’s advances? I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I can’t wait to hear what everyone thinks of it. I loved the world, the magic, the characters, it’s all just so good!
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