Fiction: “A Monstrous Regiment of Women” by Laurie R. King

Here I am, struck once more with the daunting task of figuring out how to write about a book I’ve already written about. Luckily for me (if you can think of it in that way), my previous review wasn’t the greatest. Seriously, guys — it’s a wonder anyone picks up a book I’ve read after reading my review of said book. I try so hard to not give away the farm that a casual reader will leave my review scratching his/her head, trying to figure out what the hell the book was actually about.

So, without further ado, my attempt to be a better descriptor of plot and action.

As I said before, Monstrous Regiment takes place three years after the end of The Beekeeper’s Apprentice. Russell is 21 and just about to a) graduate from Oxford and b) attain her inheritance, left from the death of her parents when she was 14. On a night just before Christmas, she travels from Sussex to London in search of her dear friend Holmes. He is acting as a cab driver (horse and buggy, not taxi), and she climbs up with him and rides through a not-so-great part of London. There is a misunderstanding between them: Russell just wants companionship, but Holmes assumes Russell is there to ask him to marry her. Russell literally runs away from Holmes, jumping off the buggy and running into the dark, creepy London night.

She meanders the back alleys all night, and ends up in a pub in the early afternoon and runs into an old friend, Ronnie Beaconsfield. They reconnect, and Ronnie asks Russell if she’d like to go to Temple with her.

Now, this Temple is not Jewish; this is the New Temple of God, run by a Margery Childe, a very interesting and intriguing woman. Mary is fascinated by her sermons, for Mary is a student of theology. She is amazed that someone she considers to be ‘plebian’ has come to the same conclusions as she has with tons of study. Ronnie invites Mary to meet Margery, and after a conversation, Russell agrees to tutor Margery in the ways of the Hebrew Bible. She will do this around her trips to Oxford, in which she is finalizing her dissertation.

Meanwhile, she learns that three former members of the Inner Circle (Margery’s close compatriots in the Temple) have been killed within the past year. When Ronnie threatens to become a fourth, Russell takes matters into her own hands: she enlists the help of Holmes, but also sets herself up to become the next prey.

Sure enough, Russell is captured and hidden away. While she undergoes deprivations I refuse to disclose in this review (suffice it to say, the ‘torture’ is not exactly violent in nature, but does become devastating to Russell in a very personal matter. Okay, that’s probably too vague. Look, don’t worry, no blood is spilled. But drugs are involved. That’s all I’ll say about it), a new will for Russell is discovered, in which almost all of her considerable means would be given to the New Temple in God upon her death.

In the end, good triumphs over evil, and Russell and Holmes do in fact marry. And I’m still not sure how I feel about that — I think they make an excellent couple; and while I recognize that mentally, Russell is much older than her 21 years, I wish Ms. King had made them meet when there was only thirty years between them instead of forty.

But here’s something that I envy Russell: her use of the Bodelian library at Oxford. There is nothing I’d like more than to take an entire day and hang out in the stacks and do research. I know I hated it when I was in high school and college, but the idea of being somewhere so quiet with all of those books full of information makes me salivate. Some day, I will do that — either at the Portland Public Library, or I’ll trek down to Boston and pretend to be a student at Northeastern or something like that (I can fake it, right?) — I have research to do on … stuff. And just spend a day in the stacks. By God, it’ll be beautiful.

So there’s that. I just finished A Letter of Mary, so look for that in the next couple of days. And then I have to read something different — I’ve been living on Harry Potter and Mary Russell for three months.

Grade for A Monstrous Regiment of Women: Still 5 stars

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