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The Fantasy of Manners has been a subgenre of SFF (mostly in the F part, although you can also see it in the space opera) since the release of Ellen Kushner’s Sword Point and Patricia C. Wrede as well as Caroline Stevermer’s Zauberei and Cecilia: Or the Enchanted Chocolate Pot. Usually these are highly regulated social settings in which the characters have to navigate with varying degrees of success, a pinch of comedy, a pinch of melodrama, and some involvement in magic. While there are unsurprisingly many manners-book fantasies bordering on England (that is the literature where many of us came across our first “… of manners”), it is a subgenre that can branch out into far more fantastic locations as well . Where there is social stratification and an upper class with strict rules, there is room for manners to be the slide.
Wizard of the Crown of Zen Cho
In an alternative England after the Napoleonic Wars, the Royal Society of Unnatural Philosophers is working to keep magic up throughout the empire. This grand institution is in disarray after a freed slave was named the Sorcerer Royal – though at least they haven’t gone as far as to let women in. (The idea.) But with magical bleeding from England’s stores, the Sorcerer Royal has to go to Fairyland to discover the cause … and he may have to team up with one of the women to do so.
Kate Elliott’s Labyrinth Gate
On the way to their wedding reception, the newlyweds Sanjay and Chryse accidentally drop a special package of tarot cards into an elevator, which transports them to a strange parallel world reminiscent of Victorian England but full of magic. The first test of their marriage, saved from a street riot by kind aristocrats, is finding their way home through daunting adventures and mastering the strict manners of this strange world.
Shades of Milk and Honey by Mary Robinette Kowal
That fantasy of manners is Jane Austen with magic, where ladies of quality are measured by their skills in glamor. But while Jane is the one gifted with magic, her sister got the lion’s share of the beauty, and she is the one who gets all the attention. 28-year-old Jane has just resigned herself to the spinsterhood … until she has to put aside thoughts of marriage to defend her family’s honor and stumbles into her own romance in the process.
About dragons, festivals and murders by Aliette de Bodard
Asian court drama meets Gothic thriller and mannered comedy! When Thuan, who happens to be a Dragon Prince, brings his fallen angel man Asmodeus home for the New Year, a lot of candied fruit and family gatherings await both of them with varying degrees of awkwardness. What they get instead is a murder to investigate and lots of political conspiracy … while everyone is still outwardly polite.
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Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
In the depths of English history, magicians were almost omnipotent. They are a largely extinct species by the 1800s, and those who are left would rather write extremely boring papers than actually try to regain their former glory and acquire fairy servants. Determined to change this state of affairs, Mr. Norrell has assembled a vast library of forgotten books. He gains fame and power for helping in the war effort against Napoleon. Then Jonathan Strange comes along and messes everything up by making his magical endeavors much more noticeable. Originally partners, the two men are soon on each other’s neck and write very angry letters.
Half a soul from Olivia Atwater
Theodora Ettings, who is cursed by a fairy for having only half a soul, misses all the emotional senses that would keep her from constantly falling into a scandal. This London season, her only goal is to stay calm and not torpedo her cousin’s attempt to marry. This goal will not be achieved once Lord Elias Wilder steps into her life and suggests that he may be able to restore what she has lost.
The beauties by Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Loisail’s most notable celebrities are collectively known as “The Beautiful” and Nina finally has the chance to join her ranks. Except that her debut in society goes horribly wrong due to her unpredictable telekinesis skills. Cast down by malicious gossip, she feels like she may never recover until she meets Hector Auvray, an entertainer who has the same power as her. Hector is ready to teach, Nina is ready to study, and maybe none of them are ready to fall in love.
Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton
A family mourning a dead patriarch, a son who likes to sue to preserve the inheritance he believes belongs to him, another son who carries his father’s confession like an endless weight, a daughter who participates in the abolition movement, a daughter who is righteous wants to fall in love and a daughter who is willing to sacrifice everything out of duty for her husband. It’s like a reign drama … except that everyone involved is a dragon.
If you enjoyed this list of manners fantasies, then check out 10 Beautiful Fantasies to Remind You There Is Beauty in the World and 20 Must-Read Fantasy Books.