Romance readers fell in love with India Holton’s madcap and magical version of Victorian England in her debut, The Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels. Now, she’s back with more daring witches, dashing pirates and flying houses in The League of Gentlewomen Witches, which follows Charlotte Pettifer, a witch who will one day take over as leader of the titular society, as she teams up with pirate Alex O’Reilly to recover a powerful amulet. We talked to Holton about which fictional witches she would want in her coven and what the Victorian setting allowed her to say about the power of femininity.
How does this book compare to The Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels? There’s still a grand sense of adventure, but what else can returning readers expect?
The main thing returning readers will get from The League of Gentlewomen Witches is more. More action, more enemies-to-lovers romance, more tea and more explosions, in all senses of the word. The League takes the Wisteria Society experience up several degrees! Also, the literary allusions focus on Jane Austen this time, which seemed appropriate for my feisty Charlotte and fierce (but rather nonplussed) Alex.
Your world is so inventive and fun! What were your inspirations? Was there anything specific you wanted to change about the Victorian period? Why did you decide to blend history and fantasy?
My inspirations for the world were honestly right out of my own head. But I was also influenced by the fun, madcap energy of old rom-com movies and TV shows.
I chose a historical setting because the things I wanted to say about women were really emphasised by a Victorian milieu, rather than an imaginary world. For example, I’ve always felt that bookish, introverted and sensitive women can be just as powerful as the warrior type, given an opportunity. By placing my heroines in a time period in which women were constrained to be ladylike (“the angel of the house”), I could explore this more easily. So it wasn’t so much about changing the Victorian period as using what it offered for my purpose. Although the books offer light fun, at their heart is a contemplation of how we as a culture view women—and indeed men, too—and how that can harmfully influence their relationships with themselves, as well as with others.
Do you have any tips on balancing romance with action?
An action-filled plot is a wonderful opportunity to bring two characters together in the forced proximity of a shared problem. But if they have different ideas about solving that problem, or different goals, therein lies the tension. The conflict between them reflects the conflict that incites the action. Also, tying the momentum of their personal relationship to that of the overarching plot provides continual opportunities to address the romance, even while things are exploding all around them.
The League of Gentlewomen Witches feels a bit spicier than its predecessor. Was that a conscious decision on your part or just where Charlotte and Alex’s journey took you?
My very first glimpse of this story was a scene that included them fighting, then kissing in the rain. I became absorbed in the intensity between the characters and actually developed the entire plot around this one moment. So it didn’t really surprise me that Charlotte and Alex demanded more heat than Wisteria’s Cecilia and Ned.
If you designed your own magical, moveable house, what details would be essential?
First and foremost, plenty of bookshelves! Also, a comfortable chair in front of the wheel, set high enough that I could see out the window, since I am very short. And a rooftop deck, with good fencing around it because I’m scared of heights!
If you could cast your own League of Gentlewomen Witches, which famous witches (fictional or historical) would you include in your magical girl gang?
Sophie Hatter from Howl’s Moving Castle, Samantha Stephens from “Bewitched,” and Nanny Ogg and Agnes Nitt from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series. (Not Granny Weatherwax—she’d take over in the worst way.)
What can we expect next from the Dangerous Damsels series?
I don’t want to say just yet who will be featured in book three; I want to see if readers can guess. But I’m so very excited to share their story, because I fell in love at first sight with both characters. It involves one of my favorite tropes: fake marriage. It also includes rivals-to-lovers, forbidden love and only one bed, of course!
What are you reading and loving right now?
I’m in the middle of Two Wrongs Make a Right by Chloe Liese, which is a truly delightful rom-com due out this fall. And I’ve also started If You Ask Me by Libby Hubscher, which is a charming, hilarious rom-com.
Photo of India Holton courtesy of the author.