Ruxandra Tarca

The Charismatics

Jacquelyn Benson’s The Charismatics Series – A Review

With everything that’s been going on in my part of the world in the last few weeks, with all the suffering triggered by a senseless war in a country that is just across the border from my own country, where I have friends whose lives were suddenly turned upside down, I couldn’t focus on my writing, or on anything else for that matter. I could hardly focus on my fulltime job – I had no choice there. But my refuge, my escape, remained reading.

And so far, my favourite series of what I’ve read this year is…

The Charismatics by Jacquelyn Benson (consisting of 3 books and a novella), because, in a very strange sense, it was the perfect read for such times. Not only because of the setting –Edwardian England, around the beginning of WWI – but also because it sends a message about challenging the norms, the pre-established truths, and fate itself. Beyond the grim landscape of a looming war, courage, determination, and will-power can bend paths and outcomes that seem set in stone. Beyond the darkest – and most likely to happen – scenarios, there’s always a sliver of hope to change them.

The characters…

Are the strongest point of these books. Not only Lily and Strangford (the protagonists), but all those who gravitate around them as well. They all have distinct personalities that make them memorable, from Sam (the young rebel who can speak to animals), and up to the bright and outspoken (though charisma-less) Virginia Eversleigh. I admit that it was one of the very few instances where I couldn’t have just one favourite character because I loved them all and how well they complete each other in their self-discovery journey. I also loved the characters’ development, and how their powers (charisma) turned their insecurities into incredible strengths they used for the greater good, how these characters learned not only to accept who they are, but also to embrace and finally bend it to their will.

The prose is so immersing…

That you can actually feel every detail, from the briny scent of the sea, and up to the aroma of London’s street food. I enjoyed the descriptions immensely, which blended so naturally with the overall action. It’s the kind of prose that teleports you into the imaginary world described in the book’s pages. To make a series-related comparison, reading The Charismatics was somehow like Strangford’s experience when he uses his power. I didn’t feel like a distant reader witnessing what happens – I was there, experiencing it. This is my favourite kind of prose, powerful enough to send you directly into the midst of the plot.

The supernatural part…

Is rather sophisticated and elegant, making The Charismatics an exquisite gaslamp series, with deep symbolism and art and history references. You won’t see dragons flying over London (I have nothing against them, mind you, they just aren’t my cup of tea), the characters’ powers are subtle in both shape, and occurrence, manifesting themselves at a personal level, not in the immediate physical reality. And these powers fit the characters so well that they all seem natural and credible.

It was very hard to write about The Charismatics without giving spoilers. But the series is definitely a must read if you love excellent writing, truly charismatic characters, and Edwardian London. I loved everything about these books and I’m certainly looking forward to book 4.

I'm an indie author, translation industry professional, and former magazine editor, with a passion for steampunk, cyberpunk, and historical fiction. My debut novel Laevium, a steampunk story set in Neo-Victorian London, is available from most major online bookstores.

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