Despite what the title may suggest, C.M. Waggoner’s The Ruthless Lady’s Guide To Wizardry (paperback, Kindle, audiobook) is not a helpful how-to. Instead, it’s a historical fantasy novel that’s set in the same realm, but not the same story, as her 2019 “fantasy of manners” tale Unnatural Magic. In the following email interview, Waggoner discusses what inspired and influenced this second story.
Let’s start with some background. What was Unnatural Magic about, and what kind of world was it set in?
Unnatural Magic was a kind of mashup of a romance, a coming-of-age story, and a murder mystery. It’s set in a fantasy world with a lot of elements pulled from Regency and Victorian-era England, plus plenty of stuff that I just made up.
And then what is The Ruthless Lady’s Guide To Wizardry about, and how does it connect to Unnatural Magic?
The Ruthless Lady’s Guide is about a hot mess of a petty crook (and magic user) named Delly Wells who fast-talks her way into a bodyguarding job and ends up fighting bad guys and falling in love. It’s set in the same world as Unnatural Magic, and there are some characters who appear in both books.
When in relation to writing Unnatural Magic did you come up with the idea for The Ruthless Lady’s Guide To Wizardry, and how, if at all, did the plot of this second book evolve as you wrote it?
My initial thought was just that I wanted to write a book in which women were really front and center in all of the main roles: the protagonist, her love interest, the villains, and most of the supporting cast. The plot went through a few variations as I figured out what kind of story I wanted to tell, including the addition of arguably the most prominent male character, an undead house mouse named Buttons.
Unnatural Magic was a historical fantasy tale, though in the interview you and I did about it [which you can read by clicking here], you said people have called it a “fantasy of manners,” which you thought was “kind of fun.” Is The Ruthless Lady’s Guide To Wizardry a historical fantasy story as well, or a “fantasy of manners” as well?
I’d say that they both fit pretty neatly into the same genre, though what exactly that genre should be called is open to debate.
So are there any writers who had a big influence on The Ruthless Lady’s Guide to Wizardry but not on Unnatural Magic?
I think that my long-time love for P.G. Wodehouse and Terry Pratchett is probably a little more evident in this book, which has a lot more jokes and wordplay than Unnatural Magic.
What about such non-literary influences as movies, TV shows, or games; did any of them have a particularly big influence on The Ruthless Lady’s Guide To Wizardry?
I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but I think in retrospect that Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Killing Eve and Fleabag were really inspiring in terms of both being incredibly well-written TV shows that unapologetically center difficult women and are also extremely funny.
And she was good as L3-37 in Solo. Anyway, as we’ve been discussing, Unnatural Magic and The Ruthless Lady’s Guide to Wizardry are part of the same series. What can you tell us about this series? Like, are you planning on writing more books in this same world?
At this point all of that is fairly up in the air. I do hope to return to this world at some point in the future, but I also have a bunch of completely unrelated ideas that I’m excited to explore.
As you said, these stories are not directly connected. Which, I assume, means it isn’t necessary for people to read these books in order.
Definitely not — I tried to make sure that there’s nothing about either book that demands that you read the other one first.
But having said that, what do you think someone will get out of reading The Ruthless Lady’s Guide To Wizardry if they do so after reading Unnatural Magic?
Hopefully they’ll get a little extra kick out of some cameos from characters they met in Unnatural Magic. Fellow Tamora Pierce fans might share my particular fondness for reading a book and suddenly encountering an old friend.
I asked earlier if The Ruthless Lady’s Guide To Wizardry had been influenced by any movies, TV shows, and games. Do you think The Ruthless Lady’s Guide To Wizardry could work as a movie, show, or game?
I think that because there’s a single protagonist and plotline throughout it might work well as, say, a TV miniseries.
And if someone wanted to make that miniseries, who would you want them to cast as the main characters?
I honestly don’t usually cast people in my head, or even have a strong sense of what all of the characters’ faces look like when I’m writing a book, so I’d probably be delighted by whoever the theoretical producers wanted to cast.
Though I would prefer a non-Hollywood cast because it always annoys me when characters who are described as looking as plain or ordinary-looking in a book are portrayed by preternaturally gorgeous actors. A big part of Delly’s character in particular is that she’s a very average-looking woman who relies on her smarts and charm to get by, so she’d need to be played by an actor who couldn’t also moonlight as a bikini model.
Finally, in the previous interview we did about Unnatural Magic, you said that people had compared that novel to Zen Cho’s Sorcerer To The Crown, and that you got why they do so after reading Cho’s novel. What book have those people been comparing The Ruthless Lady’s Guide to Wizardry to, and have you read that book yet?
I haven’t actually seen many direct comparisons of The Ruthless Lady’s Guide to other books so far. I have seen both books in aggregate described as being like “Tamora Pierce for grown-ups,” which I take as a huge compliment. I read tons of Tamora Pierce’s books as a kid, and I’m sure that they’ve very thoroughly soaked into my subconscious, so it makes sense that a little of those books ended up in mine.