In Wondering Sight (2017), the second book in Melissa McShane’s THE EXTRAORDINARIES series, we return to a fantasy-touched version of Regency-era England where some people have magical talents ― throwing and extinguishing fire, shaping one’s appearance, flying, teleporting, and more. Sophia is an Extraordinary, one of the very few people who have particularly strong magical abilities. As a Seer, she can cast herself into Dreams, which show her future events as a series of doors in her Dreams that she can open and explore, as well as Visions, where she can see past and current events by holding an object that has a significant history with a particular person.
Before this book begins, Sophia, like Elinor in the first book, Burning Bright, was working for the British military in the Caribbean, where she was instrumental in helping the British fight against pirates. But when she told the War Office that her Dreams also showed a powerful British lord embezzling from the Army, she was dismissed when the evidence didn’t support her accusation against him. Though the War Office didn’t make public the reason for her severance, everyone there believed she had a false Dream or, worse yet, was lying about having a Dream showing Lord Endicott embezzling supplies. Now Lord Endicott has followed her back to England, dividing his time between subtly harassing Sophia and engaging in a new and different criminal enterprise.
Sophia is deeply embittered by her disgrace, even though the War Office kept the reason for her leaving them non-public, especially since she knows her Dream of Lord Endicott was a true one. She turns to her Dreams again (and again and again) to try to catch him in his crimes, expose him as a fraud and criminal, and prove her talent is true and that she was Right. All. Along.
Sophia gathers some allies in her single-minded quest for justice and revenge: her best friend Cecy, with whom Sophia is staying in London; her cousin Lady Daphne, who has the useful talent of Bounding, instantly teleporting from place to place (as long as she’s familiar with the place she is Bounding to); and Mr. Rutledge, whose offer of employment Sophia angrily rejects when she realizes he doesn’t believe that her initial Dreams about Lord Endicott were true. Despite getting off to a bad start, she and Mr. Rutledge gradually develop a friendship tinged with romance, even though they’re both keeping secrets. But Lord Endicott has talents and some unexpected resources of his own in connection with his new criminal enterprise. Sophia discovers some entirely new aspects to the Seer Talent, but she also tips over into obsession, sliding toward ruining her health and her friendships in her efforts to bring down Endicott and have her revenge ― even if it’s the last thing she does.
Wondering Sight focuses on an entirely new set of characters than Burning Bright, though there are a few brief references to the main characters and events in that book. Wondering Sight also takes a different and unexpected path for a Regency-era fantasy, with less time spent on society events and romance, and more time exploring the way Sophia’s visionary talent work and how she is using them to try to entrap a bitter enemy. It’s more of a detective story. There’s no real mystery here ― it’s clear from the outset who the villain is and what he’s up to ― but there is suspense in the cat-and-mouse game that the two of them play, and in seeing how it all plays out.
The heroine is a rather prideful, prickly person, sometimes difficult to empathize with, as she endangers her health by Dreaming too much and repeatedly lies to her concerned friends about what she’s up to, because she knows they won’t approve. She tells herself she wants justice, but it’s clear that it’s revenge she’s really looking for. The love interest for the widowed Sophia, Mr. Rutledge, is an interesting person in his own right, but I never really felt any real spark or heat between them.
So as a romance it’s a little underbaked, but as the tale of a chase to bring down a dangerous criminal using some unusual magical powers (which, though powerful, have their limitations), and as an exploration of obsession and revenge, and examining the personal costs of following that path, Wondering Sight is an intriguing and worthwhile read. One of the more delightful characters was Sophia’s exuberant cousin Daphne, the Extraordinary Bounder, who will be the main character in the next book of this series.