Friday, January 11, 2008

The Spymaster's Lady - Spoilers abound

Now, this novel has had rave reviews on various romance websites, so I thought that I would give it a go and was pleasantly entertained all of yesterday afternoon. It's a page-turning historical, conforming to various of the genre's conventions and stretching my Willing Suspension of Disbelief (WSD) further than a primary school kid pinging his neighbour's knicker elastic. I read it pretty much in one sitting and very much enjoyed it. But....

There's always a but. It's me. I just don't enjoy romances like I used to. And the things that stop me enjoying them are associated with the genre.

What have we here....
  • Napoleonic War setting - hmmm, been there before.
  • Spies - definitely been there before.
  • Virgin heroine - implausibly so - see below.
  • Prison-break opening.
  • Action-packed road adventure/chase scenario - good for structuring and pace.
  • Hot de-virginising sex in a bathtub ending in total post-coital rapture for heroine to the point of unconsciousness....
  • Happy Ever After for heroine despite... well the full spoilerishness comes below.

The plot is so totally utterly implausible that you have to accept and buy into it without question and the pace is essential to that.

  1. Blind heroine successfully coshes slimy rape-intent guard, frees 2 manacled prisoners and takes them with her in her escape from the evil villain's lair. Oh, and evil villain, despite being master-spy of France, does not realise that he has an essential Head of Section of the British Secret Service (which did not then exist, but that's a minor technicality) in his cellar..
  2. The only woman in the book apart from a bit part at the end is our heroine. Our hero has 4 pals, all of whom are sweet dudes, but all other men are evil and/or weak, wicked, lust-iniflamed and intent on having our heroine. But she is a sweet virgin at the grand old age of 19 even though she has spent the last 10 years hanging with various armies all over Europe, spying for the French, and we all know that armies are full of other men.
  3. Our blind heroine recovers her sight very suddenly and quite perfectly with no fuzzy episodes or fading in and out, just one minute, all darkness, next all light. Now, I know no blind people personally, but I have read enough to realise that blindness is not all dark...Yeah, I know, pickypickypicky.
  4. Our heroine then spends some days walking to London with our hero, with whom she has fallen in love when she was blind, but never seen, and she doesn't realise it is him. This produces some great sexual tension because he doesn't dare touch her in case she suddenly can tell by his sizzling touch that he is her grand passion, but it seems very unlikely.
  5. Scummy Lustful Villain Number 1 (hereafter referred to as SLV1) hops around southern England with up to 20 Froggy pals wielding pistols and knives in broad daylight and no one seems to notice, let alone call them on disturbing the peace often and variously.
  6. SLV1 then launches an extraordinary attack on the London headquarters of the British Secret Service (which didn't actually exist) in full daylight with an arsenal of weaponry that delivers firepower equivalent to several machine guns and a rocket propelled grenade launcher, although fortuitously, none of the people inside (including hero, heroine and their mates) are injured much beyond a scratch on the cheek from flying glass.
  7. Cod-French. I live and work in a Francophone environment. The one thing in the book that really prevented it from winning me over was the bastardised version of English with a French accent and occasional syntactical inversions. We spent much of the book in deep third perspective of the heroine and it was like living through a female version of Inspector Clouseau. Tintin and Dorothy Dunnett are the great exemplars for me - characters should speak naturally in the language that is being used - exclamations of Sapristi and Tonnerre de Brest should be kept to the French version of Tintin. But our author uses pidgin Franglais to emphasise the Frenchness of our heroine in a way that served only to distract. Otherwise, by and large, the settings were wallpaper. The London sections in particular struck me as being set in a Disneyfied place where a Cor-Blimey Dick Van Dyke might well be poised to hop into position for a quick chim chim cheree soon as you like guvnor.


You could argue that the heroine's Frenchness must be emphasised to magnify the impact of the final total implausibility that our heroine turns out to be the grand-daughter of the Head of the British Secret Service, a Welshman (snort, snigger snigger) who has sent his daughter and son-in-law to France 20 years previously to spy for him on the French Revolution. Oh, and they never told their daughter that she was not spying for France, no, she was spying for Britain. Huzzah, she was on the good guys' side all the time. Well, her father couldn't have told her, he died when she was four, but her mother dies about 6 weeks before the action kicks in, and just let it slip her mind...

Somehow, I could tell this one was coming. But I didn't like it when it came.

Here lies the problem for me with Romancelandia. I love love stories. But I want to believe the whole world in which it takes place and although the conflicts and adventures pile up in this novel, I could not believe in this bizarro world, especially when delivered through a thin layering of fake French.

Give me Dorothy Dunnett any day.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Excellent. This book is praised to the high heavens on Librarything and Amazon, and that despite the 'Desperate Middle-Aged Females Look Here!' cover, to the point where I swallowed my pride and had to buy it. But I was severely disappointed.

And I'm glad I'm not the only one thrown off by the Franglais (which is why this romance is supposedly so unique and well-written).