Monday, February 23, 2009

Book moan/review

I know I should know better by now. I know that by and large when I read about a Top Top book on certain websites, the book is probably not one that I would necessarily rate. But it was a reviewer I respect and trust, and it was a rave for the book being unusual in its historical setting, which was 16th century, a period I am really interested in and its location, which was Saxony, although the author kept referring to it as Electoral Saxony - I'd have preferred either Saxony or the Electorate of .... but that's just me being nitpicky. And here's the rest of my nit-picking. Bloody big nits for me, but maybe not so huge for other readers.

1) The excessive use of Mayhap and Nay. Perhaps, maybe and no would have been fine. But sprinkling the mayhaps does not impart a sufficient 16th century feel to modern day speech patterns, as in 'mayhap you will tell me what is going on with you?'

2) Straightforward incorrect usage: 'disinterested in their food' should read 'uninterested in their food', 'the thought chaffed at her' should be 'chafed' - there's a bit of that, which may not be the author's fault, but it shows sloppiness somewhere in the publishing process and does make me turn book in hand to face the wall against which I might begin wishing to bang the book.

3) Anachronisms. 'Candy' was not a word used widely until the 18th century and to extrapolate and use the term as a euphemism for the general or specific deliciousness of a woman (as in say, a 50 cent song) is even less likely to be a plausible 16th century term of endearment. And then there were the sugar beets. Yes, beets have been around forever (apparently there's an image of something looking like a beet in a pyramid) but no sugar extracted until 1590 at the very earliest, so a beet would not have been called a sugar beet....just a beet. I know, veering into nit-picky territory again. I am also not convinced that an ex-noblelady/nun would be quite so much into the hoeing and tilling of the kitchen garden.

4) Infodump - the extremely detailed description of the process of printing in 1525 was given a bit of dressing because the heroine (wife of a printer) goes to his workshop to tell him essential plot stuff, and gets to gaze at her hero-husband doing his print-setting business, but essentially, there was a lot of the author going, 'looky here, I know about this stuff, see see what the kind professors that I consulted told me, isn't it cool' - and yes, frankly I do think the complexity and sheer hard work of running a printing press in the 16th century is fascinating and cool, but that is because I am a saddo bookaholic who goes on quarterly visits to the Plantin Moretus house to get me my fix of printing house experience. But even for me, the four-five pages of detailed explanation was Too Much, as were the rather clunkily delivered chunks of history about peasant revolts.

5) And this is where we start getting to my moment of revelation. I suddenly put my finger on exactly why by and large the historical romances that I have read apart from one honourable exceptions (Jo Beverley step forward), have filled me with a sense of irritation bordering on ire. It is this: the authors have taken the sexual stereotypes that dog US culture and applied them to their characters. That bloody MarsMen/WomenVenus nonsense, The Rules, all the nonsensical ideas about how men and women relate (or fail to relate) to each other are quite often regurgitated. As in this example: 'women needed conversation as well as sexual intimacy; they were odd that way'. Now while I can just about see some weird inhabitant of a David Foster Wallace short story thinking that way, I can't see a normal 16th century man even beginning to have such ideas. For me, that sentence was a total face-palm moment.

6) Partly as a consequence of 5) above, and partly because of other cultural factors regarding what makes a suitable hero and heroine, the hero and heroine of this book, Wolf and Sabina, are total cookie cutter jobs. They have the personality of boxes recently vacated by in his case, a fridge, and in hers, maybe a TV. She has lots of long (black, brown, red, chestnut, wheat-coloured, honey-coloured - delete which is applicable) hair which he likes to run his hands through. I can't remember what colour his hair was, but she did find it adorable when he ran his hands through it when agitated. He had big hands. She had midnight blue eyes, his were green and they glowed in the dark. Her nose was straight, his was a bit wonky because it had once been broken. He was big, she was little. Both their eyebrows seemed to have independent ideas about arching themselves. Sabina was very very kind and nice and lovely, and won the love and support and undying affection of all members of his household, especially his 3-year old daughter. She reminded me a bit of Giselle in Enchanted. Unfortunately, Wolf was nothing like Patrick Dempsey's cynical lawyer. He was even more of a lunkhead than Prince Charming.

7) Lame set-up involving stinky stepfather, adoption, inheritances and legal stuff which didn't ring true. Plus I don't know how easy it was to do cross-class marriages in 16th century Saxony, but I was pretty sure that it was a lot more complex and socially unacceptable for printer guys to marry the daughters of barons. The plot was just strung around the interaction of hero and heroine.

On the plus side, at least the sex scenes took place in the plausible arena of a marriage. There's quite a bit of build up and then we have a big kama sutra section in the middle and then it's all rather taken as read.

So there we have it, a moanathon in my long search for a decent romance. If I haven't put you off, the book was called The Legacy, by T J Bennett.

3 comments:

Mama Evelyn said...

'mayhap you will tell me what is going on with you?'
Perchance you are kidding, right?

Madeleine Conway said...

Sigh, I wish I were!

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