I didn’t intend to blog today, but the book I’m reading is irritating the hell out of me for a couple of reasons, so here I am to vent my spleen.
The book is I Kissed an Earl, the fourth in Julie Anne Long‘s Pennyroyal Green series. I loved the first and really enjoyed the second. Her writing has inspired me a lot, and I see her talent as something to aspire to. She uses language in a vivid, overabundant, surprising way. One of my favourite passages from Like No Other Lover:
…from that moment on he saw every woman anew, sought evidence in their eyes of the tick of their minds, danced with them as if holding little grenades.
He smiled very slightly all the way through that silk and muslin jungle as though his smile was a passport, a lantern, an apology for the fact that his elegant English manners were only now returning to him along with his English complexion, by degrees.
I cannot say why, but the charm of her writing is somehow missing from this book, leaving only the overabundance. One problem is that she’s given her alpha female – whose intellect and propensity to act out have been built over a few books – an uber-alpha male. She built the question, “What man would Violet Redmond ever fall for?” and I don’t think her hero answers it. They’re simply trying to out-alpha each other all the time, which leaves so little room for tenderness, or vulnerability, or even a sense of liking.
But the much worse offense, I’ve just realised, is that her central plot-device has no legs. Violet has stowed herself on board Captain Flint’s ship, because she believes the pirate Flint is hunting is actually her AWOL brother.
Of itself, it doesn’t have to be problematic, though I’m not a huge fan of “we’re going on an adventure” plotlines.
But the way she’s written it, I’m not in any way cheering for Violet – I’m just cringing at the nuisance she’s making of herself. This is a huge peeve of mine in romance novels, when whatever actions the heroine takes result in chaos and undermine the hero’s well-planned strategies. I like to see a heroine go for something and have the power and autonomy and, good God, intelligence to make it work.
Violet’s desire to find her brother would work as a goal and motivation – I could get on board for a woman who decides she’s going to do something about his absence – but aside from being told “she loved more deeply than other people” we’re not shown any part of their relationship. We have no investment in her brother, or any sense of what she would risk for him.
With no emotional basis, her decision becomes a farce – and it breaks my suspended disbelief.
The hero’s reaction to her breaks his character, which is just as bad. When he finds her aboard his ship, he allows himself to get pulled into playing games with her for her right to his bed, to her place on his ship, to her portion of food. Even though he feels no particular preference for her. And even though he’s dragged himself from bastardy to an Earldom by his own hard work and bloody-mindedness.
A man like that wouldn’t think twice about locking her in a room and dumping her at the nearest port. And I’m given nothing in the narrative to suggest otherwise.
My plot involves a cross-dressing Duke, so you can imagine how I take this lesson in convoluted plot to heart.