Saturday, April 21, 2007

The Claiming of the Courtesan

I said in an earlier post that I was going to write a review of Anna Campbell’s, Claiming of the Courtesan, because she sent me a big bag of Cherry Ripes (these are so far from the American version of Cherry flavoured it's not funny!). But I’m a hard woman to buy off, lol. Cherry Ripes or no, I’ll say it how I see it.

Stephanie Laurens comments on the front cover ‘Regency noir - different and intriguing.’ Lorraine Heath on the back says ‘Anna Campbell is an amazing, daring, new voice in romance.’ I'll definitely agree with different and daring. This is not your everyday historical romance. (It probably didn’t help that the book I finished before this, was Sally Mackenzie’s, The Naked Earl.)

I won’t go into a synopsis of the story; you can find that all over the internet and indeed at the author’s website (which is a rather nice website FYI). Instead I’m going to wax on about how I felt at the end of this book.

I actually left this book in the middle and came back to it the next day - something unusual for me. I’m usually the one like a chocolate addict - licking at the wrapper till every single taste of a flake of that creamy goodness is gone - but this time I wanted to take a little time in the middle to process. Blame this on the furor over The Scene. You know what I’m talking about, don’t you… the one everyone’s either whispering about, or else screeching from the high heavens over. I wanted to be able to render a good view on it.

But I’ll get to that in a minute, because the book deserves better treatment than to be seen as just one scene from its entirety. What did I think of the book when I got to the end? To be frank, it won’t be on that infamous keeper shelf reviewers harp on about (I don’t have one, actually, but since I haven’t disposed (sold/donated) of any books lately, it’s heading to one of my many ‘book boxes’ that litter my garage and get picked over now and then for rereads).

You still want to know why, don’t you? Well it’s not because of the much talked about rape scene. In general, the book wasn’t any better or worse than any of the other well recieved storylines in the mile-high pile of historicals I’ve read, but I felt it had its issues. Mainly that it flip-flopped more often than John Kerry on the election trail. I also found myself pulled out of the flow of the story a few times, having to reread certain sections because a random line now and then just floated out there in space, not making a hell of a lot of sense to me, and I’m the queen of sentences that start, or go, nowhere - maybe it’s a down-under thing? But on the flip side, I got well into the characters heads - the desperation and brooding atmosphere that abounded through both the hero and heroine.

You know, my sister’s going to laugh when she reads this, because she’s been saying the same thing about a current manuscript she’s been reading for me, but you don’t have to bash the reader over the head again and again. Once or twice, maybe even three times, but the persistent yes I do, no I don’t got a bit much. I realize it was important to understanding the characters, but it got to the point of being annoying, and I don’t like to be on the outs with my H/h.

That said, whoa!, what a pair of lead characters! My hat’s off to you at taking a different road with these two. Of course the idea of the demirep and the Lord is nothing new, but when you team it with a woman who nearly has a split personality, and a man who is obsessive and compulsive, it gets different quickly. Stephanie Laurens was very correct in my opinion, Black Regency indeed.

There wasn’t much to like about these two people, and that worked, they were real in a way that would have been true then, and now. Each had their own profound, dark idiosyncrasies that led to rather destructive behavior from both parties. At the close of the last page and the obligatory HEA, I was left with a profound sense of obsession and possession.

That’s what this book was all about for me; black, soul deep, obsessive, possessive need. From the heroine’s desperate desire to lock away the side of her psyche that enjoyed her acts as a mistress, to the hero’s bleak, fixated, need for his mistress.

After all those enduring shadows I still don’t know that I like the ending as it stands. It felt like another one of those flip-flops I mentioned before - almost like there had been something edited out. I don’t know about anyone else, but with all that had gone before, I was ready for a dose of matricide that sent the hero into a tailspin that, like his nightmares about his father, only the heroine was able pull him out of. Not the ‘insane asylum or the back and beyond, mother, make a choice’ the heros mother was given.

At the same time, keeping with the story preceding it, I’m glad that ending wasn’t the cookie cutter ‘you are my duchess, society will accept your or face my wrath’. Much like the rest of their story, their future would be isolated, but since they now had each other, not lonely.

You know, this is why I hate the idea of doing reviews. I just know an author’s going to pick up one of my books and go ‘wtf’s this bitch talking about, she’s got plot holes and inconsistencies you could drive a mack truck through!’, ack.

Now, The Sceneaw man, just get over it already.

Here I was expecting the WWF of romance land, complete with hair and blood flying. Talk about an anti climax! Maybe it’s because I read a lot of erotic romance where just about anything goes, but this scene rated on the ‘well, that was bloody shitty of him, stupid bastard’ side of the scale - especially since the pair of them had a well established sexual relationship previously. Not that I condone rape as a form of titillation, but that was so not what that scene (or the few following it) was about. It wasn’t a ‘sexy’ scene for me, it was part of that black obsession I talked about earlier - it really was a crucial way of pointing out the split between the personalities of Soraya and Verity.

Has no one else wondered in the middle of one of these hurried forced virgin scenes used copiously in historicals, why on earth there’s an abrupt about face from the heroine, who all of a sudden becomes so happy happy, joy joy? It seems ridiculous to me every time, yet when a true representation is portrayed, all of a sudden there’s an uproar. It wasn’t even a very violent scene - emotional, yes, but not physically violent. Not that it makes that much of a difference to a rape victim - I’m not trying to trivialize that by any means. But was this really that much more shocking than any other numbers of forced seductions scenes in hundreds of other historicals?

When did reality go on the outs? Is Disney producing historical romance novels now? (Don’t get me started on Disney movies, rofl).

Romance, no matter how much we like to read it so, isn’t all fluffy and light. It’s messy and angsty, and full of crap like husbands demanding their conjugal rights, and people obsessed with their partners - the death statistics tell us so, and I doubt it was any different 100-200 yrs ago.

And that’s the reason I’m willing to buy the next Anna Campbell novel - not because she sent me Cherry Ripes or the next Shakespear - but because she served up dark, intense, passion that wasn’t in the majority, attractive. She took a pretty out there tack for a debut author, and I definitely give her and Avon props for that (plus she sent me Cherry Ripes, people. I mean... I owe her something!).

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