Strip the Willow and Rip the Bodice

Because everyone needs a hobby …

For I Have Crossed the Rubicon! May 31, 2010

Barnes and Noble - My Mecca

Yes, I’ve done it. I went to the ‘Romance’ section in Barnes & Noble. Purchased two books. And had enough courage to go up and buy them.

Of course – I also bought Eliot’s Middlemarch and Dickens’ The Old Curiosity Shop so maybe I cheated (punishment being my new Dickens has no footnotes … again).

I can't just walk into that store and buy two trashy novels! Come on!

And to turn into a fashion blog for a mo’ – here’s the link where you can buy the dress I’m wearing. I am kind of obsessed with it – it’s all … flow-y and fun. (And yes, the room I share with mom in NY is covered with my LOTR posters from my high school years. Slowly, they’ve been falling off the walls but I haven’t made the actual attempt to actually take them down). Nostalgia, I guess.

Anyway. New week. New book. And oh god how I hated this one. I forced myself to read it in a day because I couldn’t imagine reading it longer (plus, I’m absolutely in love with North and South at the moment). Was it the romance? No. Was it too crude? No.

It was simply: boring.

Boring to the point where I would fall asleep. Boring to the point where I wondered why on earth this wasn’t just on FanFiction.net where one could be reading some crazy slash story, instead – that would probably be more entertaining to pick apart.

But I’ll get to the specifics in a moment. This week the book is – dun dun dun dun:

Hannah Howell's 'If He's Wild'

I picked out this book (at Walmart – the B&N books are for the next two weeks) for one reason: there was only a guy on the cover. Even under the sale sticker where that little lighted window is, there is no woman (if you don’t believe me, click on the picture where B&N will show you an unmarked cover). I wanted to sort of run a test – how important was the cover, first of all, to the novel. Also, would a redhead pop up? Would she be the heroine? The answer to the first two questions is – yes. The third, though, is no.

The heroine, for the first time, was not a redhead. I was a little surprised, but happy at the same time because it gave me more to question. A ginger is in the novel itself (and of course, it will make for a good ginger post), but she is not a main character. And, if the heroine isn’t a ginger – how will she be portrayed? The same way? Differently?

Does hair color really make that much of a difference?

Okay – this isn’t the ginger post. I want to start off, as usual, talking about the narrative voice because I think it really is important to situate where the narrator stands before getting further into the novel.

The narrative voice is very similar to what we have encountered before. It’s third-person limited with moments of free-indirect discourse. What I did like about this narrative was the use of practically no italicized thoughts. Everything was set in ‘regular’ save a few little things.

What I did not like about this narrative voice, though, was the way the story was told, the exposition, the way the characters were portrayed – and some of this actually ties back to the cover.

So what do I mean by the way the story is told? First of all, this is another series book, much like Mayhue’s. Apparently Howell’s written several ‘If He’s <insert sultry adjective here>’ and has also written about the families used in this novel. There’s a canon – which is easy enough to catch on to.

In a nutshell: Alethea (the dark-haired protagonist) is a virgin widow living with her uncle Iago (can’t make these names up). She has visions of this man named Hartley and of his possible death so they try to warn him. He’s known as a rake but surprise surprise, he’s only bedding women for information for the government. Really, that has nothing to do with anything. For some reason, his niece and nephew were almost killed so Alethea helps him find them, he marries her oddly (we’ll get to the oddly sometime later – in the sexy sex post), then they go back to the original plot and everything tries to resolve itself (with the help of some deus ex machinas), and Hartley and Aletha live happily ever after.

Convenience dominants this novel – especially in the beginning. The narrator fails to portray human doubt. Things are just … accepted. Alethea’s gift to see these visions? Sure, they’re questioned, but she’s trusted pretty much off the bat once she shakily convinces Hartley and his gang of her powers.

“‘I have no wonderfully logical or scientific explanation got my gift. It just is … Since it was given to me, I feel it is my duty to heed it. It told me that you were going to be kidnapped, tortured, and murdered. From what little I have learned this night, I still believe in what I saw. Since, I suspect, you know more than we do, I would think you would at least consider the possibility that I am right, If you will not, it does not signify. If you do nothing, it is still my responsibility to try to ensure that my vision does not prove to be an accurate prophesy.’

‘Makes sense to me,’ said Aldus as he and Gifford retook their seats.” p.45

Yeah, I wasn’t too fond of – Yay! We all believe her! She makes total sense! Look at those convulsions she goes into when she has ‘visions’! Ooooo! Ahhhh!

The narrator quickly whisks over any conflict that believing in this ‘gift’ of Althea’s could cause. It’s so quickly taken as fact, I swore from the first twenty or so pages I really was reading fanfiction. It was self-indulgent – the heroine had this great amazing gift, she was also too perfect, then of course twice she finds herself almost getting killed then being saved by Hartley.

Hello Miss Mary Sue.

Another fanfiction quality of this story was really the amount of times Alethea’s character suffered. She is this innocent girl, early twenties, and gets beaten, shot, etc. It’s common for a lot of fanfic writers to torture their characters – I don’t know why but there it is. Don’t believe me? Look it up. It gives not only a chance to gain sympathy for the character, but also bedside scenes were the hero of the novel can sit beside her and whimper while the other characters make whispered remarks on how much he must love her.

It’s annoying.

And I felt like that was what the whole novel was – someone getting hurt, someone sitting by their bedside, promising retribution. Blah.

And then there is the exposition. While I didn’t have trouble catching on to the canon – I sort of like stories that begin in medias res, so I didn’t feel as though I was lacking too much so far as series canon – I actually had trouble catching on to the time period. We were never told when the story takes place – pretty much just that it’s in London.

Whoop.

So me being the awful time period freak I am, I just had to pay hopeful attention that something would give me a clue. I figured since they used the word rake so much it was around the 18th and 19th century and since when the danced it seemed to be more of a couple-ly thing (rather than line dancing), that would be more 19th century, I think (waltzing, if I’m not mistaken, became popular then – but I read that a long while ago and I don’t write ballroom scenes often so I could be wrong). Anyway, I guessed this was probably the 19th century (especially with what Alethea got from her husband’s death). So, maybe I liked solving the puzzle (okay, I did) but what does that say about the narrator? The setup? Why don’t we know this simple fact?

This leaves us with the characters. Beyond the self-indulgent female protagonist, the passionless male protagonist Hartley is just boring – and he isn’t the ‘rake’ everyone thinks he is. That’s why the cover confuses me – it’s not as though he is running around sleeping with everyone and needs to be tamed or she needs to be – both of them are level headed (beyond the supernatural gift Alethea has) and just flat characters. As are the rest of the lot. There is so much explaining of the gifts (I mean, pages of just ‘this works this way, he has this gift she has this one) and cooing over being rescued that the characters sort of self-destruct into boredom.

Mix with that a plot that I think the narrator wants the reader to take incredibly seriously – I mean, the book feels heavy-handed on a rather non-existant plot by explaining all these gifts and how they’ll work – the characters beyond the Mary Sue Alethea take a backseat.

I once called Twilight a self-indulgent mess of a book. While If He’s Wild isn’t in that league of horribleness, it is still poorly written and incredibly self-indulgent mini-mess.

Once I started - I had to finish it. Pencil in hand.

And so no one asks me again, North and South is NOT about the Civil War, but about industry vs. the country in England (ie: the north and the south of England).

PALATE CLEANSER! CLICK ME!

Reference

Howell, Hannah. If He’s Wild. New York: Zebra Books, 2010.

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