Devices and Desires and my problem with AU

I’ve read four more books this month. It hasn’t felt like that many, but one was in process, another was an audiobook, and a third was a reread from way back. So only one book really felt like a slog, and unfortunately it was the one I was looking forward to. I read and enjoyed Pamela Sherwood’s novella, The Advent of Lady Madeline, and Janine and SonomaLass both really liked the full-length novel that follows it, Devices and Desires, so I decided to try it even though I had mixed feelings about the sample. The novel was written before the novella and is modelled on the film A Lion in Winter (the author’s notes in both the novella and the novel are explict about that, calling it a “retelling”). The film, of course, is the film version of a play which fictionalizes the marriage of Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine and their relationships with their children at a specific point in time. So you have a three-steps removed retelling of a famous historical relationship about which our information is decent but far from definitive, given that they lived in the 12thC. Moreover, the characters in the film are embodied by famous actors, who become fused with the characters themselves in our understanding of the latter.

I’m laying all this out because as I was reading I was experiencing the text at a variety of levels:

  • as a genre romance with a central relationship embedded within a family saga;
  • as an AU (Alternate Universe) version of real people as well as of a specific film version of those people;
  • and as a story set within a specific historical context, i.e., a ducal castle in Yorkshire, England in Christmas of 1888.

I had mixed feelings about the sample because the types of anachronisms I had observed in the novella seemed to be cropping up here as well, and on top of that I wondered about a couple of more substantive logic issues in the story. Gervase, our hero, rejects being a barrister and instead decides to become a solicitor because he doesn’t want to be dependent on either his father or other people for his income. But to be a solicitor requires three to five years of being an articled clerk to a solicitor (something the text notes), which the clerk not only has to pay for (to the tune of hundreds of pounds), but during that time he is not remunerated, or at least not enough to live on. So who is supporting Gervase while he qualifies?

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Reading challenge update

I’m still plugging away at my various reading challenges. There’s no way I’ll read 20 books by Labor Day for the #20booksofsummer challenge, but I’ll be curious to see how many I do read. I’ve finished four books since I last posted.

Worth the risk coverWorth the Risk by Sarah Morgan. This is the first book by one of my favorite romance authors, published in the Mills & Boon Medical Romance line. It was somehow NOT in my TBR, but my library had the re-released version and I wanted a comfort read. Morgan’s has a number of early books set in villages in northern England and Scotland, and this is one of a series focusing on characters who do mountain rescue work. It features traditional tropes (sort-of secret baby, unexpected virgin, bad boy hero, etc.), but Morgan was putting interesting spins on these tropes from the very beginning of her writing career.

Ally McGuire is a doctor who enjoys her job and focuses her life around Charlotte, AKA Charlie. Then Sean Nicholson walks into both her medical practice and her life, upending her carefully established equilibrium. Sean and Ally are attracted from the outset (there is a meet-cute involving abseiling and rescue), but Sean has enough baggage to sail across the Pacific. There is medical stuff and romance stuff, all mixed together in a recipe that worked well for me. I haven’t been reading much romance lately, but there are certain styles and stories I always return to, and this is one of them.

Lady Madeline coverThe Advent of Lady Madeline by Pamela Sherwood. I went from an autobuy romance author to a new-to-me romance author who had flown totally under my radar, despite being interviewed years ago at DA. Janine recommended the first full novel in Sherwood’s Lyon’s Pride series, but I wasn’t quite willing to commit that much time and energy so I opted for the prequel novella. Hugh Lowell, Viscount Saxby, goes to a house party at the estate of the Duke of Whitborough in order to keep an eye on his young relative. Hugh is planning to propose to a very appropriate young lady, but he is taken with the somewhat on the shelf, fascinating daughter of the Duke, Lady Madeline.

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Remembering Jo Beverley

I was offline Monday night so it wasn’t until I woke up yesterday morning that I saw the news that Jo Beverley had died. I just sat there for a minute in shock. She was only 68, and her cancer recurrence was swift and terminal.

JoBev was one of those authors with whom I only had a few direct exchanges, but whose books permeated my reading life and set the standard for what I looked for in other historical novels. She’s best known for her Georgian series (the Mallorens) and her Regency Rogues series, and the books I’ve read in those are very good to excellent, but my favorite series was her first, the Regency series featuring the Daffodil Dandy, Kevin Renfrew.

Beverley was known for her historically rich contexts and characterizations, whether she was writing closer to the Regency trad format or longer single-title novels. One of the things I loved about her books was that her aristocrats worked. They attended Parliament, they took care of their estates, and if they were spies they actually spied, with all the unsavory aspects espionage involves.

Apart from brief Twitter conversations and the rare comment on my reviews of her books, I only had one interaction with Beverley, but I’ve always remembered it. Miranda Neville observed on Twitter that one of the best known conventions in Regency romances, that a debutante had to have the permission of Almack’s Patronesses to waltz, was nowhere to be found in the historical record. She even offered a $100 bounty to anyone who found it. Someone suggested we ask JoBev about that, since she was one of the most likely people to know. So I emailed her (with a bit of trepidation). She responded promptly and said she had never found confirmation of that either, and went on to talk a bit about Almack’s and the waltz more generally.

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