Thursday, October 30, 2008
"The Price of Desire," by Jo Goodman
The Chick: Olivia Cole. Cut off from her father and stepmother, she lives quietly with her irresponsible brother Alistair until he trades her to the owner of a gaming hell as collateral for a thousand-pound debt.
The Rub: Girl's got more issues than Reader's Digest, with a past full of violence, sexual abuse, and abandonment.
Dream Casting: I imagined a younger Megan Follows.
The Dude: Griffin Wright-Jones, Viscount of Breckinridge. The aforementioned owner of the gaming hell, he is none too pleased to receive a woman in place of the thousand pounds Alistair owes him.
The Rub: While technically an aristocrat, the revenues from his hell are what keeps his family estates financially afloat, so he can't afford to compromise Olivia's reputation and put his business at risk. Also, other than Olivia, he has terrible taste in women.
Dream Casting: Christian Bale.
Griffin: You owe me a thousand pounds!
Alistair: Trade you for my sister?
Griffin: What the fu--
Alistair: NO TAKEBACKS! *flees*
Gentleman Villain: *tries to rape Olivia* *fails*
Griffin: What the HELL was that about?
Olivia: Oh nothing - want to play cards?
Griffin: You like cards?
Olivia: Oh, yes - they help distract from my monstrously awful, traumatic past that has left me emotionally scarred past all recognition.
Griffin: Hawt! Marry me?
Gentleman Villain and Friends: *kidnap Olivia*
Griffin: *rescues* NOW will you marry me?
Romance Convention Checklist:
1 Heroine with a Traumatic Sexual Past
1 Aristocratic Hero Slumming it in Trade
1 Noticeable But Still Sexy Facial Scar
1 Attempted Rape
1 Evil Whore Wife
1 Evil Whore Mistress
1 Case of *cough cough* Convenient Consumption
1 Secret Baby
1 Slightly-less-precocious Adult Sibling
1 Very Bad Parent
1 Gentleman Villain
The Word: Alistair Cole blows a thousand pounds playing in Griffin Wright-Jones' gambling hell. To ensure Alistair pays his debt, Griffin takes Alistair's heirloom ring - an impressive piece of bling with emeralds and diamonds - as collateral. However, Alistair manages to steal the ring back and leaves a letter in its place saying that Griffin may take in Alistair's sister Olivia as a marker instead.
Griffin is far from pleased at this turn of events, but he also feels sorry for Miss Cole - a quiet, close-mouthed woman who reacts to the news with surprising calm. She knows her brother only too well, it seems, and treats his irresponsible actions as a matter of course, the only important goal in her life being to survive. She doesn't hold out a lot of hope that Alistair will come back with the money, and neither does Griffin - so the beginning of the novel leaves the two in an awkward situation.
Unsure of what to do, Griffin gives Olivia a room in his hell, but when a mysterious man breaks into her room and nearly sets fire to the building in his attempt to rape her, Griffin becomes concerned about her personal welfare. Conversely, Olivia, despite the assault on her safety, tries to convince Griffin to let her work at his hell as a card dealer as a way to earn her keep.
Essentially, despite some action (kidnappings!) and plot twists (a secret son?), most of the novel is simply what happens when a man and a woman, along with their respective emotional baggage, are more or less trapped in the same house for an extended period of time. While Griffin has personal problems of his own, poor chap (including a missing wife with an embarrassing sex addiction), he's still reasonably well-adjusted compared to Olivia, who experienced the very worst of human nature in her childhood and lived to tell about it.
Or not tell about it. As a child and young woman, she encountered an astonishing number of horrors that she kept tightly locked and hidden away in different layers of herself, and the magic and core plot of The Price of Desire is watching how Griffin's quiet, gentle, loving persistence slowly (oh so slowly) peels each layer away, forcing Olivia to open up a little more each time. And as this is happening, Olivia, who at the start of the novel is a calm, passive presence, starts exerting a little more control over her life and begins cunningly insinuating herself deeper into Griffin's life.
Within a page, I knew that this would be a book I enjoyed reading. Goodman has an extraordinarily beautiful writing style that made even the love scenes special, different, and sexy. Her characters are amazingly complex (particularly Olivia's brother Alistair, who continually refuses to be as good or as bad as we want him to be), and their interactions heavily laced with wit. That being said, the novel was a tad on the over-wordy side. Holy crap - these characters talk and talk and talk and talk. While the writing is lovely and the characters' dialogue has zing, I found that the protagonists often spend pages nattering amongst themselves communicating something that could be conveyed in a paragraph. While the nattering was enjoyable to read, it did make the novel's pace rather slow and rendered the novel a bit difficult to pick up again after I'd put it down.
Still, I'm conflicted - because I don't think the novel would have been nearly as good had the novel had a faster pace. Olivia's past is a seriously dark one, and it would have cheapened the novel if she'd explained it all at once in a giant expository chunk at the end of the novel. It works much better as it is, slowly teased out chapter by chapter, detail by detail.
Also, the slow pace allowed me to be shown the depth of the characters rather than told, particularly Olivia. While Griffin is great and all and certainly well-developed, most of this book is dedicated to Olivia, and rightly so. I would have expected a regular person with her kind of problems to be living the rest of her life in a padded cell, curled up in a fetal position. While Olivia has her moments of weakness (including occasional moments of catatonia), her character isn't weak or simple. Her hardships, instead of breaking her into irretrievable pieces, forged her into a nimble, cunning, wary person who lives life by slipping into and hiding in cracks, rather than falling through them.
That being said, there were a few flaws - most notably regarding Alistair's heirloom ring. By the end of the novel, no fewer than three villains are gunning for the bauble, one of whom reveals that an astonishing and frankly unbelievable number of Griffin's and Olivia's present problems originated from the baddies' quest to get it. Described as having a square-cut emerald surrounded by twenty-one diamond chips, it sounds beautiful and expensive, but as it doesn't make the wearer invisible or attract the Dark Lord Sauron I can't really explain what the big deal about it is. It didn't help that one of the aforementioned major villains only appeared in the eleventh hour with little to no introduction other than being mentioned in passing in a couple of chapters.
Those annoyances aside, this was a wonderful romance to read. As mentioned before, it's a fairly long novel, but I seem to be developing a preference for these - it allows the romance to develop more slowly and realistically, with fewer "suddenly overcome with overwhelming tempestuous passion by Chapter Two" moments. I will definitely be looking for more books by this author. A-.