Friday, March 20, 2009

"The Kiss," by Sophia Nash

Alternate Title: Kiss Off, Already!

The Chick:
Georgiana Fortesque, a.k.a. Georgiana Wilde. The daughter of a steward, Georgiana became a marchioness when she married her troubled childhood friend Anthony. She was widowed shortly thereafter when he died on their wedding night. Now she runs his estate - but the new Marquis, Anthony's cousin, Quinn Fortesque, has come to take over.
The Rub: She's secretly been in love with Quinn for decades, but fears he'll never return her love because of a tragic accident from their past.
Dream Casting: Emily Blunt.

The Dude: Quinn Fortesque, Marquis of Ellesmere. Called back to the estate of his childhood by his shrewish aunt, he admires the work Georgiana has done with the place and wants to settle her and her family with a nice cottage and pension - although Georgiana's not quite willing to give up her position yet.
The Rub: His late wife was a Big Fat Ho, hence he's taught himself to guard against all of his emotions - especially love.
Dream Casting: Matthew Macfadyen.

The Plot:
Quinn: Hey, Georgiana, it's been a while.

Georgiana: Oh! Hello, Quinn! If only he loved me...

Rosamunde, Heroine from A Dangerous Beauty: G, he totally loves you.

Georgiana: No he doesn't - I'm too deformed and fugly.

Grace, Georgiana's other BFF: Um, I actually think he does?

Georgiana: And I actually think you are mistaken. For I am all that is damaged and unworthy and you are all that is perfect and good. Here, let me lie down in this puddle so you can walk over it and into Quinn's waiting arms without getting dirty.

Ata, Georgiana's Mentor: Open your eyes - Quinn loves you!

Georgiana: Nope. Impossible.

Quinn: Georgiana, I love you!

Georgiana: *fingers in ears* LA LA LA LA I CAN'T HEAR YOU I AM ALONE AND UNWANTED AND NOBODY LOVES ME LA LA LA LA...

Quinn: *shakes her* Get a hold of yourself! I love you damn it, and I'll give you a HEA if I have to cram it down your throat and gag you with a gym sock!

Georgiana: Oh, all right.

Quinn: Hooray!

Romance Convention Checklist
1 Heroine with a Disfigurement and a Martyr Complex

1 Hero Who Can't. Feel. Emotions.

1 Precocious Child

1 Very Bad Aunt

1 Lacklustre but Still Decent Romantic Rival (*sigh*, again Grace?)

1 Baby Falcon

1 Evil Whore Wife (Deceased)

Several Previous Nash Characters

1 Sex-Induced Death

The Word: This? This sharp, cracking sound? This the sound of some of my highest expectations of this year crashing to the ground. I thought I had so much to look forward to in The Kiss. I loved Sophia Nash's previous novel. The Kiss had a gorgeous cover. All About Romance gave it a glowing review and my friends at Eloisa James and Julia Quinn's message board raved it was even better than A Dangerous Beauty.

Sadly, it was not to be. Like, really, not to be. I think every romance reader has a differing level of tolerance towards certain romantic tropes. For instance, Alpha Males - some readers enjoy really aggressive heroes while others turn away if they cross too many barriers. Another example would be martyr heroines. Mrs Giggles is a romance critic I seriously admire - if she hates a novel, she will absolutely tear it to shreds, man - but lately I've come to acknowledge that she has a lower tolerance for self-sacrificing heroines than I do. She slammed two of my favourite romance heroines (Sophie Beckett from An Offer from a Gentleman and Fleur Bradshaw from The Secret Pearl) for being bloody martyrs, while I quite enjoyed them.

Mrs Giggles, if you're reading this review, I would suggest you never pick up The Kiss - it will likely make your ovaries explode with sheer rage.

I wanted so much to like this novel, but the first two chapters quickly established the type of slog that I was facing: In these first two chapters, Georgiana's delightful eccentricities (she's headstrong! And speaks her mind! How quaint!) and Quinn's emotional repression (he must not feel emotions - because then he won't feel pain! What can possibly go wrong?) are hammered into my skull by the unsubtle woodpeckers of redundant exposition.

Georgiana, you see, is actually Saint Georgiana of the Gimpy Leg, Patron Saint of Disturbing Levels of Romantic Obsession, Marchioness of Doormat, and Queen of the Martyrs. She married her childhood friend Anthony, Marquis of Ellesmere, out of convenience, only to be widowed on their wedding night when his amorous attempts to claim his husbandly rights caused him to stroke out. Twelve months later, she's running his estate, but of course she must do all the menial work herself even though she's half crippled because she's headstrong and speaks her mind and all that hard work doesn't leave a lot of time to do any pesky rational thinking.

Anyway, she receives the shock of her life when Quinn Fortesque, the new Marquis and the Secret Burninating Passion of Georgiana's life, shows up to take up the reins. Quinn got called back from diplomatic service by his mean-spirited aunt (Anthony's mum) who never believed Anthony's marriage to Georgiana was valid and wants Quinn to give this lowborn invader the boot.

Quinn, Anthony, and Georgiana all used to be friends as children. Anthony was the son of the lord of the manor, Georgiana the daughter of his steward, and Quinn was Anthony's impoverished orphan cousin. Their warm friendship was shattered after a fall from a tree disfigured Georgiana and Quinn, falsely blamed for the accident by Anthony, was packed off to boarding school. Subsequently, Anthony proceeded to perform some more feats of asshat-ery, and Quinn acquired Emotional Issues thanks to a Big Fat Ho of a wife, widening the gap between the three friends even further.

Now Quinn's back at Penrose, the Ellesmere estate. While Georgiana and her family have done an excellent job with Penrose's upkeep, he can see that her father's health is failing and she's doing most of the work (the better to be martyred, my dear) and he would rather have the family settled somewhere with a nice pension. Georgiana rebels against the unfair usurpation of her stewardship duties, forgetting the pesky logistical detail that stewards are hired employees and thus can be dismissed at will.

To regain control, Georgiana defiantly invites the Widows' Club (the rehab-for-mourning-chicks introduced in A Dangerous Beauty) over to party, inadvertantly introducing Quinn to Grace (also from ADB), a formerly strong character whose biological clock is ticking so desperately now she'll marry just about anyone, and she's sophisticated, sexy and rich enough to land just about anyone. Unfortunately, she has an unfortunate tendency to choose Heroes from novels that aren't her own.

Here's the thing about romances - the Hero and the Heroine are the main points around which the story turns. While excellent writing (naturally), well-drawn supporting characters, and intriguing themes also contribute to a good romance novel, it's very difficult to enjoy these things if one or the other of the protagonists doesn't make the grade.

Such is the case with The Kiss. Despite some good points (which I'll discuss later), Georgiana made the novel nearly unbearable. While I've occasionally read of heroines who are too fiesty for their own good, I've never encountered a heroine who was as much of a soggy doormat as this one. She seriously spends most of the novel doing the breaststroke in her Olympic-sized swimming pool of self-pity, and enjoying every minute of it.

Part of my annoyance stems from the fact that Georgiana (and, hence, the author) repeatedly tells the reader that she's a strong woman who never dips into pity and, according to page 190, doesn't have a martyr bone in her body. Let me give you a rundown of her behaviour in this novel: she does most of the work around the manor, she continuously chucks Grace in Quinn's path because Grace is so beautiful and perfect and better than Georgiana in every possible way, she gives up her virginity to Quinn to use as a fucking security blanket, and repeatedly performs activities that jeopardize her health and her gimp leg because she can't bear to let anyone know she's in pain. Uh-huh. If she's not a martyr, I don't know who is.

Georgiana makes such a concerted effort to remain unhappy in the most cheerful of circumstances that I just couldn't stand her. She spends most scenes on the sidelines, writhing delightedly in the agony of thwarted dreams as Quinn courts Grace, or teases his daughter, or exists. She flat-out refuses to acknowledge anything positive said about her, by anyone, because what will she do with her day if she's not spending every minute of it bemoaning the torments of fate?

This stubbornness never wavers as the novel progresses. Pretty soon, everyone else at the house party can tell that Quinn is in love with Georgiana, and no fewer than four characters inform Georgiana of this. Georgiana ignores all of them. The camel's back broke under the weight of straw before the halfway mark of this book, but the last piece of dried grass to land upon the twisted wreckage of this particular animal's spine came when Ata, the elderly leader of the Widow's Club, finally gives Georgiana the "grab your man and kiss him, you fool!" speech. The scene ends there, leaving the reader to assume that this time, Georgiana will pull her head out of her ass and finally participate in the romance already. Sadly, unbelievably, frustratingly, no - Georgiana once again rejects anything that disputes her claim as Queen of the Unloved Martyrs and runs off to her secret island cottage to cry, leaving Quinn to do all the work.

Quinn, while not as bad as Georgiana, remains disappointingly underdeveloped. His reasoning behind his emotional repression is fairly run of the mill for a romance hero (wife was an irredeemable slut who damaged his belief in all humanity), and doesn't really explain his stubborn refusal to admit his love for Georgiana until the very end of the book. Still, he earns points because he's the character who actually works at the romance. Georgiana is constantly running away in tears, leaving Quinn to chase her with compliments and protection and good deeds. I think this is my main reason for disliking Georgiana - her determination to nurse old wounds limits her participation as a character - she's too busy reacting to actually do anything and control any part of the story. Instead, Quinn is the one who makes decisions and determines the outcome of the plot, rendering the story structure poorly balanced between action (Quinn) and dithering inaction (Georgiana! ARGH!).

So, what did I like about the novel? Similar to my experience with Match Me If You Can, Sophia Nash has a subtle hand for backstory - never giving us a explicit flashback, and yet still littering the narrative with enough hints to give readers a clear view of what happened way back when to drive Georgiana, Quinn, and Anthony apart.

Also, in my review of Match Me If You Can, I mentioned Series Perfection Syndome, and the tendency for characters from previous novels to be idealized in the later novels they cameo in. Such wasn't the case here - Rosamunde and Luc from ADB show up and are still just as entertaining (and snarky) as before. Luc in particular - one prominent symptom of SPS is that the novel's hero tends to display an immediate rapport with Previous Heroes (a sure sign that he is The One for our Heroine). Luc, far from toothless although he's married with two kids, despises Quinn nearly on sight, and the feeling is mutual. Their gradual transition to friendship is natural and consistent with both their characters, and doesn't feel inevitable because they are both Nash Protagonists.

Sadly, all the secondary characters are too reasonable and logical for their own good - most of them discover the true situation between Quinn and Georgiana early on, and their repeated attempts to convince the hard-headed protagonists only re-enforces the protagonists' unrealistic obstinance in ignoring the advice and experience of characters they are supposed to love and respect.

I might still give Nash's lastest novel - Love with The Perfect Scoundrel - a shot, because even though Sophia Nash's language has become dismayingly florid of late, my main problem with this novel wasn't her writing, but her heroine. Rosamunde and Luc were an exquisitely matched pair of personalities, and thus I enjoyed A Dangerous Beauty immensely. Sadly, I can only hope that The Kiss doesn't stand for The Kiss of Death for my admiration of Sophia Nash's writing.
C.

5 comments:

  1. Laura1:51 PM

    I bought this book after the people on the EJ/JQ board raved about it. I haven't read it yet, but after reading your review, it doesn't seem like there is any hurry.

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  2. I've heard so many good things about the book, but I'm not so sure now lol

    I see you're reading Laura Kinsale now; can't wait for that review :)

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  3. Laura --> Hey, you never know. There are lots of reviewers that I enjoy reading even though I don't necessarily enjoy their reviews. The Smart Bitches are an example - we have opposing positions on a lot of novels (Not Quite a Lady, Welcome to Temptation), so I read their reviews for entertainment value even though it doesn't always affect my book-buying.

    Then again, if you find yourself agreeing with a lot of my reviews, than yes, steer clear of "The Kiss."

    Antonia --> Yes, "The Kiss" gave me a lot of "Again the Magic" flashbacks. Florid language, Burninating Passion, and gimp heroine who refuses to think of herself as good in any way, argh!

    This is my first Laura Kinsale, and although I'm only a few chapters in, it's been quite an education. :)

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  4. I wasn't planning on reading this one at all so I'm safe from the 'buying the bad book' syndrome - but dang your review had me laughing and the groaning at your description of the heroine.

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  5. Anonymous12:02 PM

    Random comment, but I see Blue Dahlia on your TBR list. I don't love Nora Roberts, but I did enjoy that one. It was my favorite of the three in the Garden trilogy.

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