Thursday, October 22, 2009
"Compromised," by Kate Noble
Alternate Title: The Viscount Who Loved Me- Er, My Sister
The Chick: Gail Alton. When the arrogant Viscount Fontaine accidentally chucks her into a lake, she's angry. When that same man compromises her innocent sister Evangeline, necessitating a secret engagement, she's furious.
The Rub: When he teases her and mocks her and kisses her - well, Gail feels rather less furious. But he's still engaged to her sister, whose reputation will be ruined if the engagement is broken.
Dream Casting: Keira Knightley.
The Dude: Maximillian "Max" St. John, Viscount Fontaine. When his needy, manipulative father threatens to ruin him if he doesn't marry within three months, Max feels rather lucky when he accidentally compromises Evangeline Alton, the darling of the season. Too bad her sister's such a brat.
The Rub: However, to perform a proper courtship to deflect the rumours, Max and Evangeline must have a chaperone to uphold propriety, and guess which brat volunteers?
Dream Casting: Ian Somerhalder.
Max: Oh, no! A runaway horse!
Gail: *dumped in lake* You're an idiot.
Max: Oh, no! A compromising position!
Gail: YOU'RE A DEAD MAN.
Max: Oh, no! An inexplicable and unspeakable forbidden attraction!
Gail: Wow, you're sexy!
Max: Oh, no! Daddy issues!
Gail: Okay, you're an emo, but you're still sexy!
Max: Oh, no! The engagement's official!
Gail: That's okay - we'll elope.
Max: Oh, YES!
Romance Convention Checklist
1 "Plain Sister" Heroine
1 Blissfully Beta Male Hero
1 Inconvenient Compromisation
1 Hotter Blonder Sister
2 Secondary Romances (between Hero's BFF and the Hotter Blonder Sister, and the Hero's Horse and the Heroine's Horse)
1 Set of Daddy Issues
1 Silly Stepmother
1 "Just Friends" Agreement Doomed to Failure
1 Very Bad At First But Most Likely Just Misguided Parent
1 Exaggerated German Accent
1 Cantankerous Cat Lady
1 Regency Date-Rapist
The Word: Many people suggested this book to me, first and foremost being the Book Smugglers. The Book Smugglers write fantastic reviews, and are one of my all-time favourite blogs. Naturally, we share recommendations for different books and sometimes our opinions match perfectly (What a Scoundrel Wants, Games of Command) and sometimes they really don't (Lord of the Fading Lands, The Orphan's Tales).
I have to say, however, I was really excited about reading Compromised, the debut novel from Kate Noble. According to the Smugglers' review, the hero was that rare and delicate of romance creatures - the Beta Male, and the excerpts of Noble's writing were astounding. Good stories and Beta Males are all very attractive notions but give me original and beautiful writing and I'll be there. When I went to RWA, I broke one of my cardinal rules (Don't Buy More Than One Book By An Author You Haven't Read Yet) and bought both Compromised and Revealed.
So. My reaction to the book. Yes. Well. I'm actually rather conflicted - I don't remember ever having this many different opinions about the same book, as I was reading the book, but ultimately, what went through my mind when I finished was, Wow, five or six years from now Kate Noble's books are going to be awesome.
But let's discuss the plot details, shall we? Gail Alton, recently returned to England after a childhood spent tramping around the Continent with her diplomat father, is nervous about her busybody stepmother's determination to give her and her sister Evangeline a proper coming-out in Society. Gail is Brown-Haired and Plain and Feisty and Speaks Her Mind which means, according to Article Forty-Five-Dash-One-Paragraph-Six of J. Quinn's Law, that her sister is legally required to be Blonde, Gorgeous, Perfectly Accomplished, and about as exciting as a piece of Melba toast.
To relieve her pre-coming-out stress, Gail goes for an early morning ride and is nearly mowed down by Maximilian St. John when he loses control of his horse. The two have a nice big fight about who's at fault and leave in a mutual huff, each hoping they'll never see each other again. Max has problems of his own. His overbearing and smothering father, the Earl of Longsbowe, is convinced that his son needs to marry, and threatens to spread rumours about Max's illegitimacy if he doesn't comply within three months.
Max's reluctant search for a wife brings him to Gail and Evangeline's coming-out ball, where he narrowly rescues Gail from being molested by a scumbag who had roofie'd her punch with booze. Gail repays his quick thinking by vomiting on his shoes, and in his search for a box of Ye Olde Wetwipes, he comes across Evangeline alone in the conservatory. They share a pleasant kiss before being separated by a disapproving housekeeper.
Delighted that he may have finally found a woman suitable enough to be his wife, Max plans to return and pay court to her the next day. When he arrives, he overhears the girls' stepmother harangueing her husband about her stepdaughter's scandalous behaviour. The stepmother is actually referring to Pukey McDrunkAss, a.k.a. Gail, but Max misunderstands and thinks he's compromised the other sister.
Thinking to kill two birds with one stone, he confesses to Sir Geoffrey, the girls' father. While Disapproving Dad agrees that an engagement is necessary to spare Evangeline's reputation, he orders Max to court Evangeline for a month before revealing the betrothal in order to disarm potential scandal.
Gail is Not Pleased. Evangeline, being Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice, refuses to openly complain about her new circumstances, but Gail senses her sister's fear and pegs Max for a thoughtless seducer. Max, meanwhile, wants to get to know his future bride more but Gail's constant, disapproving presence proves to be an obstacle.
The first part of thise book was a bit of a trial. Nothing was terrible or poorly written, but nearly everything about the story followed a trail that had already been blazed, paved, painted, lit, and ridden by Julia Quinn many times before. We have the spirited brunette saddled with a boring, hot, blonde sister. We have secondary characters who are tedious/narrow-minded/conformist so that our protagonists look clever by pointing out how tedious/narrow-minded/conformist they are. We have the Cantankerous Old Dame Whom Nobody Messes With who immediately befriends the heroine, and so on.
Kate Noble also demonstrates a dismaying tendency to tell instead of show. On page 190 this phrase describing Max and Gail caught me: "They warred with wits, words and intellect. It's a wonder they didn't kill each other." Phrases like this distance me from the text - I don't want to be told they war with wits and words. Why can't I read their wits and words for myself? That phrase reads like the back blurb of the romance novel - you know, the part that repeats the obvious to get people to read the rest of the book.
However, just when I'm about to write this book off as Julia-Quinn-lite, I get a glimpse of something fresh, something genuinely funny, something subtle and moving. Max is a yummy character - a witty, bookish intellectual who fumbles, blushes, and teases instead of relying on his Potent Masculinity or Punishing Kisses to get stuff done. He's easily the best part of this novel, and his relationship with his father is intriguing stuff. Most Bad Dads in historicals are blustery, stout bastards but Max's dad is whining, weak, and manipulative - yet somehow comes off as twice as threatening.
Even Gail gets a new twist on a tired trope - she's a feisty wallflower, if that makes any sense. After her runaway tongue ruins one of her father's diplomatic missions, Gail is embarrassed by her feistiness and while she's free to be a spitfire in front of her family and Max, she clams up in public. To Noble's credit, none of the characters in Compromised are strictly cut-and-dry, but some things are hammered home a little too obviously - such as how badly Evangeline and Max suit (Evangeline is frequently referred to as "boring"), which is told to us more than it's shown in order to emphasize just how perfectly Max and Gail fit - again, something we already know so it doesn't have to be spoonfed.
All in all, this was a difficult novel to review - some segments of the novel feel like a re-tread, while some surprise. Some scenes tell us that Gail and Max bicker, while others give us actual dialogue between the two that crackles with energy and palpable tension and feeling. Some chapters impress me with subtle and realistic problems, while others are solved too easily. Some parts read like every other Regency I've ever read, while some parts are so powerful I want to read them again and again (holy CATS page 290-291!!!!).
Which brings me back to my earlier statement - that this book, while not the best book I've ever read, really makes me look forward to the books Kate Noble will write in the future once she learns to harness her tremendous skill with dialogue, characterization, and intimate scenes and stop imitating the styles of other writers.
I give this novel a B - a high B. Not quite a B+ but pretty darn close.