The Chick: Abigail Travers, a.k.a. "Abigail Smart," a.k.a. "Ghostface Kissah." A nice if low-gentry girl just trying to get a husband without revealing she can see ghosts, she wishes her ex-childhood BFF Rainewood would leave her alone.
The Rub: Unfortunately, that becomes impossible when Rainewood shows up in ghost form, demanding she - the only person who can see or hear him - help him find his body.
Dream Casting: Amanda Seyfried.
The Dude: Valerian, Earl of Rainewood. Determined to be the perfect heir, he refuses to associate with those of low stock - but he can't seem to shake his attraction to Abigail Smart.
The Rub: When he's attacked and wakes up as a spirit, he refuses to believe he's really dead, and unfortunately the only person who can see him is Abigail.
Dream Casting: Sebastian Stan.
Abigail: I hate you! You're a prick who treats your inferiors with disrespect!
Valerian: I hate you more! You're a loon who thinks she can see ghosts!
Shady Dudes: *bonk*
Valerian: Where am I? How come only you can see me?
Abigail: Um, because you're dead and a ghost.
Abigail: Hate to say I told you so.
Valerian: *poke* Won't you help me? *poke, poke*
Valerian: *poke poke poke poke POKE POKE POKE*
Abigail: FINE, I'll help you.
Dr. Rapist: I see you're seeing ghosts again. Take two sexual assaults and call me in the morning!
Valerian: Wow, life is hard for you. I've been an ass.
Abigail: That's right, you have.
Valerian: Let's have ghost sex.
Abigail: Okely Dokely.
Ghost Sex: *is had*
Evil Villain: Ha haaaa! Now you are in my evil clutches!
Random Asylum Patient: *stabs Evil Villain*
Evil Villain: How inconveniently coincidental that a random person with no other part in the story should stab me right when the protagonists are the most in danger! Curses! *dies*
Valerian: *rehumanized* Now lets have REAL sex!
Romance Convention Checklist
1 Arrogant Aristocrat
2 Cases of the Crazies
1 Comprehensive List of Crazies
Several Bouts of Ghost Sex
1 Horny Fake-Gypsy Maid
1 Inconveniently Public Orgasm
1 Negligent Con Artist Parent
1 Doctor Rapist
1 Mad Scientist
The Word: I've written reviews of bad books before. Sometimes the pacing is off. Sometimes the characters don't make sense. Sometimes the plot is incomprehensible or based solely on the most flimsy of coincidences. But I don't think I've come across a book that is just, at its most basic level, badly written, until coming across Anne Mallory's For the Earl's Pleasure.
But more on that later - let's start with the plot. Abigail Smart has a secret. Okay, actually a number of secrets but the Big Burninating Secret is that she has the power to see, hear, and speak to ghosts. When she was thirteen, she made the mistake of telling her aristocratic BFF Valerian, who refused to believe her or continue their friendship. Both protagonists spend the next decade trying to one-up each other in the Asshole Olympics. By the time the story starts, Valerian is convinced that Abigail is Le Crazeh and Abigail believes Valerian is an arrogant, titled bully who believes that with Great Power comes Great Douchebaggery. Abigail's unimaginative nickname for Valerian is "donkey," which she says so frequently I started to hear Chef Gordon Ramsey's voice in my head ("You DOHN-KAY").
Valerian is forced to rethink his whole "Abigail is a Nutjob" outlook when he's attacked in a dark alley and wakes up capable of phasing through walls - and incapable of communicating with anyone but Abigail. While Abigail is surprised and admittedly saddened when she sees Valerian's spirit (assuming, understandably, that if he's a ghost then he must be dead), she doesn't see how she can help him - besides, she has troubles of her own just trying to find a socially-acceptable husband despite her family's tenuous prospects.
Unfortunately, Valerian subscribes to the "Me, Me, Me - Now, Now, Now" Style of Prioritizing and proceeds to force Abigail to help him by being as hair-pullingly annoying and inappropriate as possible. This includes talking over her conversations with other men, insulting her, and (once he discovers he can touch her) constantly poking and stroking her like a five-year-old. And for most of the book he still doesn't have the stones to admit he was wrong about Abigail's power - nope, he assumes he must be in a dream and that ruining Abigail's life even more might make him wake up.
As you can tell, I'm not a fan of Valerian. For much of the book he comes across as blatantly nasty. Not only does he perform all the asshat behaviour mentioned above, we also learn later on that he's been secretly scaring off all of Abigail's hard won suitors, too, just for the thrill of it. The author attempts to sweep his childish antics under the convenient literary rug of He Was Just In Love With Her The Whole Time. This is a cliche that I absolutely despise, where the hero exhibits selfish, hurtful, and offensive behaviour towards the heroine but because he's secretly in love with her this somehow pardons acting like a moronic little shit.
However, the plotting of this book made his character bearable - how? Hilariously, because as a ghost Valerian is confined to an almost completely passive role. He's an AlphHole hero deprived of agency. He's used to being in control and in power, but thanks to fate he has to cajole (or beg, or coerce) the one woman he hurt the most to help him find where his comatose body is hidden. To the author's credit, while Valerian is an ass for most of the book, he is eventually forced by circumstances to rethink his past behaviour and I appreciated how the paranormal element helped develop that.
As for Abigail - well, I didn't like her much either. She's dim, easily manipulated and easily distracted, but other than that, I draw a blank, which speaks volumes about the vibrancy of her character.
As well, the plotting of the book just tries to stuff too much in. Too much of everything - too many subplots (we have Valerian's ghost, but we also have a secret list of people with Crazy Apples in their families trees, illegal mental asylums, balloon and bicycle races), too many secondary characters that muddy the waters without contributing to the plot, too many secrets (Abigail's family secret, in particular, made no sense and was particularly poorly explained) - it was all too much, and did little except complicate a ghost-story paranormal romance that would have been fine on its own.
Now, the characters of this novel, and the pacing, and the plot, all have their own flaws which I've detailed, but what struck me most about this novel was the absolutely abysmal writing - simply speaking, the words that the author strings together don't do their job. In what seems like an attempt to create imaginative metaphors, she neglects the consistency of imagery and they tangle, creating an incomprehensible mess. To quote:
"She ... pulled her dress from the gaping maws of the evergreen bushes" (p.131). Bushes don't have maws. Nothing about a bush's appearance even suggests a maw, the way a cave or a pit or something with an actual opening might. In an attempt to over-romanticize her language, it ends up not making sense.
"Her lips felt like the softest blanket" (p.201). Wow, nothing gets me hotter than thinking of warm crocheted afghans on a woman's face. There's nothing uncommon with comparing lips to certain kinds of smooth, soft fabrics - but comparing them to woolly, scratchy objects doesn't really rev up the old engine unless you have a Snuggie fetish.
"All of her fears reared" (p.359) - just plain awful word choice. Why not "her fears reared up"? We get odd rhyming and bizarre imagery.
"One that demanded he splay himself forward, give her his heart" (p.295) - again, bizarre word choice. Think of the image it creates - splay himself forward? It makes it sound like he'll throw himself onto his stomach. This doesn't sound like the image the author may have intended, although I could be wrong. At its heart, if it doesn't produce the image or meaning it should, the writing fails.
Or how about the fact that everyone's eyes in this book either "darken" or "tighten" - tightening eyes? Eyes don't tighten. They can blink, widen, narrow, roll - but not tighten. The imagery and wording is all wrong. That, ultimately, is what crippled this book for me. On nearly every page, thanks to unconventional word choice, the imagery in this novel always seems a little off or doesn't achieve what it's trying to. I might have been able to tolerate an asshat hero and a doormat heroine and a bizarre paranormal subplot if the writing had been better. It boggles the mind that this was nominated for a RITA this year in Paranormal Romance.