Wednesday, December 31, 2008

"For the Love of a Pirate," by Edith Layton

Alternate Title: For the Love of Someone Who In No Way Resembles a Pirate, But Who's Still a Real Swell Person
The Chick: Lisabeth Bigod. Raised by her gruff, loving grandfather after her father died, she grew up on stories of Captain Cunning, a legendary pirate, and his grandson, a friend of her father's who became a highwayman. When she discovers her deceased father betrothed her to the highwayman's son, she's secretly pleased, expecting the fiance she's never met to be as rash and exciting as his ancestors were.
The Rub: Surprise! He's not! While he's the spitting image of his father and great-grandfather, he's a meticulously proper gentleman - who's engaged to another.
Dream Casting: Scarlett Johansson.

The Dude: Constantine Wylde, Lord Wylde. Raised by an entirely different sort of relative (in this case, a puritanically correct uncle), he believed his father died a war hero. When Lisabeth's grandfather Captain Bigod explains the truth, that his father got his head blown off while robbing a coach - oh, and that Constantine's also engaged to his granddaughter - he's shocked, to say the least.
The Rub: Constantine's already engaged, and he's terrified of what might happen to his moral and upright reputation if the truth about his criminal parentage gets out.
Dream Casting: Elliot Cowan.

The Plot:
Constantine: Let's get married!

Random Proper Lady: Okay!

Captain Bigod: Hold it right there! You're engaged to my granddaughter! And your father died a highwayman!

Constantine: WHAT?!

Captain Bigod: Don't interrupt me - I have at least a chapter's worth of slightly convoluted backstory to reveal!

Lisabeth: Your great-grandfather was also a pirate! A sexy, sexy pirate...

Constantine: *glare of offended propriety*

Lisabeth: Wow, for the descendant of sexy rakes you sure are boring.

Constantine: Wow, for the descendant of lower-class, unconventionally-raised tradespeople you sure are attractive.

Lisabeth and Constantine: *sexx0r*

Constantine: Guess we have to get married - just let me make the tastefully timed, respectfully planned arrangements according to strict Society Standards.

Lisabeth: Which means?

Constantine: No more sex.

Lisabeth: Too boring for me! Sorry! *flees*

Constantine: How about if I pretend to be a pirate and fail spectacularly?

Lisabeth: Much better!

Romance Convention Checklist:
1 Prudishly Proper Protagonist with a Pirate Past

1 Nicely Fiesty Heroine

1 Interclass Romance

2 Convoluted Backstories

1 Alcoholic Governess and Former Ho

2 Inconveniently Dead Fathers

1 Nasty Uncle

2 Hot BFFs

1 Bitchy Ex-Fiancee

1 Annoying Frenchman

1 Grand Romantic Gesture Gone Horribly Awry

0 Actual Pirates

The Word: To put it simply, Edith Layton's For the Love of a Pirate is one of the worst-marketed romance novels I've ever come across. Let me explain this in the clearest terms possible: The title is For the Love of a Pirate. The cover artwork shows two vaguely-drawn people in what can only be the most awkward and painful game of "This Is How the Lady Rides (Cloppidy-Clop)" ever. The back cover blurb isn't much better, labeling Captain Bigod as a "fierce, aging pirate" and Lisabeth herself as "a bewitching pirate".

Wrong. Wrong wrong wrong. This is not a book about pirates. Bigod runs a shipping business, and the worst his granddaughter does is wear pants. What this is (or at least looks like), is a pretty egregious error on the part of the title and blurb-writers at Avon, because they focused on what was a tiny detail in the novel and marketed the whole book around it. And this is a shame on two counts - first, for the reader, because the pirate romance (the kind that actually has pirates in it) is a legitimate (sub-?) sub-genre in romance and so the pirate fan who picks up this book up specifically looking for scenes that take place on ships, hidden treasures, fighting with cutlasses, etc. will be disappointed. And secondly, this is a shame for the author, Edith Layton - because this is quite a sweet, gentle and slow-burning romance that has been severely handicapped by its swashbuckling advertising and the unmet expectations it is bound to provoke.

Our hero is Constantine Wylde, who is, refreshingly, an anti-rake. Raised by his strict, vicar uncle after his father and grandfather died, Constantine grew into a somber, responsible, proper gentleman with a good head on his shoulders. Three days after announcing his engagement to a woman as sensible, restrained, and prim as himself, a rough, shady-looking stranger (Captain Bigod) barges into his house and orders him to call off his betrothal, on the grounds that he is already engaged to his granddaughter, Lisabeth Bigod.

Captain Bigod then launches into a long, rather tedious, but still twisty explanation: Constantine's father and Bigod's son were rascally BFFs, which didn't please Constantine's grandpa any. Grandpa Asshole cut off Constantine's dad without a cent, so to get enough money to take care of his pregnant wife, Constantine's dad and Bigod's son decided to team up and become highwaymen. Their plan didn't go so well because Constantine's dad died on the first try, and Bigod's son was later murdered by a jealous husband. However, before they both met their hilariously stupid demises, they made a pact that if one of them had a son and the other a daughter, they should totally marry - a pact they signed in blood (I'm not kidding).

Constantine takes all this in with the placid calmness of a cow gazing at an oncoming train: his uncle had raised him on the story that his father died a war hero. While he knows that he if outright contests a silly pact written by two drunken idiots, there's nothing Bigod or his granddaughter can do about it, he realizes that if his humiliating ancestry becomes public, his reputation and engagement will be destroyed. Fearing this, he accepts an invitation to Bigod's estate in the seaside town of Sea Mews, ultimately hoping to break off the engagement discreetly while buttering up the locals enough to keep quiet about his history.

When he arrives at Sea Mews, he makes two dismaying discoveries - first, that along with a highwayman father, he possesses a legendary pirate great-grandfather (Captain Cunning) whose infamous plunderings are more than likely the source of his family fortune; and second, that his prospective fiancee Lisabeth is really quite lovely.

Lovely, and terribly disappointed in him. She grew up on stories of pirates and highwaymen, and allowed herself some girlish fantasies about the subjects of the numerous portraits of Captain Cunning and Constantine Sr. in her grandfather's house. Although she knows her devoted grandfather would never force her to agree to her father's pact if she didn't want to, part of her wanted to meet Constantine and see if he was as adventurous and passionate as his forebears. While Constantine bears a striking resemblance to his ancestors, she pegs him immediately as a prude with a stick up his ass, and can't quite shake the feeling of being cheated somehow.

The two don't get off to a great start - Constantine is a stickler for morals and etiquette and can't hide his disapproval for Lisabeth's unconventional behaviour and upbringing (not to mention the way the village idolizes his ancestors' criminal pursuits), and Lisabeth couldn't give a rat's ass about London Society's rules and continually compares Constantine to his rakish forebears and declares him wanting.

However, through continuous contact and compromise, the two slowly grow to love each other and change in some charming ways. Let me get this off the table right now: this isn't the Regency version of Dharma & Greg, and Constantine does not become a pirate. While he does loosen up and stop nagging about the insignificant rules of Society, he remains a responsible, thoughtful, and moral person - always determined to do the right thing. Lisabeth, meanwhile, is the one who has to do the most growing up - it doesn't take her long to realize that while pirates and robbers and bad boys are fine to fantasize about, it's actually kinda nice to hang out with a respectful guy with manners and common sense, once you teach him how to laugh at himself and not sweat the small stuff.

Nothing calamitous happens in the book - (and other than the geneaology lesson at the start of the book) no dark secrets are revealed, no evil stalkers show up, no one turns out to be a spy, and perhaps most important of all, NO PIRATES SHOW UP. The biggest obstacle in the relationship comes when Constantine has to finally bite the bullet, break off his engagement to the random woman from the novel's opening, and give Lisabeth a proper betrothal - and here, the problem's more of an misunderstanding, a demonstration of how different Constantine and Lisabeth still are.

Constantine puts off the engagement, puts off the wedding, refrains (mostly) from going ga-ga over Lisabeth, and goes back to following Society's rules by the letter, all so that he might shield Lisabeth from scandal in the eyes of Society. However, Lisabeth, who was never raised by such strict rules, only sees Constantine retreating behind his shell again and knows she's not in love with the prude from London, but the more relaxed man he was in Sea Mews.

For the Love of a Pirate doesn't deserve the detriment of frustrated expectations that will doubtless arise in people who pick up the book based on the cover and the blurb and are hoping for adventure and bloodshed. However, even on its own, it's more of a mildly pleasant romance than a truly engaging one. The beginning is a bit of a slog, as not only is Constantine and Lisabeth's tangled connection explained at torturous length, but it's repeated several times as they run into new people and seek help or advice, or discuss it again amungst themselves.

As well, the writing leaves something to be desired - a lot of the events that bring Constantine and Lisabeth together are sort of these rambling walks and explorations and outings they embark on around Sea Mews that the author skims over with a page of exposition. Since these small events seemed so important to how Constantine and Lisabeth drew closer, I might have liked to have read about them in more detail rather than have a page of synopsis.

However, I did appreciate what Edith Layton did with her characters. I was dreading that she might try and make Constantine into more of a rake (or worse, a pirate) by the end of the novel, but I'm glad she kept his character arc realistic. And I was altogether charmed by the idea of a heroine who has to give up implausible crushes on long-dead pirates to realize that plain, all-round nice men can be romantic heroes! Yes, Lisabeth is sort of a "spirited" heroine who says "fuck-all" to Society's rules, but Layton subtly made her a woman whose disregard for the niceties was based on innocent ignorance rather than outright anachronistic defiance.

If you are looking for an adventurous, breathtaking pirate story with a dashing, sword-wielding hero - avoid this book. If you merely want to relax in an easy chair and read a sweet little tale about two wrong-headed but good-hearted people who improve in each other's company, than For the Love of a Pirate might just be for you. B.

1 comment:

  1. LOL, oh I do love this review...great great review!