Saturday, April 18, 2009

"Yours Until Dawn," by Teresa Medeiros

WARNING: SERIOUS SPOILERS AHEAD. This novel has a pretty significant twist that smacked me right in the face. It's a well-developed surprise that really contributed to my overall enjoyment of this novel. However, I can't really go into my traditional in-depth review without spoiling the hell out of it. THIS IS A SPOILER THAT MIGHT BE WORTH BEING SURPRISED ABOUT IF YOU'RE THINKING ABOUT READING THE NOVEL. I gave the novel a B. It has really enjoyable moments and, as I previously mentioned, a hella good twist, but is marred by some creepy and implausible moments towards the end. Just a warning. If you've already read the book, don't care, or, in Ana from The Book Smugglers' case, hate it "with the force of a thousand hurricanes," by all means read on. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.
Alternate Title: Tale as Old as Time, Song as Old as Rhyme, Beauty and the Emotionally-Stunted Blind Man

The Chick: "Samantha Wickersham." This prim nurse with her dowdy clothes, "homely" spectacles, and dull auburn hair beats out, well, no candidates to land the job of nurse to the Earl of Sheffield, a social paragon turned shabby recluse thanks to the loss of his sight. Hey, at least the pay is good!
The Rub: Her charge is a hostile, self-pitying ass, the servants are wimps, and even the Earl's own family would rather have nothing to do with him. Hey, at least he's hot!
Dream Casting: Cranford's Lisa Dillon.

The Dude: Gabriel Fairchild, Earl of Sheffield. Gabriel led a charmed life - he had a loving family, great looks, money, fame, popularity - but it wasn't enough to charm the one girl he wanted.
The Rub: To prove to his crush that his love was true and his rakehell ways were over, he joined the Royal Navy to impress her. However, once he was blinded and scarred in battle, his fiancee dumped him.
Dream Casting: Simon Baker.

The Plot:

Samantha: Hey, I'm here about the job posting...

Beckwith, Gabriel's Butler: YOU'RE HIRED!

Gabriel: Grr! I will not be treated like a child! *smashes things* You are a poo-poo-head nurse and I want you to go away!

Samantha: Fine, I quit!

Gabriel: Wait! *trips on table, slashes throat on broken porcelain*

Samantha: Oh no! What a fool I was! I'll stay!

Gabriel: Heh heh heh, works every time...

Samantha: Here, let's try and get you to adapt to being blind...

Gabriel: *bonked on head* I CAN SEE!

Samantha: Exit stage left! *flees*

Gabriel: I need to find her!

Investigators: Okay, what does she look like?

Gabriel: Er, about that...

Samantha: *Holy Shit Secret Identity Revealed!*

Gabriel: What. THE. HELL. *brief pause* Let's get married!

Samantha: Hooray!

Romance Convention Checklist:
1 Self-Pitying Cripple

1 Dowdy Nurse With a Secret Past

1 Noticeable But Still Sexy Facial Scar

2 Horny Servants

SEVERAL (intentional?) Beauty and the Beast References

1 Packet of Gooey Love Letters

1 Relationship-Aiding Pet

1 Faithless Fiancee

1 Sight-Depriving Head Injury

1 Sight-Restoring Head Injury

1 HOLY SHIT Secret Identity

The Word: This novel really surprised me. I mean really. I wasn't expecting to like it that much, although I still wanted to read it, because I've always been somewhat interested in stories with handicapped but still sexy heroes. Also, this novel set up a lot of expectations only to smash them to pieces and overall I enjoyed how the author played with my assumptions. However, this was by no means a perfect novel.

The novel begins routinely enough. Samantha Wickersham arrives at the country estate of the Earl of Sheffield to apply for a job as a nurse. The Earl, recently blinded and scarred in the Napoleonic wars, has frightened off every last one of his previous caretakers, and his family and loving staff are desperate for a replacement. Any replacement.

Gabriel Fairchild, Earl of Sheffield, just wants to be alone. For most of his life, he had the world on a string. He could have had any woman he wanted - but the only woman he wanted he couldn't have. He fell for Cecily March, a pretty young baronet's daughter who distrusted his declarations of affection because of his pampered rakehell reputation. Desperate to win her heart, he started a secret correspondence of rather embarrassingly purple love letters with her (the saccharine excerpts of which open each chapter in the novel). Finally, she said that if he could prove he was more than a coddled golden boy, she would marry him. Exultant, he joined the Royal Navy (a more democratic military branch than the Army) to prove his worth - only to end up sightless in a hospital, listening to his fiancee's pattering footsteps as she fled the hospital, never to return.

Six months later, he still hasn't really adjusted to being blind. Whenever he moves about his house, he's always crashing into things and smashing furniture and knocking things over. He eats with his hands like an animal because he cuts himself on cutlery he can't see. Most of the time he just stays in his room and mopes about the golden life he once had and the fiancee who deserted him. Meanwhile, his weenie staff of enablers keep the house dark and dusty and don't even bother to move furniture out of his way because he's strictly ordered them to leave the house exactly as it was before his injury.

Samantha, upon entering into her position, takes one look at the situation and goes "Oh, HELL NAW." While the servants are afraid to go against the master's orders, since Samantha's technically on Gabriel's father's payroll, Gabriel has no authority over her and she can piss him off however she likes so long as she does her job. With efficiency and pluck, she immediately starts countermanding all of his orders and provoking him into changing his self-pitying routine.

Gabriel violently resents Samantha's intrusion into his life and reacts accordingly. For the next few chapters, Samantha and Gabriel bicker and rant at each other in the expected fashion. Samantha thinks Gabriel's an arrogant prick, Gabriel thinks Samantha's a dried-up prude, etc. etc. Gabriel doesn't want to change his routine because he has no intention of living out his years as a blind man - he still hopes his condition is reversible. The relationship with Gabriel and Samantha really picks up once he's informed that his blindness is most likely permanent, and Samantha has to show him that life still has much to offer, once he learns to adapt and change to his current circumstances.

Now, while nothing in the plot precisely bothered me, a lot it of seemed familiar. Almost too familiar. Does any of this ring a bell?

-The hero is rude and smashes furniture in a rage
-The hero eats with his hands and has to relearn how to use a fork and knife
-The heroine chides the hero more for his bad temper than his marred looks
-The heroine reads to the hero
-The wimpy servants continually go "What would the master say?" and think there's no point in cleaning the house when there are no guests ("Life is so unnerving,/ For a servant who's not serving./ He's not whole, without a soul to wait upon...")
-The heroine (in a light yellow "buttercream" gown) and the hero (in "a deep blue cutaway tail coat") waltz alone in a massive ballroom. Seriously, is no one reminded of THIS:

I mean, really. I know that the archetypal Beauty and the Beast fairy tale (which in turn is an adaptation of the Cupid and Psyche story from Greek mythology) is a common basis for romance novels, and permits any number of interesting permutations, but I have to say I have never encountered a romance novel that reminded me so constantly and particularly of the 1991 Beauty and the Beast film by Walt Disney. And this is a movie I haven't seen for about a year (damn you, Disney vault!), and the comparisons still spring up.

Disney references aside, I still enjoyed the story up until this point. Gabriel swallows a great deal of pride and learns how to avoid obstacles with a cane and a dog. Samantha gets the warm and fuzzies for Gabriel. Gabriel's family shows up, and thanks to some nice character development the awkwardness between Gabriel and the Fairchilds feels realistic, with understandable reasons on both sides as to why they can't all get along as if nothing's happened.

However, the story takes a sharp turn after Gabriel takes a blow to the head while rescuing Samantha from a burning building (don't ask), and starts responding to light and shadow. When doctors reveal the blow dislodged a blood clot and his sight will eventually return in time, he proposes to Samantha. Samantha smiles, acts very happy, shares a night of torrid lovemaking with him, and then flees for the hills, knowing their relationship can never be.

Know why? You've been warned about spoilers so there's time to turn back now.

You sure?

It's because, as it turns out - "Samantha Wickersham" is none other than Cecily Samantha March, Gabriel's faithless fiancee! OMG! WTF! BBQ! Okay, okay, so there were hints throughout the book, and other readers may have figured it out beforehand, but I didn't, and boy was it a kick in the teeth! It was one of those surprises that made me want to skim the book over again to catch clues and hints, and made me see most of "Samantha"'s actions throughout the novel in an intriguing new light.

When Cecily fled that hospital upon seeing Gabriel blind and scarred, it wasn't out of repulsion, but out of terrible guilt for being such a selfish twit and demanding feats of bravery from him. Hearing rumours of his reclusive existence, she disguised herself as Samantha Wickersham and made herself a servant to atone for the injuries she did to him. Knowing Gabriel might recognize her and subsequently despise her once his sight fully returns, she skips town and returns to her existence as Cecily (whose family thinks she has just returned from a European tour).

The revelation of her true identity creates such a paradigm shift. Samantha seems like a bit of a martyr at the beginning of the book, with her determination to do all the shitwork since the servants refuse and her equally insistent defence of Gabriel's heroism and self-worth - but knowing her now as Cecily, it makes perfect sense. Also, Samantha's concern with her awkward glasses, dowdy clothes, and dull hair seems like by-the-book "unconventional beauty issues" of a less-than-supermodel-gorgeous heroine - but really, she's actually rather pretty under her disguise but frightened of being recognized for who she really is. While her secret identity took me by surprise, on a second read (er, skimming) of the book, her character still remains consistent.

And yes, while I see how Gabriel's recovery of his sight seems a little contrived, in this instance it creates a truly original conflict - he's in love with Samantha and wants to marry her, but has no idea what she looks like. Meanwhile, at a ball he recognizes Cecily and acts coolly towards her, because he has no idea that she's Samantha. In his head, he has two different ideas of the "women" he loved, never guessing they're the same person. His memories of loving Cecily are strongly visual - he remembers her blonde hair, her beautiful eyes, her coyly worded letters and girlish handwriting. His relationship with Cecily was mainly long-distance, because it was secret. His memories of Samantha, however, are sensual - he remembers the lemon scent of her perfume, the feel of her skin. Their relationship was close, intimate, and developed with touch and sound. I never found it unrealistic that Gabriel couldn't immediately peg Cecily and Samantha as one and the same.

However, just as I thought the story couldn't get more interesting (and just as I was getting really excited for when Gabriel finally founds out the truth), we get the scene.

Yes. The scene. The one scene that lowers this book's grade by an entire letter. WHY do these terrible scenes of badness have to come at the end of a book? It's like buying what you think is the perfect dress at a vintage shop only to discover a small burn mark on the back hem - everything else about the dress is good, except for this one flaw that suddenly makes the dress not fit for company anymore.

The egregious badness of this scene is terrible due to three factors: 1) It cheapens the characters involved, 2) it's implausible, and 3) it's entirely pointless to the narrative.

This scene occurs after Cecily discovers that Gabriel, his sight fully recovered, is re-enlisting in the Navy to fight Napoleon for a second time. Oh noes! She thinks. He's going to get himself hurt again! So what does she do? She shows up on his doorstep wearing a cloak with little else underneath. She flaunts her goodies and says "yes" to his long-ago proposal of marriage. Gabriel has a good laugh and says he doesn't love her and won't marry her and his heart belongs to Samantha, but he'll set up her as a mistress and give her presents if she puts out. She does. Gabriel falls asleep. Cecily leaves.

Let's start with problem #1 of this creepfest, shall we? I was under the impression when this scene began that Cecily would try and dissuade Gabriel from re-entering the Navy. Nope - it turns out she just wants to get her jollies while she still can. She essentially seduces Gabriel and encourages him to cheat on Samantha with her. Gabriel, in turn, despite saying that he loves Samantha and his heart isn't available anymore, nevertheless bangs her because she's sexy. This makes no sense to either character.

Samantha spent the better (in every sense of the word) part of this novel demonstrating how she's atoning for being selfish and thoughtless - but this is precisely what her actions in this scene are. She doesn't reveal herself, she doesn't try to convince Gabriel not to throw his life away, there's absolutely nothing that Gabriel gets out of having sex with Cecily, so really, it's all about her.

Similarly, Gabriel's spent the last 300 pages thinking Cecily is thoughtless and selfish and shallow (adding to the whole twisty mindfuck is the fact that Samantha corroborated this), and yet all she has to do is get naked and he can't keep his hands off her. So, even though he's promised his heart to Samantha and even though he considers Cecily a scheming chit and all-round lesser human being he's still willing to sleep with her because she's right there, right now. What the hell does that say about Gabriel's character? I read that scene and immediately consider Gabriel to be cheating on Samantha.

Yes yes yes I KNOW that Cecily and Samantha are the same person but that's not the point - the point is that Gabriel believes they are two people, so his actions and corresponding thought processes are the same as if he was actually cheating on Samantha. ICK x 1000!

#2: Secondly, Gabriel and Cecily get it on for an entire night without Gabriel ever even suspecting that she's really Samantha. During the whole loathsome exchange, Cecily demands that Gabriel keep the lights on and his eyes open (oh, and not to kiss her!), thinking that will somehow keep him from realizing that Cecily feels the same, smells the same, reacts the same, has the exact same body as Samantha. I did not buy this for a second. Samantha was the love of Gabriel's freakin' life and the night of lovemaking they shared was seared into every pore of his body (according to the author), so either his penis has the memory of a goldfish or Teresa Medeiros needed a PLOT DEVICE.

#3: Gabriel wakes up from his little tryst and goes on with his life - his plans unchanged. Nothing about the novel's conclusion is in any way determined or affected by this scene. This is what really killed me and why this dragged the book down to such an extent for me - because not only was this scene implausible and cheap, but it couldn't even provide a reason for why it needed to be in the novel in the first place.

Okay, so in hindsight I can sort of determine its purpose - Gabriel is essentially in love with a woman who doesn't exist, so I suppose the author had to prove to us that the prospect of Cecily naked doesn't make Gabriel's genitals try to crawl back up into his abdominal cavity, in order to make it more realistic that he willingly welcomes Cecily back with open arms once he discovers the truth.

At least, I think that's what that scene was for. Either way, it failed, and that's a shame, because the rest of this book was pretty interesting until this weird little sex scene came and made both protagonists look really sleazy. I honestly think if I ripped the pages out and just read the book without that scene, I'd enjoy the book a lot more and lose nothing of the story.


  1. Anonymous3:14 PM

    ohhh myyy goshh!
    that was like your most hilarious review! i loved it! :]

    altough since you already spoiled most of it, i wish you would have have gone all the way and told us about how he discovered that the two are the same person :]


    I thought the first part of the book was brilliant and beautiful. then THE scene that changed it all. The sex was stupid and I hated how he couldnt tell they were the same woman. argh.

    You were more generous that I would have been had I rated this book. The final chapters would have brough the rating much lower.

    : D

  3. Anonymous5:12 PM

    Interesting review. Disney's Beauty and the Beast is one of my favorite movies. The book sounded like something I might read up until the description of "the scene."

  4. Anonymous5:22 PM

    Wouldn't the heroine's voice have told the hero that the two women are the same person? During the time he was blind, you'd think he would focus even more on people's voices since that's likely his primary way of identifying people. So when she shows up his door in the cloak, you'd think her voice would make him think "Hmmm..." But maybe he was distracted by the goods she was offering.

  5. Anonymous #1 - When Cecily fled back to her old life, she left her luggage - with different love letters inside -i.e. the ones Gabriel wrote to HER (rather than the letters Gabriel kept, which were written by Cecily). The servants find one of the letters and give it Gabriel and BLINDING FLASH he understands everything and knows IMMEDIATELY what he must do. Pretty disappointing if you ask me - I thought he would mull over the shock of it a bit more.

    Ana --> the thing is, this scene has no bearing on the book, so technically if I just, uh, skip this scene it doesn't disrupt the narrative at all and is pretty good (if the ending is somewhat abrupt). :)

    Also, I have to say the successful twist contributed to the higher grade - I love being surprised by a good twist.

    Anonymous #2 --> Indeed. I'm glad I'm not the only one who might consider that scene cheating on Samantha. Quoting the novel, when Cecily is seducing Gabriel:

    Gabriel: "I've already told you my heart belongs to another woman now."

    Cecily: "She's not here tonight. I am." I just wanted to go, "WTF? Why not TELL him you're Samantha right then! It could have been romantic!" It boggles the mind because the author never explains what the heck Cecily thinks she's getting out of lying to him in this scene.

    Anonymous #3 --> Cecily mentions briefly that she changed the way she modulated her voice as she was playing the "part" of Samantha, trying to sound more like one of her spinster aunts, and that when talking to Gabriel as Cecily, tried to sound breathier.

    But then, the book also mentions she used her real voice while screaming his name in ecstasy (*rolleyes*), so that's no excuse either.

  6. Anonymous10:04 PM

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  7. holy long post, batman

    i read the little dramatic recap (cuz they always make me laugh) but coppped out before the spoilers. i've read one title by this author before, thought it was kind of meh, but would be willing to try again

  8. Anonymous (9:04 pm)
    i check this website 10 times a day waiting for a new blogGet a reader and subscribe to this blog.

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  9. Heh heh heh - that was quite a nicely done plot twist wasn't it? And I agree with your upset over that scene. When I read the book I kept waiting for Gabriel to clue in that they were one and the same but he never did. It lowered my opinion of him quite a bit too. I was really enjoying this one up until then too.

  10. I think you did a public service, AnimeJune, by giving away the seduction scene. You should also have given the novel a C.

    Don't be so afraid to grade low. You are an intelligent reviewer whose opinions are respected and followed by lots of readers.

    Here's why you did right to spoil the book.

    First, I think that a large portion of the readers would suspect the heroine's true identity earlier in the reading. For that portion of the readers, the novel will lack the enjoyment of the surprise from that revelation. So, if you discouraged that portion from even starting to read the book, then you have done a double service.

    Second, the author must be punished for her own good. The author (and her editors) must have realized consciously -- and therefore hesitated -- that the scene would disgust most of her readers. Nevertheless the author self-indulgently got carried away by her own cleverness of this follow-up plot twist. The author made a bad, blatant mistake, and so she (and her editors) should take her lumps and learn her lesson:

    If you ruin your own novel for your readers, then you get bad reviews and low grades!

  11. Anonymous :] --> Thank you! I personally use bloglines ( to see when my favourite blogs have updated. My schedule is pretty random, but I keep to a certain rhythm - I read three romance novels (each of which usually take two to four days to finish), and then one non-romance that I don't review to cleanse the palate.

    M --> I know, I tried to trim it down but I just had to say all I needed to say about this novel.

    Kristie J --> I thought it pretty realistic that Gabriel would never have guessed Samantha was Cecily while she was working as a nurse for him. After all, Gabriel hadnt' had any contact with Cecily since before the war, and the blindness as well as his own personal assumptions would have prevented him from putting two and two together I think. But the sex scene where he doesn't get it? No way.

    Mike --> I appreciate your opinion. I gave the novel a B because I felt it deserved a B, not because I was afraid to grade low. You can check my C, D and F reviews, if you like. :)

    I warned of spoilers because it wasn't just the twist that contributed to my higher grade - it was because it was a well-written twist, which is a rarity. A well-written twist has to be a genuine surprise, while at the same time is has to be heralded with hints and be consistent with the boundaries of the story to keep it from being a deus ex machina. It takes a fine balance, and I appreciated Medeiros' skill in pulling it off, and I also really enjoyed it.

    As to your second point - wow. I really, REALLY disagree with you. I don't write bad reviews to "punish" authors. Maybe this incorrect view contributes to why a lot of authors, who respond to negative reviews, often accuse the reviewer of "personally attacking" them.

    Also, authors shouldn't write books for their audience. Authors should write books for themselves, books about things they enjoy and are informed of and care about, because THAT IS WHAT MAKES THEM WRITERS. It's the difference between, say, a world-famous chef and a short-order cook. A world-famous chef works with ingredients they prefer and recipes they perfected and food styles they enjoy - and they nevertheless attract people who come to their restaurant again and again to enjoy their food (just as there will be people who avoid his restaurant because his food just isn't to their taste). A short order cook makes ONLY what is strictly ordered. Now, which would you say is the better chef? The only who caters only to what's expected of them or the one who genuinely challenges their talent?

    The audience comes from people who share the author's interests. There's also no way to definitively know how the audience is going to react to something you write so it's not a "punishable" crime to write something that people don't like.

    Also, the plot twist wasn't what bothered me - the characters' behaviour afterwards did.

    I gave this novel a B because it was for the most part well-written and had enjoyable parts and I stick by it. Reviews do advice people, in a fashion, with their reviews - but really, we're only posting our opinion and people just have to measure their own opinions against ours. I know lots of people who choose books because a certain reviewer HATED them, because they've learned their opinions differ too much. For instance, I follow the All About Romance reviews because they generally correspond with mine - but I don't follow the Smart Bitch reviews, because we differ on a lot of things.

  12. Anonymous12:52 PM

    Anonymous #1 - You can also subscribe to RSS feeds through Outlook. Then, when there is a new post on the blogs you follow, it shows up in your inbox like an email. It might only be Outlook 2007 that has RSS capability, but to me it's the easiest way to follow a blog.

  13. I do think, AnimeJune, that the author must have thought to herself -- while and after writing the seduction scene -- that she was making an obvious mistake. The scene was wrong for many reasons, which you pointed out, and she herself must have foreseen all those objections she would cause for her readers, who by that time had invested so much time in reading through most of her novel.

    Haven't you yourself been in a position where you did recognize likewise that you were making such a mistake? I have! I have thought to myself: I should not be writing this. I should take it out. It's offensive. I will regret writing this.

    And then I went ahead and wrote it and left it anyway.

    How do people learn? From getting called on such mistakes.

    The author of this novel was being a brat. She knew she was spoiling her own novel for most of her readers, but she went ahead and did it anyway.


    And you, AnimeJune, must be the punisher.

  14. Mike,

    The scene being a terrible scene is not an established fact, but an OPINION. I'm sure there might be some readers who didn't mind it as much as I did, or found fault with other aspects of the writing that I enjoyed.

    Everyone reads a book differently and everyone finds something different to like or dislike about it. Seriously, every single author in the world has people who don't like their works, for whatever reason. Punishing a writer for "spoiling" a book? Who decides that? Everyone has an opinion. If writers have to be "punished" for "spoiling" a book, then every single author in the history of TIME should be punished because there is always, ALWAYS going to be someone who dislikes something about them.

    I dislike Jane Austin's "Mansfield Park," for example, because I think Fanny ended up with a guy who treats her badly. Many consider "Mansfield Park," however, to be a classic. Was Jane Austin being a brat?

    Secondly, from a writer's perspective, yes, sometimes I have caught myself writing scenes that don't make sense or are inconsistent - but lots of times I miss them, too. Every writer can't be completely objective about what they're writing because they're so involved in it, and every writer has their blind spots.

    Also, unless Teresa Medeiros is a pen name for "Mike Sylwester," you have NO definitive idea of what was going through the author's mind as she was writing "Yours Until Dawn," so really, you can't comment on why she put in the scene. She probably thought it was a good scene that accomplished her goal. Nobody's right all the time.

    Reviewers aren't punishers - because every reviewer thinks differently and has something different to like/dislike about a novel.

  15. Anonymous10:33 AM

    Mike, most of the reviews on Amazon for this novel are positive, so obviously not everyone thought the scene ruined the novel.

  16. Anonymous5:18 PM

    I just finished this book. THE scene didn't bother me too much, but I thought the book was really boring.

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