Tuesday, March 30, 2010

"A Certain Wolfish Charm," by Lydia Dare

The Chick: Lily Rutledge. When her young nephew starts experiencing an especially painful version of puberty, she decides to visit his absentee guardian, the Duke of Blackmoor, to remind him of his responsibilities.
The Rub: The Duke quickly takes charge - the only problem is, he seems to be want to take charge of her as well.
Dream Casting: Kate Winslet.

The Dude: Simon Westfield, Duke of Blackmoor. He feels bad for neglecting his best friend's son, but wowza! The kid's aunt is so hawt.
The Rub: While he totally wants to bury his bone in her backyard, he can't let on that he's secretly a werewolf. Because, you know, werewolves are just so reviled and unsexy these days...
Dream Casting: Robert Downey, Jr.

The Plot:

Lily: Raise your ward!

Simon: No thank you! *flees*

William, Simon's Sequel-Baiting Brother: *sniffs* A lady's been in your house! OMG are you in LOVE?

Simon: Wait, what?

Prisca Hawthorne, Sequel-Baiting Neighbour: WOW, you two should get MARRIED!

Lily: Are you crazy? I've known him for a day!

William and Prisca: OMG they're FATED to be together! By the way, isn't our INNUENDO-LADEN banter so INTERESTING and SUGGESTIVE? Don't you wish WE had our OWN BOOK?

Simon: OMG, I am so in love that I must violently threaten every man who touches you and control all your decisions!

Lily: What are you doing?

Simon: Run with it, toots.

Prisca: *tricks Lily and Simon into marriage* OMG, aren't I DARLING and CLEVER how I manipulate other people? Don't you just WISH you could read about me PERSONALLY and my SECRET DESIRES?

William: Not at all! I am TOTALLY NOT IN LOVE WITH YOU. At least, not in the way that MERITS AN ENTIRE NOVEL. I am going to MYSTERIOUSLY LEAVE after saying some INSULTING THINGS that will TOTALLY not provide conflict for a FUTURE NOVEL.

Prisca: I HATE YOU! ...See you in book 3, sweetie!

Simon: How DARE they be more interesting than me! I better keep my BIG GIANT SECRET to myself for way longer than necessary to up my angst factor!

Lily: What big secret?

Simon: What secret? I don't have a secret? I'm totally not a werewolf with an insatiable sexual appetite! Totally! No secrets at all!

Full Moon: 'Sup.

Simon: *poof!* Woof.

Lily: Uh-huh. Insatiable sexual appetite, you say?

Simon: WOOF! (translation: HOORAY!)

Romance Convention Checklist:

1 Angsty Werewolf

1 Single Adoptive Mum

1 Broken Desk

1 Ripped Bodice

2 Sequel-Baiting Brothers

1 Sequel-Baiting and Incredibly Intrusive Neighbour

1 Rebellious Tween

1 Forced Marriage

1 Scorned Mistress

The Word: You know, I've enjoyed a couple of werewolf stories - mainly in the movies and television. In books, well, let's just say that most of the shape-changer novels I read didn't wow me. Werewolves have had their moments but up until now, I haven't really understood the literary appeal of werewolves and the reason they've gotten as much romantic attention as vampires.

According to A Certain Wolfish Charm, however, the appeal is simple:

Lycanthropy is Male PMS.

Think about it: a dude who's a werewolf has a surefire biological excuse for acting like a dominating caveman dickhole when it's his time of the month - the better to satisfy your dominating caveman dickhole fetish. And, hey, he can go back to massaging your feet and shopping for your favourite brand of tampons the other 28 days of the month. And you can totally love him despite the fact that he's a dominating caveman dickhole because - aww, it's his furry menses equivalent. It's not his fault. Give him a few days in his room with chocolate-flavoured dog biscuits and some Lassie films on DVD and he'll be as good as new.

This notion isn't restricted only to Lydia Dare's relentlessly contrived and silly debut, but sweet chocolate Moses, this author milks this idea and milks it HARD.

Our heroine, Lily Rutledge, is in a bind. Her oh-so-precious orphaned nephew Oliver, whom she looks after, is being body slammed by a particularly large, furry version of the Puberty Fairy and she's worried about his well-being. However, the boy's guardian - the scandalous Duke of Blackmoor, refuses to answer her letters for aid. So she does what any self-respecting romance heroine would do - she goes to his house unaccompanied to demand he live up to his duties.

However, she calls at the worst possible time. Simon (the duke), is a secret werewolf, you see, and the days leading up to the full moon when he makes his transformation render him painfully horny and angry, too horny and angry to be around civilized society. He just wants to be left alone, with his heating pad and Tylenol - *cough* I mean whores and whiskey - and Lily's presence in his house calls to him with the power of a thousand chocolate-covered pretzels. He promptly chucks her into a moving carriage and hopes that'll be the last of her.

The dim, neglected lightbulb in his head flickers when his butler informs him about Lily's worries about his ward's angstier-and-furrier-than-usual adolescent development. Suddenly, the ward he curiously never gave a damn about (despite the fact that Oliver is the son of his deceased BFF) becomes Priority #1. Of course, his flippant sequel-baiting brother William shows up at the exact same time, smells chocolate pretzels in the air, and immediately deduces that Simon's got a new girlfriend.

Simon and William track Lily down in her carriage and inform her of their change of plan: or rather, Simon tells Lily that Oliver should come and live with them in Westfield Hall. William, realizing Lily is Simon's Chocolate-Covered Pretzel, chooses to flirt with her instead in order to drive Simon completely batshit insane in time for them all to be confined to a small, airtight carriage for an extended length of time. Smooth move, bro.

So we are, like, 26 pages in and Simon is already entertaining graphic and violent thoughts against any man who even glances at Lily out of the corner of his eye. Um, what? Oh, right. It's that time of the month. Dominating caveman dickhole. As you were.

Of course, now Simon is all gung-ho for training Oliver in the ways of Secret Regency Wolfman Mojo - but less gung for the chocolate-pretzel 'ho who's all up in his grill. The full moon's a-comin', which means he's surging with enough Dominating Caveman Dickhole potency to turn poor Lily into a pile of pretzel crumbs if he loses control. Suggesting she mosey on home and leave the Secret Regency Wolfman training to the professionals causes her to lash out with her pure tears of goodness and her delicate pretzel fists. How dare they try and help her nephew after she asked them to! Don't they know that as a totally undesirable, decrepit 23-year-old, she has nowhere else to go?

We are now 60some pages in, and while Simon is convinced he'll only grind Lily to a fine powder under the Pestle of his Dominating Caveman Dickhole Masculinity, the far-thinking William is already convinced that Simon and Lily should just get married already, so he encourages Lily to rev up Simon's already murderous and stalkery behaviour by being petulant and defiant. And here, of course, is where the sequel-baiting neighbour Prisca Hawthorne shows up, she who is the Salt And Vinegar Potato Chip to poor crampy *cough* - I mean angsty William. Prisca is gorgeous and talented and full of Secret Longing as only the best Future Heroines are, and is as equally convinced as William that Simon and Lily belong together, regardless of the protagonists' personal opinions or choice in the matter.

So guess what? Prisca trips off to the vicar's gossipy wife and spreads rumours that Lily's ho'in' it up with the Westfield brothers - because Lily will totally appreciate being forced to marry a man she's known for less than a week amid speculation that she's a whore. Best Friend of the Year material, right here. So now Lily has to fight her inexplicable insecurities and Simon has to restrain his Dominating Caveman Dickhole Masculinity - all the while keeping his werewolf nature a secret.

When dissecting this hot werewolf mess, let's start with the characters, shall we? Characters that are never fully explained, leaving gaping holes in their reasoning and motivation. Unanswered Question #1 : How come Simon completely and conveniently forgets the existence of Oliver, his dead best friend and cousin's only son for SIX YEARS? Not only Simon - but his two brothers and his mother. I'm not talking about forgetting a birthday here and there - I'm talking about absolutely no contact other than an occasional bank draft for six years. It's never really explained why no one in his family bothered, although the implication is that Simon was too busy spreading his Dominating Caveman Dickhole Masculinity around England's sex trade worker community. Oh and he just doesn't check his mail that often - I'm not kidding, ignoring his mail is a repeatedly-mentioned character trait. What excuse does the rest of his family have?

Which leads me to Unanswered Question #2: Whose bright idea was it to consign the care of an orphaned six-year-old boy to an equally orphaned, unmarried, virgin 17-year-old girl? When you have a widespread family tree of Handsome, Rich, Potent Secret Regency Werewolves who could raise Oliver in their secret ways? Seriously - why did Lily get that job? Oh, right, so she can be both the dewy, chocolate-pretzel innocent and the mothering fussbudget to a child who's barely 11 years younger than she is. Of course!

Lily's little more than some Disney Princess attributes bound up in unexplained insecurities. She acts under the belief that she's entirely undesirable and way beyond her Best Before date - but she's only twenty-three. Hardly the point of no return, even by Regency standards. Even when she goes to a ball and is hit on by nearly every guy there (including two of her BFF's brothers), she remains convinced it's only because of her new dowry. Do we get an explanation or backstory for why she believes she is Utterly Unloved? Not a peep.

The only other major characters of note are William and Prisca, but their constant attempts to force an acceptance of their inevitable sequel down our throats pretty much ruin their characters' likability. Elijah and Jemma have stains on their monogrammed towels with better personalities than these two. William's not too bad, if a bit blank, but the manipulative Prisca is borderline hateful and the shit she pulls on page 135 is inexcusable.

As for Simon, he's the ultimate Dominating Caveman Dickhole - he really only has two modes: the Don't You Look At My Woman BITCH, I WILL KILL YOU Mode and OMG OMG Can I Have Sex Now? Can I Have Sex Now? Mode. Yup - he's either looking at men with murder in his heart or looking at Lily with lust in his heart - or he's doing both.

It's funny maybe the first one and a half times he "jokes" about dismembering his own brother when Lily smiles at him, but as it escalates into Simon threatening violence upon men who look at Lily, to hurting Lily's elbow as he drags her off into an empty room, to Simon panting with rage in the bushes as a harmless fellow pats Lily on the cheek, to Simon hauling Lily over his shoulder and taking her to the woods to "punish" her for letting another man touch her, to threatening her custody of Oliver if she doesn't return home with him - over and over ad nauseum. It's not funny. It's not romantic. It's even a little dull and repetitive, considering he feels and acts this way from page 20 in a 350 page book.

But oh right, this behaviour is permissible because it's that time of the month. Wolves are just bitches like that. Congratulations, you have a biological free pass to be a douchebag!

See, this use of the werewolf mythos might have been easier to swallow if Lydia Dare had bothered to develop it in her novel beyond a blatant excuse for Dominating Cavemen Dickholes as heroes. But no - the worldbuilding is just as contrived and lazy as the rest of the book. Werewolves and their existence are not explained, the first change (where Simon and William introduce Oliver to the world of Manly Wolfness) is completely glossed over in a brief told-over-shown scene, the "soul mate" aspect is literally sprung on us fifteen pages away from the end, and the wildly inconsistent climax goes completely against what little paranormal development Dare's produced.

So if you're looking for an interesting werewolf paranormal, you're screwed. If you're looking for an accurate historical, you're screwed. If you're looking for understandable characters with realistic motivation, you're screwed. I'd say this book screwed the pooch, except Lily already did (oh yes, I went there). Avoid this book - it's a dog.


  1. "bury his bone in her backyard?"

    Aren't there laws against lines like that? LOL

    The only werewolf story that interested me was the one in the Anita Blake books, and they turned porny so fast I stopped reading them. Richard the junior high science teacher/werewolf was pretty hot though. But it turned out that sex with him could be fatal.


  2. Ah this was an entertaining review. Male PMS..Haha! I laughed so much thinking of the hero with a heating pad and Tylenol.

  3. Full Moon: 'Sup.

    Simon: *poof!* Woof.

    Lily: Uh-huh. Insatiable sexual appetite, you say?

    Simon: WOOF! (translation: HOORAY!)

    LOL! Thankfully no beverages were near my sinuses at the time or they would have had a good clean!

    Thx. I needed a laugh today.

  4. lmao. I just reviewed this book and the blog I review for linked to your review so I decided to ramble on over and see what you thought.
    I like your review so much better then mine. :)