Friday, April 22, 2011

"The Lady and the Libertine," by Bonnie Vanak

The Chick: Anna Mitchell, a.k.a. "Karida." An illegitimate English girl raised by Bedouin tribesmen, she guards a sacred ruby while longing for her aristocratic father to acknowledge her as his child.The Rub: When a dastardly Englishman steals her ruby, she will do anything to get it back - and almost anything to redeem the rogue who stole it from her.Dream Casting: Gemma Arterton.
The Dude: Nigel Wallenford, Earl Claradon. He's got a birthright to claim and an illegitimate son to raise, which requires more money than he's got - so why not head to Egypt and steal a ruby?The Rub: And since that ruby's being guarded by a hot holier-than-thou chick, why not steal her virginity, too?Dream Casting: Jake Gyllenhaal
The Plot (Tumblr is Too Slow and Cumbersome, it Turns Out! Back to the Same Old, Same Old!)

Nigel: Hi! I'm the hero! I'm a total bad-ass stealer of jewels, cheater at cards, and despoiler of women! *in head* But none of that matters because I'm broke and nobody loves me and I live in a bottomless pit of despair!
Karida: Hey! I'm the heroine! Nobody wants to marry me because I'm all burned and can't have babies and stuff, but at least I have my honour and this great job guarding a sacred ruby.

Oh wow, Karida is so pure and awesome, way too good for someone like me... *in head* ...that over-pious bitch. Imma steal your ruby, how about that?

Ruby: *stolen*
Nigel: Ha-ha! Take that, woman! ... *in head* ....MY ENTIRE LIFE IS A BLACK SOULLESS LIE! Did I mention how NOBODY LOVES OR UNDERSTANDS ME?
Karida: DAMMIT. Curse your dastardly good looks! If I don't get that ruby back, I'll be the worst ruby-guarder ever!" *tries to steal ruby* *gets caught* Wow, I am the worst ruby-guarder ever!
Nigel: If you don't want to go to prison, you and me are going to have to TOTALLY GO ALL THE WAY ... *in head* ...I AM A HATEFUL, EMPTY SHELL OF A HUMAN BEING UNDESERVING OF ALL PLEASURE OR LOVE... *out loud* But in all seriousness, if your clothes aren't off in five seconds I'm calling the cops.

Karida: I find your manipulative sexual coercion inexplicably attractive! Plus, I find it super-hot that my burn scars aren't enough to convince you not to rape me!

Nigel: Sweet, let's get married!

Karida: Um, no.

Later, in Egypt...

Nigel: Hey baby, does this rag smell like chloroform to you?

Karida: *unsexy swoon* *wakes up naked in a whorehouse*

Nigel: Let's get physical! Do me or I'll tattle to your family and make you marry me anyway!

Karida: His actions say I'm a dangerous, obsessive rapist but his dreamy eyes say I'm a secret puppy dog, scratch my lonely tummy! Do me, you lonely stranger! Let me marry you and cure your evilness with my womanly purity!

Nigel: Don't have to tell me twice! *in head* I'm just a poor boy, nobody loves me.....

Nigel's Mum: Guess what! Your Secret Baby isn't yours!

Karida's Uncle: Guess what! Your Secret Daddy isn't yours!

Nigel and Karida: Oh, well then.... This is awkward.

Karida: What to do me while I'm tied to railroad tracks?

Nigel: HOORAY!

Romance Convention Checklist
1 Former Thief-Turned-Sacred Guardian Heroine

1 Sexy Naked Date Achieved with Chloroform

1 Impenetrable Disguise

Too Many Secret Babies and Dads to Count

1 Loss of Virginity Through Blackmail

1 Priceless Ruby

Several Fake Rubies

The Word:
Oh, my word. This book.

For this book there are almost no words.

Okay, maybe I can come up with a few words - like how it's books like these that make me understand why people look down on romance.

Let's fill you in on the particulars - first, while this book does function as a standalone, it apparently helps to know a bit about the events that took place in the previous book,
The Scorpion and the Seducer, because the hero of this book, Nigel Wallenford, is the lately-reformed villain of that novel as well as the identical twin brother of that novel's hero.

Nigel Wallenford recently discovered proof that he, not his brother Thomas, is the real Earl of Claradon, and that his parents forged his birth records to indicate otherwise when they learned that a childhood illness apparently rendered him unable to father heirs. On top of that, he's also got a Secret Baby who may or may not be his stashed away in a secret location who needs financial support, which he does not have (Being a Total Licentious Dick to Everyone in the Ton is an expensive lifestyle, it seems).

So, in order to solve his multitude of life problems, he's faked his own death and is posing as his goody-two-shoes-twin in Egypt in order to suss out the location of a sacred ruby that could complete a key that leads to some fabulous treasure.

....Confused yet? You're not alone.

Karida is the young Bedouin tribeswoman tasked with guarding this sacred ruby to ensure no one can access the fabulous treasure. In truth, her birth name is Anne Mitchell, and she was raised in a workhouse in England before being rescued by an aristocrat who may or may not be her father - who sent her to Egypt to live with his Bedouin in-laws. She has since turned her back on her street-thief childhood to live an honourable, if lonely, life guarding her ruby.

Despite their confusing backstories, Nigel and Karida had the potential to have an interesting story - goodness knows the setting and the culture are unconventional and adventurous enough.

Nigel is, very obviously, meant to be the Conflicted Villain Hero. However, in his case, being Conflicted means he still goes around acting like a Ginormous Prick, only he Feels So Bad About Himself and Is Crying On the Inside as He Does It.
Again, though, as much as his whinging, angsty, mopey inner monologue wails and screams about how He Is Unworthy of Happiness and Nobody Loves Him, he still goes around doing horrible, awful, completely irredeemable things.

You see, he needs to steal the ruby from Karida, and is at once enthralled and resentful of Karida's pure-as-snow reputation. He mentally ping-pongs between "She is so pure and good, I don't deserve her, I should avert my gaze and wallow in my low self-esteem" and "She is so pure and good,
that bitch, I should totally fuck with her mind - as well as other parts of her".

However, by the end of these inner conversations, his Shoulder Angel is always the one sobbing in the shower while his Shoulder Devil lights up a cigarette in the bedroom next door so he promptly steals Karida's ruby and hightails it back to England. Once she discovers the theft, Karida follows him to London. When he catches her trying to steal the ruby back, he claims he's calling the police, no one will ever believe her side of the story, and the only way she can get out of being sent to prison is to have sex with him.

Yup, he blackmails the heroine into giving up her virginity. After spending 10 hellish years in a workhouse, the idea of prison is a legitimate terror for Karida. And this isn't one of those scenes where Nigel
says he's going to blackmail her but pulls back at the last minute with an I-can't-do-this-unless-you-want-to excuse.

But oh - she secretly wants it and he doesn't mind her burn scars plus he's totally hot and she gets loads of orgasms out of it so it's really not sexual coercion - except that,
oh yeah, IT TOTALLY IS. In this case, I don't even care about the heroine's reaction - I'm outraged enough by the fact that Nigel thinks, "Hey, it'd be a great idea to force the woman I love to have sex with me under the threat of jail time" and actually goes through with it, and we are somehow expected to believe he is the hero and that this is a sympathetic and romantic scene. What in the actual FUCK.

But oh - it gets worse. It gets so much worse. Karida heads back to Egypt in shame after refusing to marry him (and Nigel makes some creepy-ass "I'll get you, my pretty"-esque comments regarding
that), but Nigel dons a Nerdy Nice Guy disguise and follows behind. Once they reach Egypt, he tricks her into going out alone with him, takes her into a shady alley and chloroforms her into unconsciousness.

Karida then wakes up in a brothel, naked and tied to a bed.
BY OUR HERO, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN. Our "hero" who then orders her to have sex with and marry him, threatening to tear her clothes and tattle to her guardians if she refuses. Oh - and just to clear things up, he insists he won't be raping her because he'll make sure she likes it because he's just that good. Oh, my little heart goes pitter-patter!

this, of course, leads me to why I despise the heroine just as much. It's not just that she's annoying - despite being raised by loving and supportive adoptive parents, she spends much of her time moping and whining about how it doesn't matter because her "real" father in England won't acknowledge her. Ungrateful much?

And it's not just because she has all the self-esteem of a dirty dishcloth thanks to burn scars that (mysteriously) left her (apparently) unable to conceive.

No, I hate her character because, far from reacting with horror (or at least indignation) at waking up naked and bound in a whorehouse, she stubbornly insists that Nigel is "noble and good." She knows this because she can see the "pain and anguish" in his eyes - and not the
chloroform-soaked rag in his hand. I kid you not - throughout the first half of this book, Karida judges Nigel solely by the tumultuous angst pouring from his weepy peepers instead of his actual, despicable actions - he stole her sacred ruby. He then blackmailed her into sex. And now he's got her hogtied in a house of ill-repute - but oh! He's so tormented and hurt!

The whole coerced sex isn't even an issue for her - instead she's blubberingly grateful that her hideous burn scars didn't scare her rapist off. She even accedes to his offer to marry her - because once they're bound by matrimony, she'll have all the time in the world to "change him," which mainly involves continually telling him how good and noble he is. Because nothing cures the urge to rape like positive reinforcement, let me tell you.

It's at this point that I'd like to inform my readers that this book was first published in
2007, so it doesn't even have the excuse of being dated that the dog-eared "forced seduction" novels of the seventies and eighties had. This is one of the absolutely worst examples of romantic pairing that I've ever come across - the exact kind of Desperate-Doormat-Heroine-"Cures"-Angry-Rapehappy-Manbeast-Hero stories that the literati assume all romances must be like.

I'd like to say the rest of the novel doesn't even matter after such hideous characterization, and it's true that the rest of the novel's mediocrities pale in comparison to the story of how Karida Cured Evil With the Magic of Her Vagina. But the rest of the novel sucks, too. While the setting descriptions are lovely, the treasure-hunting scenes are strongly reminiscent of
Indiana Jones, there are way more Surprise Secret Daddy plots then there needed to be, and the resolution is pat and cheaply handled thanks to some complete character 180s.

All of this together is enough to put
The Lady and the Libertine in incredibly select company (sharing a grade with only two other books after four years of reviewing) - but that's not a good thing.F