So, you know, it turns out that a light, quick romance can be just the ticket when you’re finished with the heavy lifting of a revision and have an evening free before you get into the pain-in-the-neck detail work. Which for me, this time, means looking up rough Spanish translations for a lot of words and phrases so the manuscript of PURE MAGIC looks okay to the (non-expert) eye. (Having a friend who really speaks casual, colloquial Mexican Spanish fix everything is the crucial next step, you can bet.)
I also need to look up some maps and plot travel routes and see what towns are near other towns and all that. I guess it would be more sensible for me to set a contemporary-ish story near St. Louis, since I would just know a lot of that stuff, but whatever. If someone points out an architectural or geographic error, I’ll just remind them that, hey, this isn’t actually OUR contemporary world, just a near-twin.
Anyway, Laura Florand pointed me toward IT TAKES TWO TO TANGLE, suggesting that I might like the slow-building relationship between Henry and Frances – no doubt I had commented disparagingly about insta-lust somewhere or other. So I thought, hey, if Florand likes Theresa Romain, the actual writing MUST be good, right?
And it is. Like here:
He could see the grass beneath his feet now, still shadowed black under the faintly red light of the peeping sun. Dark as atramentum, ruddy as dragon’s blood. All the beauty of art was before him again this morning. Henry did not know whether it would turn still lovelier or if it would all turn ugly.
Henry is an artist, see, and this is Romain enjoying herself with the names of contemporary paints, but isn’t that a nice passage?
The dialogue is also good, and fun, kind of Wodehouse-ian, really. Listen to this exchange between Henry and his sister-in-law Emily, which takes place near the beginning of the story, right after Henry has dropped a paintbrush on a carpet:
[Emily] waved a hand. “I understand artists are remarkably forgetful creatures. Once the creative mood seizes you, you cannot be responsible for your actions.”
“Are you giving me an excuse to be an aggravating guest? This could be entertaining.”
Emily’s mouth curled into the cunning smile that meant she was plotting something. “You’re much more than a guest, as you know. But you’re right. I should demand that you pay me a favor for spilling paint all over my possessions.”
Henry took the brush from her and laid it carefully across the palette. . . . “Let me guess. You already have a favor in mind, and you are delighted I have ruined your carpet, since now you can be sure I’ll agree to whatever you ask.”
Emily looked prouder than ever. “Excellent! We shall slip you back into polite society more easily than I could ever have hoped. Already you are speaking its secret language again, for you are correct in every particular of your guess.”
“I’m overjoyed to be such a prodigy. What, precisely, have I guessed?”
“Tonight, I am going to introduce you to your future wife. What do you think?” She beamed at him, as though she expected him to jump up and start applauding. Which was, of course, impossible.
Okay, I don’t know about you, but I laughed. And was intrigued! I thought it might be the jumping up that was impossible, but it turns out it is the applauding. Henry is back from the Continent, see, following Napoleon’s (second) defeat, and he didn’t get back unscathed. I liked Henry, and I liked how Romain made the consequences of the war permanent. (And I liked the note at the end where she explains what medical condition it actually is that has crippled Henry’s arm.)
Now, here’s the female lead:
Frances Whittier was too much of a lady to curse in the crowded ballroom of Applewood House. Barely.
But as she limped back to her seat next to Caroline, the Countess of Stratton, she found the words a gently bred widow was permitted to use completely inadequate.
“Mercy,” she muttered, sinking into the frail giltwood chair. “Fiddle. Goodness. Damn. Oh, Caro, my toes will never recover.”
I liked Frances, but what I liked best about her were her flaws. You watch her commit a slight error of judgment in her dealings with Henry and you think: Oops, that’s not going to work out well. Though of course this is a romance so naturally it does work out in the end, but with a painful interlude in the middle.
But the interesting thing is that this mistake is one that both echoes and arises from a mistake Frances – a widow – made with her first husband. I really appreciated the way this added depth to Frances – it made her non-perfect but still sympathetic, and it made her feel more like a real person.
Oh, and I enjoyed Frances’ eidetic memory. And her straightforwardness. And the way she competently defends herself against that cad Wadsworth. And the way, when she’s explaining that she likes teaching, she says casually, “I thought it my duty to help, yes, but I also dearly loved to be right.” Hah! Yes, I can relate. Frances is definitely a rounded, full character – especially for a romance that is light and charming and clever rather than heart wrenching (defining, say, Florand’s “Snowkissed”, for example, as heart wrenching rather than light and charming).
I enjoyed the secondary characters, too. I loved Frances’ relationship with her cousin, Caroline – Caroline was very entertaining, and it was nice to see a genuinely positive relationship between a lady’s companion and employer. I loved Henry’s sister-in-law Emily, and I turned out to love Henry’s brother, Jem, who had more depth than I initially expected. The bit where Henry actually asks Jem for advice, you know, and then the bit toward the end. I don’t want to spoil it, so I won’t provide the context, but I mean this bit:
Henry was breaking his unbreakable brother. The look on Jem’s face, more than anything else Henry had seen or thought in the last twenty-four hours, shamed him.
So, yes, I expect I’ll be picking up additional titles from Theresa Romain. I hear A SEASON FOR SCANDAL is good. The protagonist, Jane, is supposed to have “a mind like an abacus,” which sounds promising!
Though the book that is calling my name in the most beguiling tones at the moment is INDA by Sherwood Smith. And I just received FOUR WAYS TO FORGIVENESS by LeGuin, and actually novellas may be just the ticket while completing the PURE MAGIC revision. I want to send that off to my agent no later than Monday and then maybe take time to read the INDA four-book series and then pick up a different project that’s been on hold – the HOUSE OF SHADOWS sequel, actually, which I rather think I would like to finish over Christmas break. So it may be a while before I really make a dent in my TBR shelves.