My Rating: The plane was delayed, the luggage lost, and the museums closed. And it rained. The whole time. (1/5)
Argh! This was one of the more frustrating books I’ve read all year. Mercedes Lackey was a favorite author of mine growing up, but this latest, a collaboration with James Mallory, had only a wisp of the entertainment I used to get out of Lackey’s Valdemar novels (I recommend those). Everything felt flat and slow. I’m not interested in slogging through passages, pages, and chapters of “sea life” and internal monologues about what falling in love feels like. I want action, adventure, romance, danger, suspense… none of which ever materialized in this novel. Word to the wise: don’t judge a book by its (amazing, gorgeous) cover…
Based on the description and the opening passages, I thought this would be a swashbuckler. Princess Clarice, eldest of twelve or something sisters, is sent off by her parents to see the world and make a living. She chooses to be a swordmaster, Mr. Clarence Swann. The next time something interesting happens, she’s boarding a ship to get to the new world. And what follows are bland descriptions of her bland friendship with the ship’s navigator, bland tales of the awkward dinners at the Captain’s tables, and even a bland recounting of a mutiny. The only exciting moment being the fight that Clarice gets involved in during the mutiny. So for the first half of the book, it’s not a tale of a young woman disguised as a man who struggles to be (accepted as) a swordmaster, it’s a tale of a young woman disguised as a man who sails on a ship for weeks and weeks.
Which brings me to my next point – if she’s a woman disguised as a man, HOW does she manage to hoodwink all the sailors on the ship? How does she go to the bathroom? How does she play at swordfighting with her bland friend Dominick without being coaxed to take off her waistcoat, because she must be hot? How does she learn to eat like a man, walk like a man, talk like a man? None of this is explained, it’s just taken for granted that she’s convincing as a man. Maybe she is – I suppose it’s been done before. But that takes all the fun out of a woman protagonist disguising herself as a man! Take Alanna: The First Adventure, or Seven Daughters and Seven Sons – both are great examples of how interesting and fun a woman disguised as a man can be as a protagonist. There’s even Shakespeare! (Excuse me, I have to go read Shakespeare now).
There are much more interesting tales that involve ships at sea, disguised women, romance between parties that keep secrets from each other… This book requires incredible stamina, and eventually I just didn’t have enough. The descriptive passages are lengthy, the expositions numerous, but mostly the plot just revolves around two or three incidences that occur several chapters apart, and are separated by long passages in which nothing happens. Moby Dick comes to mind in comparison. Frankly, I was bored.
None of the characters saved me from that boredom, either. Clarice/Clarence was so good, smart, etc. that she didn’t really interest me at all, Dominick never felt solid, and all of the sailors felt like cardboard cameos. The relationships are the same. Nothing felt convincing, nothing felt deep.
I can’t remember the last time an under-300 page novel felt as long as this one did. Ultimately, none of the elements of this story held my interest, and I just had to put it down.
*e-review copy provided by the publisher via NetGalley
As I mentioned earlier, there are many more exciting and interesting tales that involve women disguised as men (because that was the aspect I was most looking forward to). Do you have any favorites? Do tell, because I want to read more…
Alanna. My favorite childhood character, protagonist of my favorite childhood series. She and her twin, Thom, at age eleven, are handed their fates: he to become a knight, she to become a lady. Neither wants that, and so they hatch a desperate plan: Alanna will be the knight, and Thom will be
the lady (no, just kidding – he’s to be a magician). SUCH EXCELLENCE.
Seven Daughters and Seven Sons begins in ancient Baghdad, where one man has seven daughters and a poor house full of love, and his brother has seven sons and a rich house filled with … money. One young daughter runs away to seek her own fortune, as a boy. Eventually, she meets a prince. You know the rest. This story has stuck with me over the years. I loved the adventure, the setting, the romance.
Crown Duel is not entirely about a young woman who disguises herself as a man, but it is about a headstrong young woman who goes to war, gets kidnapped, and ends up on the run… from a handsome, clever lord. Gahhh, I love this one so much. I re-read it at least once every year.
In case you like your stories about women disguised as men a little more… romantic, shall we say? I really enjoyed this historical romance by Johanna Lindsey – wherein a young American woman, Georgina Anderson, stows away on sexy British pirate-captain James Mallory’s ship – as his cabin boy.