Sunday, November 9, 2008

Mistress of Pleasure, by Delilah Marvelle – Review

One of the recent highlights of my avocation as a romance reader was the Emerald City RWA conference in Bellevue, WA. This just happens to be about 8 miles from my house. I am steadfastly NOT writing a romance. No. Not doing it. As tempting as it sounds to attend a seminar by Julia Quinn on writing dialog, or Cherry Adair as the motivational “just do it” speaker (no really, it IS tempting, that isn’t sarcasm), I would rather spend the $300-odd on books by other people. Seriously, it’s way more fun to read them than it is to write them. At least for me.


So, the thing is, as an artist, I’m a damn good engineer.

I do not mean to say that I’m utterly hopeless at creative stuff. For any art, there is craft that can be learned and practiced, skills that enable the artistic vision to shine through. My husband, who’s a 3-D electronic artist, has said that when his company looks for artists, they’d far rather have someone with a great artistic eye and teach them the software, than someone who’s a whiz with the package of the moment but merely OK at the art. Me? I’m pretty good at the craft stuff. If I can read up on it, and practice it, and have sufficient motivation, I can perform competently. It’s that vision, that creative spark, that I think I lack, or perhaps it’s just the faith in my spark that's missing. Either way, I’ve yet to catch fire.

So back to the review, and how it came to be: I was standing in line loaded down with a huge tote full of juicy new books, and started chatting up the person next to me (it wasn’t Ciara, though I did accost her in her FABulous boa and got a bit of a scoop on how things were going) and probably talked her ear off – I tend to do that when I get going on the topic of romance books (I’m sure you’re shocked). Julia Hunter held up to the barrage pretty well, and told me that I HAD to check out Marvelle. You can probably imagine how much arm-twisting was involved. Julia graciously held my place in line (there were like 50 people ahead of us and 4 behind) while I ran back and nabbed one last book.

Delilah Marvelle was the nicest person you could imagine to talk to and her books have a pretty cool premise. She writes in the regency era, but less about the ton and more about the demi-monde, or that class of folks, especially women, who might be welcomed into the rarified air of the ton, if only they would behave themselves.


So was I. Honestly, I really, really wanted to be able to write a rave review for this book, but I found it only so-so. It seems to me that Marvelle has the spark, the idea, the passion, but it’s executed a little clumsily. Anachronistic patterns of speech, dialog that clunks along sometimes, especially the grandmother’s French inflections. Plot devices that don’t quite ring true – in particular, the hero is a duke who, despite being handsome, fit, of a prime age, and – did I say—a bloody duke?-- is considered unmarriageable because of recent family scandals. His mother, overbearing but loving, is so desperate for him to marry that she pressures him to marry a woman who has no reputation, no money, and no family lineage – she’s not quite a courtesan, but the next thing. The heroine meanwhile, is a prim virgin saddled with a grandmother who has educated her in the theory of sexual arts to a degree that rather squicked me out. Now, I realize that there’s a deliberate attempt here to turn gender roles on their head, but I just didn’t really buy it, on either side.

In spite of all the problems though, I still really like the basic premise (a very secret "School for Scandal" where men of the ton can learn the arts of seduction) and I loved the glimpses of the gentlemen who will become the subsequent heroes. Marvelle tells us that she’s planning to write 5 or 6 books with a concurrent time frame, and I’m looking forward to that. I’ve always loved reading the same scene from more than one point of view (see also: Julia Quinn, “The Lost Duke of Windham” & “Mr. Cavendish, I Presume”).

If I haven’t made my point yet on craft vs. art, I feel like Marvelle has the art but needs a little work on the craft. Which is why I’ll be happy to pick up at least the next book and see what happens with it--I'd rather read a book with this kind of flaw than a perfectly-written one with no heart.


Delilah Marvelle said...

I was so thrilled to come across this post. Why? Because a.) rave reviews do nothing to help an author with their ideas and writing and b.) when it comes to the craft a writer is always in the process of learning. And even though I've been writing for 11 years and have a degree in English literature with a minor in writing and attend workshop after workshop after workshop -- gah! -- I know that there is still SO much for me to learn, especially with this being only my first book. Which is what this review so brilliantly pointed out. With regards to the writing aspect, I will say, yes and yes, I have plenty to learn. But on the character side, I'll say that I don't believe everyone will act according to their position of power or what is expected. An example of that would be the duke's "proper, good" girl and fiancee in the story, was the one who ended up screwing everyone over (the father quite literally...), including the duke and the duke's mother. While the "bad" girl, though oh-so-bad in the eyes of everyone was still a virgin because she hadn't quite connected with the idea of what passion was despite her grandmother (until she saw Edmund. And actually, Maybelle's reaction was my own reaction to my husband. I swore that I would be a virgin until I married...and eh...well, he changed that. Overnight. And it was the best thing to have ever happened to me, LOL). That is why I had Edmund's mother so over the moon for Maybelle. Not just because Maybelle was the last resort (and in history, yes, even dukes have been isolated for their actions and family scandals), but because Maybelle was who she was, with no hidden motives. A bit of symbolism, so to speak. That being said, thank you again for the lovely write up and your honesty! It's something all writers desperately need to hear more of and I look forward to the challenge of growing and learning.
Cheers and much love,
Delilah Marvelle

Nicola O. said...

and in history, yes, even dukes have been isolated for their actions and family scandals

Really? Huh. Is this where I confess that my knowledge of regency history comes primarily (OK, OK,"exclusively") from romance novels?

Thank you so much for commenting here -- I hate to write negative reviews and honestly have no creds whatsoever to be lecturing someone on how to write other than being someone who loves to read romance. So-- take everything I say with a huge grain of salt.

Delilah Marvelle said...

I really didn't think your review was all that negative. I thought it was absolutely fabulous because you really delved into my book and its concepts. And never would I take what you wrote with a grain of salt! Readers are better judges than writers are because that is all they do. They read! I have to say, though, that I am obsessed with history and research books. If you want to peek into the sort of research I do, you can visit my Bit O'Muslin blog ( which features Sex Throughout History. The characters (and they're all real) will shock you. As they do me. And they are my sole inspiration. Again, thank you for the great post!!!

Carolyn Crane said...

Wow, this is a thoughtful review and really makes me intrigued with the book - I love that it concentrates on the demi-monde. It sounds fun! And I enjoyed how you framed it like a little essay on craft and creativity.

And a visit from Delilah! How cool - she sounds like a nice person and somebody who is really serious about what she's doing.

You guys have all the interesting writers out there.

Nicola O. said...

CJ, thank you for the compliment! We DO have tons of wonderful writers here in the area-- maybe it's just something about the drizzle that makes you want to sit at a laptop with a piping hot latte and write, write, write. I know it works for surfing and reading.

Delilah, I will definitely check out your blog. As for negative reviews, I rarely write anything really scathing. I'm always cognizant that there's a real live person on the receiving end and if I wouldn't say it to your face, I won't write it here.

If it's a book that I thought was really just horrible, I normally just don't review it. I will confess to snarking occasionally on well-established authors, but I figure a) they can take it and b) one minor player in the blogosphere isn't gonna make much of a ripple in say, Mary Jo Putney's pond. (Also, what can I say, I'm just not always a nice person.)

As a rebuttal to your comment about finding inspiration in real historical figures, I'll just say, just cuz IT REALLY HAPPENED THAT WAY doesn't make it good fiction or even necessarily believable. ;-) You know?

Delilah Marvelle said...

Snark is different from bark :D
You go girl. And LOL. I'll try to stay away from putting in too much of *that* history. I do believe I like you. Wink.
Oh and Julia Hunter, that woman freakin' rocks. And not because she talked you into buying my book, either, LOL.

Lady of the Review said...

Hi! I'd read this book and had Delilah on my blog. She is such a delight. I had the same issues with the book myself, but found the other heroes very intriguing. We shall see what happens. :)

Nicola O. said...

Hi Lady! I did link to your interview within the body of my post, though I didn't call it out. It was a fun interview!

I realize after writing today's post about Christine Warren that one of the really well-done parts of MoP is the erotica. Yumm. Should've mentioned that before. ;-)


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