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.
**WARNING: NAVEL-GAZING AHEAD**
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.