Wednesday, February 4, 2009

What A Scoundrel Wants – Review

This is a TKO of debut novel – it will take your breath away. I was up until 2:00 am the other night finishing it. Hell, Phury only kept me up ‘til 1:30.

Why am I using boxing metaphors? I hate boxing, I don’t even know anything about it. But phrases like “sucker punch” keep coming to mind as I try to find a way to describe the book.

I have never ever met a heroine like Meg. She’s a blind, slightly pyromaniacal alchemist with a sensual streak, making a living from fertilizer and fake emeralds. Her relationships are a mess of love and hate, pride and pity, dependence and defiance. She walks a fine line, using her potions to intimidate those around her just enough to leave her alone, but always risking the label of witch. Inevitably, she’ll remind you a little bit of Joanne Bourne’s Annique, both being blind ass-kicking women, but their personalities are just completely different. Annique is quiet, stealthy, a chameleon, while Meg is completely in-your-face; Meg navigates pretty well and takes occasional advantage of her facility in the dark, but she’s not nearly so ninja-like as Annique.

She might also make you think of Meriel, from Mary Jo Putney’s Wild Child, in that her disability threatens to condemn her as mad, with all the forboding consequences that implies. But Meriel is gentry, and for all her eccentric habits, lives a protected life at least from a material standpoint. Combined with the differences between Regency and Medieval eras, there’s no confusion there either.

Mad Meg really is a little bit crazy. Not especially noble or pure. But as she takes blow after blow in this story and comes back from each one, a little more battered but still screaming “Bring it ON!” to fate and her enemies, you can’t help but fall in love with her. Plus, I’m kind of a sucker for a non-virgin historical heroine; I love women who really know what they want.

Then there’s Will Scarlett. The book opens with a moment of clarity on Will’s part: he’s fighting for the bad guys; they've set him up, specifically, for a fall; and he’s about to be hung out to dry-- more or less literally. (Kinda puts the Monday office blahs in perspective, eh?)

A good part of the book is an extended medieval chase scene, with narrow escapes, bloody battles, and double-crosses. Possibly triple-crosses, I think I lost track a couple of times. In terms of an action/adventure story, I could easily see this book adapted for the big screen and it has a modern feel to fight scenes: gritty and realistic. Poor Will really takes a beating, sacrificing his body over and over to protect Meg. Offhand I can’t think of another story where the hero is so physically wounded and just. keeps. coming. (Maybe that part in the first Die Hard where the terrorist dude is hanging from the chains but isn’t really dead? Except of course you WANT him to be dead. Erm. But I digress. Sorry. Although I suspect that John McClane and Will Scarlett would SO be drinking buddies. Sorry again.)

The one thing I disliked about the story is that the author does that keeping-a-secret-from-the-reader thing that you all know I hate. Something not-so-good is up between Robin and Will and we don’t know what it is. For a long time. Set several years after the return of Good King Richard puts an end to the merry band of outlaws and their forest-dwelling adventures, I couldn’t tell if the author was presuming a cultural knowledge of Will Scarlett’s role or not. Now, I’m certainly no expert, but I have read more than a couple versions of the Robin Hood legend:

(those are just the ones I've kept...) and I couldn’t put my finger on anything that could be considered “general knowledge.” Eventually, all is revealed and it’s just one of those plot devices, or maybe “tension devices” would be a better term, that I particularly don’t like. Lofty’s research notes at the end reinforce what I thought: the Will Scarlett character plays many different roles depending on which telling of the tale is underway.

But this secret definitely keeps you wondering about Will and what he might do next. Is he really a good guy? Well, you can make certain assumptions, because it IS a genre romance. But you’ll definitely see some surprising twists and turns as his character develops.

They’re an odd couple, to be sure. Occasionally I doubted the chemistry between them. By the end though, I was convinced. Each brings out the best AND the worst of the other-- they force each other to grow, to confront the fears that hold them back. Each of them has good reason to be stingy with their trust, both in general and specifically with each other, but bit by bit, as they are forced into one extreme situation after another with no one to rely on but each other, trust grows, maturity grows, and love grows.

It's a great adventure and a great romance. Read it.

Some other reviews:

Jackie's Review
Christine's Review (with additional links)
Carrie Lofty Does DIK

Did you review WaSW? Feel free to leave a link in comments!


Julie at Outlandish Dreaming said...

I'm glad to hear you liked this, I just bought it, but haven't read it yet, but it's on my huge TBR list - I'll have to move it up! Thanks for posting this review!

Stacy~ said...

I recently got this book and can't wait to read it. Your review made me even more impatient to read it.

Staci said...

Loved your review!!! I was checking out your sidebar of what you're Kim Harrison and I just finished Pride and Prejudice!!

thanks so much for stopping by my blog the other day!!

Shannon said...

I have not read this yet, but really need to. Carrie is such a sweetheart. It makes me happy to see her debut getting such a glowing reception.


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