Monday, June 16, 2008

Laughter Reviews #18 - Keeper

Time for another review with the focus: funny or not?

Loretta Chase

Brilliant linguist teams up with disgraced aristocrat to rescue abducted brother among pyramids.

What Works
Just about everything. Daphne starts out with a triple handicap including her status as highly sheltered young woman, scholar who must use her brother as a front and feign constant ignorance due to lack of acceptance of female academic expertise, and with low self-esteem due to being systematically undermined by her late, much older husband. Her re-education starts with a bang almost from page 1, when her brother is kidnapped and she must not only figure out how to negotiate the foreign world of Egypt and the stifling world of British societal structures on her own but set out in her brother's pursuit while staying a step ahead of antiquities thieves, unwelcome admirers, poisonous snakes...

Such a unique and appealling heroine needs an equally unique hero. Sent to Egypt as a last resort by a father who effortlessly directs decisionmaking of the British nation but is at wit's end about what to do with his hellion son, we first meet Rupert as he observes Egyptian soldiers tormenting a defenceless local citizen. Rupert's assessment of the unsportsmanlike odds is enough to merrily fling himself into the melee, leading to a spell in chains in a dungeon. It is here that the two encounter one another, in what is arguably one of the funniest and unique first meetings between characters destined to be a couple.

"...’That man is an idiot.’
'Yes, madam, but he’s all we’ve got’ said Beechey.
‘I may be stupid,’ Rupert said, ‘but I’m irresistibly attractive.’
‘Good grief, conceited too’ she muttered.
‘And being a great, dumb ox’ he went on, ‘I’m wonderfully easy to manage.’
‘He’s cheerful, madam’ Beechey said, ‘Is it not remarkable how he’s kept up his spirits in this vile place?’
Obligingly, Rupert began to whistle.
‘Obviously he doesn’t know any better,’ she said."

The gradual flowering of Daphne and Rupert's relationship in the quiet moments between desert jaunts, target practice, donkey communication, Daphne teaching Rupert Arabic, assasination attempts, pyramid secret tunnels etc. etc. is a joy to behold. Rupert treats Daphne as a person of intelligence as well as a desirable woman, ultmately leading to her acceptance that she is not unnatural. Daphne expects Rupert to be sensitive to and respectful of the people and culture around him, leading Rupert (who due to size and propensity to 'break heads', has always been labelled the dumb ox he describes himself) to exercise his insight, consideration, and leadership qualities. From the moment they meet, there is never any question they'll end up together; how they get to their happily-ever-after through a maze of whizzing bullets, hieroglyphs and rope ladders is a huge amount of fun.

What Doesn't
The lurid cover.

Apprentice Writer would never have thought that Egypt could be as appealling as in Elizabeth Peters' wonderful "Peabody" series. But Daphne and Rupert are neck and neck with Amelia and Emerson in charm, smarts, chemistry, and derring-do.

She will admit to being a little worried about how the British/Egyptian interaction would be handled, partly (as regular Gentle Readers know) because Apprentice Writer is somewhat sensitive about this issue in general, partly because of wording in a previous work by this author. Lord of Scoundrels is rightfully considered by many a masterpiece of this genre. Apprentice Writer enjoyed the humorous interactions between hero and heroine very much (the way the shooting incident plays out is peerless), but due to emotional neglect/abuse during his childhood, the hero experiences frequent doubts about his worthiness, including a feeling he shouldn't lay his "...blackamoor hands" on his wife's fair skin (he is of English/Italian descent). The components making up the hero's distorted self-image and how these are brought into healing reallignment are complex and should in fairness not be reduced to this one phrase; but even so, having the hero link his feeling of unworthiness with darker skintone tore this reader unhappily out of the story.

To Apprentice Writer's relief, there were no such jarring word choices in 'Mr. Impossible'. There was a moment when it seemed matters might be skating close to the edge of paternalistic views, in a scene where Rupert declares to a bemused Daphne that he needs to take certain actions in regard to two servants because he is '...the father'. But the Egyptians in question are in fact minors, and for Rupert to take action on their behalf in the absence of parents of their own is a positive thing. Other characters the hero and heroine encounter all seem to be judged by their own merits and flaws rather than sweeping generalizations.

"Mr. Impossible" actually contains more dramatic than comedic moments, but the quality of the funny bits is so good that they stuck in this reader's mind long after the book was closed. This story has a place of honor on Apprentic Writer's Keeper Shelf.

It also raises high hopes for the author's most recent release,
Your Scandolous Ways,
on shelves now. Apprentice Writer is one chapter in, and so far, the buzz of '1800's James Bond in Venice' is justified and delicious.


Carrie Lofty said...

Loved it. One of my faves. But the cover wouldn't be so bad if it wasn't PINK. The sequel's cover, Benedict's story, is much worse.

Abby said...

I'm with you on everything but the cover. I thought it was sexy!

Love, love this book.

You have to admit the "blackamoor" comment would have been in period, though if historical romance writers stayed strictly in period with all their attitudes, we'd all be too disgusted to read past page 3.

M. said...

carrie - yes, the metallic magenta was a big factor in my 'lurid cover' slam. the other one is the headlessness of the male figure, and how he pretty much leaves no alternative for onlookers but to evaluate his goods.
so far, the re-issured titles seem to have more attractive (or at least, less heinous) covers than the original releases - i'm hoping rupert will get a better cover on his next print run.

M. said...

abby - well, there you go. proof that art is in the eye of the beholder.

and ref the blackamoor phrasing - i did, at the time of immediate emotional reaction, rationalized exactly in this way to myself (i.e. to the average british person of that age, french people were usually considered wildly different, let alone italians, let alone actual moors) but it just recalled miscegenation history in various places so strongly that it will always be one of the things i associate most with that book. each reader is a unique accumulations of mental baggage, i guess, and this part of this book must have touched on mine.

Ana said...

Oh I love this book! and the UK cover is awesome.

Your Scandalous Ways is really really good.

Your just commented on how we are cousins or something *twilight zone* - it's true, because this Thursday we begin a Loretta Chase event, with review of Your Scandalous Ways, interview with Loretta and giveaway! ; )

Wylie Kinson said...

Yet another book gets added to my TBR ;)

I've never read Loretta Chase. I look forward to it!

M. said...

hey! it's ana from 'the book smugglers'! welcome! and wow, loretta chase has really been making the rounds in blogland. kudos to you, a relatively young grog, for scoring such an impressive interviewee!

M. said...

wylie - this book was my first introduction to this author and i haven't looked back since. glommed almost all the backlist, and had a brief but heady email exchange with her (due to winning an autographed book) that impressed me once again with her wit and class and pretty much left me a fangirlpuddle on the floor.

Ana said...

M, I find that most writers, even the well stablished ones are huge sweethearts - points to Carrie Lofty above!

Loretta is awesome.

Thea said...

Wonderful review M. :) Seriously...there's some weird Twilight Zone shiz going on with these simultaneous post ideas *looks around suspiciously for Rod Serling*

I've only read two Loretta Chase books, and this is one of them. While I do love LoS, Mr. Impossible was a laugh out loud, incredibly fun read. (Oh, and another creepy coincidence, I just picked up Crocodile on the Sandbank--very much looking forward to it now with your rec!)

I have to agree with you on the cover though. My bf teased me mercilessly while I was trying to read this one. Why is Rupert doing the Captain Morgan pose? And the screeching pink...such a strange color choice.

M. said...

not just ana, but thea as well! welcome! apparently the 'book smugglers' like to travel in pairs! *g*

thea, you might like to try 'miss wonderful' in the carsington brothers series by loretta chase as well - it is very good, but i read it after 'mr. impossible' and rupert's place in my heart remained secure. but his elder brother Allistair's story contains one scene that plays with a historical heroine stereotype in such a funny way that it's worth reading for that alone (you'll know it when you get there).

glad you liked the 'crocodile on the sandbank' review - elizabeth peters also has a very enjoyable contemporary series built on the heroine vicky bliss. she is a six-foot blond Amazon who colletcts ph.d's

M. said...

A high percentage of Apprentice Writer's family members are glued to the TV today, by turn is agony and ecstasy on the whim of a soccer ball. The Eurocup 2008 quarterfinals continue, with ludicrously fit, passionate men filling up the screen in a dozen camera angles including straight-from-the-top, UFO view) being ludicrously fit and passionate.

The crowds in the stands are somewhat less fit but no less passionate. Or colorful, for that matter, since having a costume/wig/chest coloration lively enough to warrant notice by the cameras can liven up a long, long game.

Makes AW wonder: any fiction out there with soccer as a backdrop? She herself knows of none, whereas American style football makes an appearance in many a contemporary novel.

Gentle Readers,what say you? Do you know of such a book, or any other that features a different type of sport?

(Apprentice Writer considers pondering on this subject sufficent exercise for the day).