(Warning: There are spoilers below the fold!)
Amy: As we had surmised, there was a pretty-wide difference in the things that drew our attention in this book, but your choices surprised me.
Anne: What surprised you? I’m curious.
Amy: The celebrity appearance is not something I noticed, at all–or, not enough to spend any time on that scene. And you spend a lot more time on Rob’s parolee status than I do.
Anne: Ah, well, having read a lot of historical fiction, I got to know a lot of the figures from the period.
Anne: The Duke of Clarence was really a great character: third son of George III, he was totally discounted and disrespected, and sent off to the Navy as a youth.
Anne: As a result, he was much more of a regular guy than the Prince Regent, for instance.
Anne: He wasn’t allowed to marry the love of his life, an actress named Mrs. Jordan, so he lived with her for 20 years.
Anne: Very domestic and they had 10 children.
Anne: He became king at 64, and during his seven year reign the poor law was enacted, slavery was abolished in the Empire, and child labor laws were passed.
Amy: Sounds like an all-round good person. 🙂
Anne: He used to walk around London unaccompanied, and was very popular.
Anne: So, I found him very believable.
Anne: He was a sympathetic, yet mocked, figure, and often forgotten.
Anne: I wasn’t so sure what I thought of the pinned on explanation about the new Lord Thompson’s grudge, though.
Anne: But to discuss that would be a spoiler.
Anne: So, one difference you noted was my commentary on the interplay with the historical figures.
Amy: Let’s look at Lord Thompson for a moment…I didn’t even mention him, other than an en-passant note about not being sure who the villains really were here. You didn’t give him much mention either, yet he was (IMO) as close as the book got to a real villain. Was he, or was it someone else?
Anne: Well, Lord Thompson doesn’t play much of a role in the story except to hold a gun to Rob’s head, figuratively, and serve as an excuse for Ugly Butler’s existence…I actually found Ugly Butler to be a better villain than Thompson, because Thompson was so thin…
Anne: In fact, aside from a few complaints about having to pay thirty pounds a year to Grace, I think Lord Thompson the Younger could have been totally cut from the book without it making any real difference. He was just a mask for the political side of the story.
Anne: We are led to think Ugly Butler is his tool, when the inverse is true.
Amy: I think so too. Every time we saw the Ugly Butler, I could not help thinking of an uglier, bigger Mr. Filch, from Harry Potter.
Anne: Very funny.
Anne: But that brings me to one of the big differences that I noted between our reviews.
Anne: I–as usual–put focus on the storytelling errors and even copyediting mistakes that I found.
Anne: One of them was that I felt the true nature of Ugly Butler was telegraphed far too early.
Anne: Did you notice that or predict the ending?
Anne: Or is that my dramaturg’s eye coming into play, always looking for the clues.
Amy: Oh, I totally didn’t see that one coming.
Anne: See, I knew as soon as we found out his name was Smathers, and letters showed up signed with S.
Anne: It’s interesting, isn’t it?
Amy: It is. I tend to pick out the broader themes and messages, while you find an awful lot of detail that I totally cruise over.
Anne: You also picked up much more on the development of the sensual aspects this time. For me, it was easy to brush over in favor of the mystery aspects, even if I did think they were telegraphed.
Amy: Yeah. I thought their first bedroom scene–which was, in fact, totally chaste–was wonderfully sweet, and very well-done.
Anne: Ha, and I was really impressed with the treatment of his starvation.
Anne: I think one thing we agree on is that it is refreshing to see a period piece that looks at different classes–people who have had more difficult lives and have more obstacles to overcome.
Amy: Absolutely. To me, this book is really about that class difference, told through a love story.
Anne: Yes, Amy, what you just said is exactly what made the book work: the class difference, which fate and fortune had begun to wipe away, and the characters’ gradual ability to overcome the lingering class system to see a more egalitarian, shared future.
Anne: It also struck me as an unusually generous book.
Anne: Very many of the characters do what they do out of selflessness… Certainly Rob gives Grace all he owns in the world, and she nurses him back to health and worries over him for a rather paltry sum–considering that it is a 24 hour job.
Anne: Rob saves a hungry boy from losing his penny . . . the townspeople risk their lives for an outsider . . . Ugly Butler spends months standing in the rain and cold . . .
Anne: The Duke of Clarence–who doesn’t need to take an interest in a nobody like Grace–does so.
Anne: Over and over, the characters seemed motivated by their better selves. Excluding, of course, the Big Bads, such as they were.
Amy: You know, I think you’re right; I hadn’t noticed just how much of that there was in this story…but yeah.
Anne: Many regencies pit a virtuous woman (either strong or weak) against a bad man, and try to find a way to make it work. But in this book, most of the people we encounter are moral and decent, and ready to accept even an American parolee.
Amy: I think–perhaps unusually for this particular genre–it’s an illustration that most of us do, in fact, have a better self.
Anne: There is no “reformation” story here.
Anne: More like “rebirth.”
Anne: Perhaps that’s why Rob must emerge from Dartmoor. Twice.
Anne: So . . . what else would you like to discuss?
Anne: Have I renewed your interest in period romances? 🙂
Amy: Oh, absolutely! I’ll be watching for more of these!
Anne: I think there must be more of them. It is, I suspect, reflecting our changing culture.
Anne: Although the desire of the reader like me (to revisit the same period, to meet the same historical “guest stars”) remain similar, audiences want more mature characters and stories.
Amy: yeah! This was a really new book–if we contrast this with older period pieces, I think we’ll see that shift in our own society being shown a bit. There’s a bit of the same thing in the contemporary-set stories, as well.
Anne: Of course, since the book you have selected is very new, I won’t have anything to compare it to. You, at least, have Georgette Heyer. But I don’t think I have ever read a contemporary romance, aside from the Nocturnes I’ve reviewed.
Anne: What were your ratings for Marriage of Mercy?
Amy: I gave it “Great Story/Wicked/Sexual”. Very similar.
Anne: And I gave it “Good Story/Wicked/Sexual”.
Anne: So, actually, we are very similar.
Anne: I think the difference in the story rating stems from the fact that you focused on the character/theme, and I picked up on more of the gaffes in the writing/editing, plus I was more attuned to the Gothic elements (the mystery) and dinged the book for giving away too much, too soon.
Anne: For me, the early reveal of Ugly Butler’s identity meant the rest of the book sagged a bit.
Amy: To finish up, any last remarks?
Anne: You first?
Amy: I really enjoyed this book. It’s given me a new shot at period stories, and I’m glad you picked it!
Anne: I also enjoyed the book very much, though I wish that Harlequin had given it a more appropriate title and description! Nevertheless, it was a fortunate pick–the story we got was better than the story the cover promised.
Anne: It is also a relief to see that our evaluations of the book–at the very least, in terms of numbers, were so similar.
Anne: Would you have picked different tropes than I did?
Amy: I might pick “Unwelcome Guest” in there somewhere, since, at first, he is. But a lot of the same ones are on my list.
Anne: Then it seems that we are on the same page, at least in terms of recently published period pieces.
Anne: I look forward to finding out what our evaluations are of contemporary romances.
Anne: Will they be as in accord?
Anne: So, does that do it for us? 🙂
Amy: Yep! Thanks for taking the time to do this!