Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Virgin Widow by Lillith Payne

TITLE: The Virgin Widow
AUTHOR: Lillith Payne
PUBLISHER: Forbidden Publications
LENGTH: Novella (roughly 28k)
GENRE: Historical romance
COST: $3.99

When she is forced to marry the Duke of Trahorn, thrice-widowed Serena settles herself into making the best of an awkward situation. Due to his physical limitations, he claims to only seek companionship and a wife to run his keep. What he gets is a loyal partner who refuses to show weakness, even when it’s obvious some people would prefer her gone…

From the very first sentence, there’s an odd disconnect with this story. The blurb and sales page note The Virgin Widow is a historical, and yet, this is the first taste of the world the author wants us to disappear into: “If a tree fell in the forest and there was nobody around to hear it, would you still bitch?” There is no date or place notation at the top of the chapter, and nothing for pages upon pages to suggest when or where this might be taking place. I was thrust immediately into a more contemporary mindset, especially since I can’t find any indication that the word “bitch” was used as a verb prior to the early 20th century (the OED's first indication is 1930). As a noun for a lewd or immoral woman? Sure, that goes back to 1400, possibly even before. But this sense of anachronistic writing prevails throughout the entire story. There are mentions of British places to finally give me a location of where everything is transpiring, but it wasn’t until mention of Henrietta Maria, nearly two-thirds of the way through, that gave me a sense of when. Since she’s married to King Charles, I have to assume the author means Charles I, which would place the events somewhere in the first half of the 1600s. But this lack of attention to period detail marks the prose from beginning to end.

It doesn’t help that the writing itself is weak. Headhopping is the norm, and there are multiple instances of incorrect word usage (apparently, Serena has a “taught nipple;” it makes me wonder what it knows). What really works against it is the author’s inclination to tell not show. Huge blocks of story are glossed over in vague exposition, sections that would be emotionally relevant to show. For instance, in a pivotal scene with Fiona, the woman furious at Serena’s attempts to actually be a real wife to Zane, instead of getting to see the crux of the scene for ourselves, we get this:

He made it clear to everyone in the room and anyone who might be within listening distance from the kitchen, he'd not tolerate her behavior any longer, and suggested it was time for her to be heading back to her own husband and keep. In fact, he'd made sure her carriage would be ready at first light and had Hilda send up several maids to pack for her. Her fair skin went still paler, then flushed a deep red, her anger welling up and spewing from her lips.

I didn’t want to hear that it happened. I wanted to see it. I needed to see it, after everything Fiona had done and said. Yet, that emotional satisfaction was denied me by the constant distant summaries.

It wouldn’t have bothered me as much as it did if this was a story I could completely write off. Because I can’t. As characters, Serena and Zane were both likeable and engaging, and their interactions with each other charming. I wanted more for them, more from them, and didn’t get it because of the way the rest of the story elements failed to work for me. Serena is smart and heartwarming, while Zane has a melancholy reticence that made me want to give him everything he wanted. Other characters are just as sharply drawn; the fact that I responded so strongly to Fiona is proof of that. They deserve to have the entire story told, not just the sporadic sections we’re offered. I would have even settled for simply fleshing out those scenes that got summarized instead of expounded.


4/10 – Headhopping, telling vs showing, incorrect word usage…there’s a lot of sloppy writing that holds back enjoyable characters


6/10 – Likeable though enigmatic, he needs more backstory in order to really have any sort of impact


7/10 – Smart without being too smart, spunky without being annoying

Entertainment value

4/10 – This has the potential of a really good story, if only all the technical stuff didn’t hold it back.

World building

3/10 – Until mention of Henrietta Maria came, this could have really been anywhere, anywhen



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