Wow! It’s been a whole, what, 24 hours since we last spoke! Nevertheless, I’m back and rarin’ to go. I have spent a quiet week so far in the darkest jungles of Appalachia. My hubby even fired up the grill yesterday and scorched some dead animal flesh. Delicious stuff, and he got it all done and dusted before the rains hit. Best of all, we pulled onions in the garden. You know what that means? Onion pancakes for lunch! Yay!
In the meantime, a quick housekeeping note before we move on to today’s rant. Being techno-challenged, it took me a while to notice that my email addy is acting funny, and I’m not receiving emails like I should. So if you’ve written me and I haven’t answered, it’s not that I was ignoring you; it’s that my email hates me. I messaged Elder Son to see if he can help me get set up elsewhere. Until then, message me in the comments and I’ll keep them private. As soon as I get set up on a new email (waiting for help from Eldest Son), I’ll post it here and on Twitter, so keep an eye out.
Okay, enough housekeeping. On to the subject at hand. On the ride back home from Vandalia, I read Nefertiti’s Heart by A.W. Exley. The back cover describes it as “a steampunk adventure with a serial killer, romance, and a few broken hearts.” God, I hate giving bad reviews so so much. But I have to say that this book fails on every point. It’s steampunk only in the most marginal sense, the romance leaves me cold, and “broken hearts” is a very low play on words.
Okay, the basic plot. It’s 1861, and we have Cara Devon, a “curious and impetuous” estranged daughter of a famous collector of antiquities. She ran away from home at a young age (14 years old is implied, but I wasn’t clear on that) because of a terrible event (her father basically sold her to a rapist, then beat her half to death when she fled the marriage). Now he’s dead, and she’s come back to sell off his fabulous collection. Meanwhile, a serial killer is stalking the daughters of aristocrats, and murdering them in a very odd manner: he’s stabbing keys through their hearts. Yeah, that’s what I thought, too. Cara makes a connection between the killer’s modus operandi and an artifact in the collection: Nefertiti’s heart, a fist sized diamond (how is beyond me; the connection is tenuous at best). So she starts investigating. During this “investigation,” she comes across Viscount Nathaniel “Nate” Lyons, minor noble, crime boss, pirate and leader of pirates, you name it. Oh, by the way, he’s dead sexy, and he’s got the hots for Cara. Between the bouts of heavy breathing and coy flirting, the two of them manage to figure out who the serial killer is before the Queen’s Enforcers can do it.
Oh, gosh, where to start with all the wrong of this? Okay, start at the beginning. I feel like I was sold a pig in a poke. The title and blurb implied that the story was going to be an adventure, like Indiana Jones, trying to find this artifact before the bad guys do. What I got was a very spicy romance with a little suspense story running parallel. I don’t like romance. Yeah, I know, I’m a girl, I’m supposed to love that junk. But I just don’t. I’ll take Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade over Pretty Woman any day of the week. If I had known this story was this romance-heavy, I wouldn’t have bought it. The book is called “artifact hunters,” but they never really do this, beyond talking about it and occasionally reading a text).
Next. It’s called a Steampunk story. I’m not sure what it was, but this was not steampunk. Oh, it had the trappings. It had dirigibles and steam powered vehicles and clockworks here and there. But steampunk is about more than just the props. It’s about a juxtaposition of modern thought and action against the structure and attitudes of the Victorian world. This juxtaposition never happened. Crap. This is hard to explain. Okay, let me give you a for instance. At one point Cara goes to a fancy ball in London. She decides to flaunt societal expectations (that this is a rebellious act is quite clearly stated), and wear what a modern reader would recognize as a slinky evening gown. Fine, whatever. Except that she wears the dress to the party and nobody notices. There’s not a word is said, no ladies whispering behind fans, none of the men (except the love interest) ogle her, whatever. it’s as though she were just like everybody else.
It’s a small thing, I know. But the whole book is like this. Everything is just a little bit off, none of the attitudes are there. It’s like it’s the normal everyday world, only with Steampunk props added. The props don’t even figure into the story, not in the least. The male lead arrived once in a dirigible, but beyond that, nothing much. It made it difficult to fall into the world, to feel that I was in a different place and time. Am I making any sense at all?
Next: Nathaniel Lyons. Meh. Maybe it’s because I don’t read enough of these romances to know the tropes. But I am utterly bored by the romantic lead in this story. We’re told he’s a dangerous dude, a pirate, feared and respected by society, blah blah blah. We never see any of it. And as for being feared and respected, which one is it? Nobody seems to take any notice of him. It’s like I said before, the reactions of the populace was modern, not Victorian, not even faux Victorian. Same here. He wasn’t sexy, he was pushy. Not a turn on.
That brings us to Cara. Oh, Lord, where do I start? Okay, first: rape as character background has been done to death. I’m not saying you can’t ever use it, because, when well written, it’s very effective. However, you have to write it well; dazzle me. Cara didn’t dazzle me. She was written as angry and bitter and so averse to touch that she wouldn’t even shake hands. But she was willing to spill every grim detail on her second meeting with the male lead, a character she said several times that she didn’t like and she didn’t trust. Hello? Did I miss something here? Moreover, it’s like the third meeting when she suddenly lets him into her knickers (which they didn’t have silky panties back then, they had things like bloomers or drawers, which reached almost to the knees; do you research!). This chick won’t let another woman shake her hand, but she’ll let this self-admitted scoundrel cut her underthings off with a knife. After that, the two of them are going at it like bunnies; a girl with serious intimacy issues, probably PTSD, and she’s a suddenly a maniac in bed?
And because it needs to be said: Sex in a tree? Really? REALLY?
Finally (i have to get to a “finally” or it’s gonna be midnight before I finish this post). The plot. Yes, I’m a little annoyed they promised me an adventure, and I get a soap opera. But I’m a big girl, I can suck it up and deal. All right, they said Cara has curiosity and impetuosity. They say it, but I never see it. Mostly she’s angry and … well, angry. Next, Cara’s supposed to have come back to sell her father’s collection of antiquities. Except there’s no collection. There’s a lot of talk about a collection, but you never see it, Cara never sees it, nobody sees it, because, if it exists at all, he’s scattered the pieces to the four winds. “Scattered to the four winds” is kind of the opposite of a “collection,” no?
I saw the solution to who the serial killer was about half an hour before the story did, and immediately saw exactly how the last third of the book was gonna play out. You’ve seen one Lifetime channel movie, you’ve seen them all. The connection between the serial killer and Nefertiti’s Heart sorta worked; at least I was willing to let it slide. I’ll give the writer credit for being a little creative with our killer’s methods, at least. Suitably gruesome and weird and horribly appropriate. Last: in the very last scene, there was an implication that the Heart had some sort of mystical power. No, not an implication, an outright statement. Okay, if you’d started out by saying mystical things were possible, regardless of how rare, I’d be willing to roll with it. To say it’s possible, and then they laugh it off publicly while entertaining the though privately, I’d roll with that. But to never once utter a single sound about it through the entire book and then suddenly come out with “Oh, you and I both bled on it and now we’re bound together by its mystical power” in the last pages? Cheat cheat cheat! That’s not how these things are done. I wish there was a word as good as “deus ex machina” for these sorts of situations.
And then again, I could be completely wrong. I was so disappointed that I bought an adventure novel and got a smutty romance, that may have biased my opinion. But I just was not happy.
Okay, I’m sure there was more I wanted to say, but I’ve been picking at this blog post all day, it’s after ten thirty and I’m no longer coherent. So I’ll leave off here. You know the drill. I’ll get back to you on the email thing ASAP. In the meantime, I’ll be back on Friday, and I expect y’all to be good while I’m gone. And if you can’t be good, don’t get caught!