Monday, November 21, 2016

Fiction | Falling for a Dead Man

As I've been reading broadly for the past two years for the (2015) Book Riot Read Harder Challenge, I've had to tackle some genres that I read rarely, if ever. That is, after all, the whole point of such a challenge—to read outside your comfort zone! One of my remaining categories has been the "romance novel," not because I have anything against romance novels but rather because I had a hard time deciding which sub-genre I wanted to read. Historical? Chick-lit? Do I look for personal plot appeal or go for a true classic of the genre?

I opted for the classic—something that is, according to pop culture & literature, truly representative of the romance genre. Having shelved books for years at the public library, I'm familiar with names, so I picked one from the depths of my memory - Jude Deveraux - and consulted Goodreads for what is considered her pinnacle work.

And that's how I got to A Knight in Shining Armor, Deveraux's 1989 bestseller that tells the story of the lovelorn Dougless Montgomery.

Our heroine is vacationing in England on what was supposed to be a romantic getaway with her surgeon boyfriend, Robert. Forever failing at love, Dougless has convinced herself that he's a good catch, worthy of her love, though it is painfully clear to us, the reader, that Robert is entirely the wrong guy; he is manipulative, controlling, patronizing—so much so that the romantic vacation, during which Dougless was hoping for a marriage proposal, has unexpectedly turned into a family one that includes Robert's brat of a teenager daughter. Any sense of romance dies swiftly when, after a nonsensical argument, Robert jilts and abandons Dougless at a rural church where she's left wallowing in yet another romantic failure, praying for a knight in shining armor to save her from the despair.

Imagine the surprise when a handsome man suddenly, miraculously appears and introduces himself as Nicholas Stafford, Earl of Thornwyck, the very name on the statue against which Dougless shed her plentiful tears. (Naturally; this is a romance!)

It's questionable who is more confused in this scenario—Dougless, whose heartbreak and frustration turn her romantic sensibilities into practical ones, assuming there's a perfectly rational explanation for this strange man suddenly appearing and claiming to be an Earl who died in the 16th century; or Nicholas, a man who heard a desperate plea for help and now finds himself in an unfamiliar world that is centuries more modern than his own.

Dougless learns of Nicholas' tragic backstory—one involving betrayal, treason, and premature death—as she helps this 16th-century earl navigate the 20th-century world. Naturally, she figures out that this impossible man is exactly who she has been praying for, and the two are inexplicably drawn together by forces that defy logical explanation and are more powerful than either can comprehend. Deveraux isn't easy on either of her main characters, forcing each of them into the time period opposite their own to continue the story and learn more of the puzzle surrounding Nicholas' sudden appearance and his tragic future. This juxtaposition of time ultimately highlights the depth of these two characters—their strengths and weaknesses. At the novel's opening, I very much found Dougless to be a major pushover but with pluck hidden somewhere underneath. As the story evolves, though, so does her character as circumstance demands a more bold, independent woman. (Though, I mean, she could still use a lot of work on the feminist front.)

So what we've got here is not only a love story but a time-traveling one—and I love time travel stories! In terms of the steamy scenes, this is definitely a romance low on that spectrum, so though yes, it's totally a romance, it feels more like an adventure based around a love story. Super fun to breeze through.

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