Monday, June 11, 2012

Review: Ridiculous by D.L. Carter (2 stars, traditional)

Full Description: Amazon

Rating: 2 out of 5

Thoughts After Reading:
D.L. Carter's Ridiculous contained a wealth of surprises for me, both good and bad. The reviews, title, and cover led me to the assumption that it was a lighthearted romp, chock full of hilarity. But that wasn't correct at all - not directly, in any case. There's definitely a gentle thread of humor, but the overall feel of the book was a straight-laced, unusually long traditional regency (with a few love scenes thrown in later on). It's the character of the heroine that tends toward the absurd, as she takes on the disguise of a male fribble. The characterizations and dialogue were particularly excellent, and I was ready to give it high marks... until the last 25% or so of the book.

Any summarization of the heroine's character will be woefully inadequate, but I'm going to try anyway. True to the book's description, the heroine dons the masquerade of her newly deceased cousin. Faced with going back to the poorhouse or becoming unpaid servants to a relative (again) it's an easy choice to help her family as much as she can. She adopts the disguise for an extensive period of time, with the book occasionally skipping weeks or months at a time. The heroine's adventures really begin she begins to tour the estates, and she makes the acquaintance of the hero - a duke - and his sister. The truly remarkable thing about the heroine is the personality she adapts to in pretending to be a man. "He" is essentially a court jester, someone who always has a witty comeback or self-deprecating humor to defuse the situation. The character the heroine becomes is - in effect - extremely charming, but in a very foppish manner. As with any good traditional, the plot is considerable with a wide ensemble of supporting characters: the heroine's dramatic mother, the heroine's younger sisters, the hero's shy sister, the hero's extremely strict grandmother, and various notable servants. The heroine gets very involved with the hero's family as the story goes on, and becomes very good friends with both the hero and his sister. The relationship starts out complicated because the heroine quickly develops a tendre for the hero that she must hide (for obvious reasons). Things get more complicated when rumors circulate the heroine's character is gay, and even more convoluted when the hero discovers the truth.

The absolute worst thing a romance book can do is leave me depressed and angry with the characters. And I hate to say it, but that's exactly where Ridiculous's plot led me. I knew "the reveal" was going to be complicated, what with the heroine pretending to be a man and all, but the plot action that resulted felt like a grotesque twist on a typical resolution. The heroine finds out the hero is going to take a mistress, so she ends up dressing up as a woman and trying to secretly step into the role (no surprise there). When the hero realizes who she is, she also confesses her love for him. And the first thing he says when he finds out his closest friend is also the attractive woman in his bed: "You love me? Well that's swell, because I think I'm currently attracted to you... so let's start having sex. Maybe we'll even have secret trysts all summer long. But you should really stop your masquerade - even if it is helping your family, it makes it harder for me to meet with you to have more sex." I'm paraphrasing, obviously, but the hero's reaction seemed one part inane and two parts asshole. The heroine is no better, acting as a complete doormat. After another chunk of the plot, the hero eventually has the epiphany that he loves the heroine... which will make it that much easier for him to keep her as a mistress. It's only after another chunk of the book, when a resolution is forced that the hero realizes maybe he should go ahead and offer marriage. I'm really not doing the best job of explaining it, but basically I lost all respect for the two protagonists when the story tries to transition to a romantic relationship towards the end of the book.

I wish I could make some silly pun regarding the title of D.L. Carter's Ridiculous, but that wouldn't be fair. The book wasn't ridiculous. The characters and much of the plot were written in an entertaining and thoroughly impressive style. The novel is also intended as a romance, however, and in that category fails spectacularly. The occasionally angst on the part of the heroine was unenjoyable, and the forced conflict and resolution towards the end was horrible on so many levels. The overall result is a book I wish I had never read.

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