Beth’s Guest Bitchery

Dear Gaelan Foley:

I get it. Really, I finally do! The first time I read Lord of Fire, I was in danger of injuring delicate ocular muscles, what with all the eye-rolling going on. I was bored out of my skull and irritated beyond belief and constantly bellowing at the book oh, puh-LEEEEEEZ. I regaled my friends with tales of its unsurpassable crappiness—until I read Lord of Ice, that is, and I began to get an inkling of what it is you’re about.

But now that I’ve read LoF again—well, skimmed because (wink, wink) we both know it’s not really for reading, don’t we?—all these years later, the scales have fallen from mine eyes. It’s like The Matrix and you just gotta BE the spoon, man. I’m well on my way to becoming Neo, and it’s all thanks to you. Seven dollars well spent, I must say.

See, I—naïve and silly reader that I am—have been demanding quality of my romance novels. But what the hell makes me think that when I sit down to read a book called Lord of Fire, I’m going to get anything other than time-worn clichés, cardboard characters, and a plot – not just the prose, mind you, but the actual plot – that’s a study in aubergine? Sure, I thought that an author who wins awards and is praised as someone who pushes the boundaries of Romance, a “fresh new voice” in the genre, oh the talent, oh the brilliance and excellence and it’s like fine wine—wait, where was I? Oh yeah, here I was thinking you’d be different. And better. And, like, worth reading.

Dude, I KNOW how harsh that sounds. But my point is – I get it now. See, I shoulda known when you named your hero Lucien that he’d be “tortured” in name only. I should’ve known that this was all one big joke from the moment that Alice – our innocent and proper young thing who, for the sake of a nephew who has chicken pox (and how many times did I yell at the book: “dude, it’s JUST CHICKEN POX”, huh? Brill! You had me right in the palm of your hand!) hares off across the country to fetch her slutball of a sister-in-law at the secret underground grotto where Lucien holds ceremonial-esque orgies for the sake of gathering information about … something. I dunno, you were never all that specific on how any of this helped The Cause, but I gotta give you props for invoking (in my mind, at least) that too-forgotten Hanks/Akroyd remake of Dragnet and the secret cult known as P.A.G.A.N.

(Ya know – People Against Goodness And Niceness? Headed by Christopher Plummer? And they needed a virgin to sacrifice on the altar so they kidnapped the virgin Connie Swail? Man, that movie slayed me when I was 15.)

But see, I’m even dumber than that. I should’ve have understood that there would be a hidden subtext in all your writings before I even bought the book, because it’s right there on the cover. And incidentally, I think it’s really really cruel not to give readers the real key to enjoying this novel, right at the outset. Okay, I’ll give it to em now. No one should miss out.

See, the outside cover? WAY classy.

But there it is, on the inside cover

The packaging itself is the key to unlocking the hidden meaning of the Lord of Fire! And for those of you who don’t really care for that post-modern jazzing around about literature, it’s just plain ole funny! Like the visual punchline, see. Let me give a practical demonstration of how I read this book, and you’ll understand:

Read page 2: He took another sip of wine, his silvery eyes gleaming with mayhem.

Then flip to the front

Recover from laughter, then read page 48: He pulled back his hood, unveiling a face of burning, satanic, male beauty…. No wonder they called him Lucifer, she thought. He was made for temptation.

Then flip to the front: Him!!

Ow… my side. This novel should come with a warning, I tells ye. I coulda ruptured something. So anyway, somewhere along about the time that the heroine mentions that she dabbles in watercolors and Lucien’s inward response is: An artist. Of course. Those beautiful hands. That penetrating gaze. The seething passion under her cool, demure surface…—and I started, in my exasperated fashion, to write in the margin: “Dude, they’re JUST WATERCOLORS”—that’s when I started to get it.

It’s all a big joke.

You get how bad it is. You MEANT for it to be this bad. You’ve gone beyond the purple, Ms. Foley, and for that – I salute you!

I mean, here so very MANY writers are working so hard and slaving to churn out something of real quality. Something that really SAYS something. And here so many readers are, looking and hoping and wistfully wondering if maybe this Romance novel will be the one to really speak to their hearts about love in a new way. We sit back and fork over our earnings, hope doled out in increments of $6.99 (Canada: $9.99), only to have those hopes dashed time and time again on the hard and jagged rocks of yet another boring motherfucking cliché that I read back when I was thirteen. (Note: performative statement.)

But you’re right, Gaelen. You don’t mind if I call you Gaelen, do you? And you don’t mind if I break the fourth wall here for a second and admit that I’m beating up on you just because your oeuvre had the misfortune to be sitting at the top of a pile of steaming horseshit? (And by horseshit, I mean about a dozen other acclaimed romance novels.)

No? Great, then I’ll just continue, confident that you understand this is nothing personal.

So as I was saying, Gaelen, you’re TOTALLY right. It’s not about good writing or bad writing. Heck – if it was, could you get away with writing about the “teeming wetness” at the “core of her womanhood” and her “nub”? (Gads, I whooped out loud at that one.) And those are among the least offensive examples, of course. I spent a good five minutes staring at the sentence “The silence was almost holy with their love,” and trying to figure out if that was truly meant to be, like, moving or touching or something.

It’s not about writing realistic characters and keeping staying true to those characters. I mean, if it were about that, then the sensible and “not particularly bold” Alice wouldn’t agree to stay in the house of an orgy-throwing manipulator of satanic proportions who outright says he wants her there so he can seduce her—not without excellent motivations, because she has an awful lot to lose. See, that tortured soul of a hero (the dastardly rogue!) forces her to choose which woman
will be his prisoner for a week: will Alice sacrifice herself or will the poor widdle nephew’s debauched and unfeeling and always-absent mama – who’s been screwing Lucien for weeks and loving every hot inch of it – stay with him and get fucked? Alice chooses to ruin herself, the dumbass, and why? Just so that her nephew (WHO HAS THE FUCKIN’ CHICKEN POX, I MEAN YOU COULDA GIVEN HIM A FEVER OR SOMETHING, LOOK HOW SHOUTY I AM!!!) can have his mother-in-name-only at his side, even though this mother is the kinda woman who says to Lord Lucifer (in his “secret headquarters” [oh, and you described it thusly, too! what artistry!] overlooking the orgy) that she’s been “coming her brains out” at his little soirée. Yeah, let’s send her home to tend the poxy toddler. That Alice sure does care.

I also learned that it’s certainly not about an even half-way decent narrative voice. I mean, why on earth should I, the reader, have to do any thinking at all? Why should I have to rely on the author to build sexual tension and emotional intensity? Why should have to wait to see these characters’ deepest emotional needs and scars revealed in the due course of their life-changing relationship, when I could just have it spelled out for me? Repeatedly. As in: “His only hope of saving his soul was to put aside all his powers of seduction and manipulation and to reach out from the deepest , truest—and most vulnerable—part of himself.” Page 200. Not that one should shoot ever one’s wad so indiscreetly, but one certainly shouldn’t do so at like page 200.

And just a note (because I’m a prose whore, sorry) that you may want to keep in mind, as an experiment maybe? See, when you use that many adjectives and adverbs and exclamation points and you consistently point out at least a few times on every page of the novel, that this or that is Important or Intense or Very Very Meaningful—well, it’s a lot like putting big fat red exclamation points on all your Outlook emails. If they’re all urgent, then none of them are, see.

Anyway, I was thinking it was really about the spirited old-skoolness of it all, what with the (literal) grotto of lovin’, the narcolepsy-inducing spy plot (ps: Claude Bardou and Rollo Green? EXCELLENT cheesy spy names!), and the crapulent “only you can heal my wounds” dialogue. Plus, it’s just so totally reminiscent of like a pirate novel – ooh, he’s so bad, he will take her, she doesn’t want to want him but he stirs something in her, he WILL have her! Yadida yadida – great fun, all of it. So I was all into it. But then when you totally blow it (um, no pun intended) on the nookie—well, I won’t say it didn’t confuse me. I mean, it should be sizzling, in the tradition of old-skoolery, non? But it’s not. He doesn’t rip her bodice. She doesn’t resist. Not even a LITTLE bit. And I won’t pretend, Gaelen—I was way wicked bummed out.

But then I remembered your true purpose: this whole novel is a wink and a nod to the savvy reader. Funny lil secret handshake among those of us who get it. And what is it that we get?

This:  There IS such a thing as good and bad. It’s not just a matter of taste. It’s a matter of fact. It’s not my opinion that Lord of Fire and a good 90+% of Romance is utter shite writing, lazy and tired and sloppy and just plain bad—it’s a fact.

Because this is a bad book – crap characters and a crap story and even crap nookie (um, not kinky nookie involving crap, though, you know what I mean). Sure, some people may like it – and like it a LOT, and are sitting at the monitor, working up a healthy bit of indignation at what a rip-roaring little bitch I am – but having defenders doesn’t make it good writing. Good writing is qualitative, and so is bad writing. And there’s just something about this genre (I dunno, maybe because girls are taught to play nice?) that makes it impossible for reviewers to come right out and say: This is BAD WRITING. You might like it and it’s not wrong to like it, and I don’t think less of you or your intelligence for liking it, and bully for the author who can care so little and sell so much. But the bottom line is that It. Is. Not. Good. It’s not even just sorta-okay. It’s downright bad, so Jesus effing CHRIST, can we all stop pretending that it’s simply not my cuppa? Can we all just say that we WANT good writing instead of being nice about the stuff that other people seem to like, and it’s what’s on offer, so okay apparently it’s “all a matter of taste”?

No, apparently we can’t. The closest we can get to it is agreeing on One Really Bad Author coffConnieMasoncoffcoff and deciding it’s okay to laugh at her. (Insert social commentary here, about the momentum of mediocrity and the tyrrany of egalitarianism, how too-threatening it is to have to recognize definitive excellence and definitive dreck because heaven forbid anyone is better than anyone else in this world. Oh and as long as I’m at it, I’ll quote my friend Paul who says that “some stuff is just better. Platonically. God loves it more.”)

But we can have you, Ms. Foley, to write a book that is so blatantly bad that it proves the point: there is such a thing as Good. And it’s not this. Some novels are the “it’s so bad, it’s good!” kind—and this is that, to the casual reader. But thankfully, I saw the deeper meaning, which is more like: “it’s so bad that it’s bad.” And it’s sadly got so very many friends on the shelves.

Gratefully Yours,
A Reader and Humble Student

And PS: I just really have to thank you, because I just read page 91 again: He was fierce as a tiger, as quick as an adder, and as wily as a fox… And then I flip to the front:

Genius. G.E.N.I.U.S.


Ranty McRant

Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    E.D'Trix says:

    Hmmm…as someone who actually really likes Gaelen Foley (haven’t read her 3 piratey books yet) and really loved The Duke, I can think of a helluva lot of other authors that I would place before Foley on the “raging, psychotic, purple prose, bad author” alert. Just goes to show why there are a variety of books available in the romance genre. Oh well, whatever creams your twinkie! (But I would suggest you lay off the Foley before you rupture something…)

  2. 2
    Nicole says:

    I enjoyed this. Oh I enjoyed this even while I didn’t always agree.  But man, this had to have felt GOOOOD when you wrote it and that shows.  *g*  Now I need to go read The Duke one of these days (my only Foley and it’s unread).

  3. 3
    AngieW says:

    By God, do you know if you don’t type the word right and go back, your entire comment is lost? Dammit!!

    Beth, that was a lovely rant. And rather… heartfelt. And long. Did I mention long? It’s clear you feel strongly about the Lords and their eyeballs rolling and deeper meanings of purple prose. But now, it’s time for you to have a glass of wine (or two or three) and hide that book far far away before you injure yourself ;)

    Rant on Beth! That was fun!!

  4. 4
    Tommy says:

    Another reason why I love Beth


    I do not know enough people who would invoke bad comedy references.

    BTW, if memory serves correctly,
    PAGAN is “People against goodness and normalcy” not niceness.  which is, in my opinion, infinitely funnier.

    So, go out.  don your goat legs and dance arround.

  5. 5
    Beth says:

    Tom, I think you’re right – It may in fact be “normalcy” which is, indeed, infinitely funnier. I am ashamed to say that I now TOTALLY wanna go out and rent the movie and watch it. In the interests of, um, accuracy.

    And anyway – this is less about Foley and more about the genre (and hey – popular entertainment) as a whole. Foley’s just an excellent example, to me, of how crapulence gets raised to a level of “excellence”, or at least “acceptable”. Too easy to pick on some of the others, ya know? So reading her just sorta sets me off.

    Um, obviously.

  6. 6
    Sarah says:

    I have to say, my favorite part when I read this review was the P.A.G.A.N. reference from Dragnet. That was freaking awesome.

  7. 7
    Jaq says:

    LOL! Beth I had my own wtf reading experience within the last week, so I feel some of your pain. I have several of Ms. Foley’s books on my TBR shelf, that I’ll have to dig out now. Something must be said for a writer who invokes such passion(!). lol

  8. 8
    Jaynie R says:

    Well that’s one author I won’t bother putting on my TBR list lol.  I’ve never read her, but your post was absolutely hilarious.  Thanks for the good laugh.

  9. 9
    arp says:

    “He was fierce as a tiger, as quick as an adder, and as wily as a fox… “

    What’s that commercial?

    “Quick like a gazelle, and strong like a tiger…it’s a gaz-iger…”

  10. 10
    Kristin says:

    Oh, my goodness.  It’s been awhile since I have laughed so much out loud.  I have never read Foley’s books, but now I think I have to!  It sounds so bad, and sometimes it is fun to read crap!

    How did this book ever find a publisher? 

    Keep reviewing!  I am in love with this blog.

  11. 11
    Kim says:

    I really liked Gaelen Foley’s early books (The Princess, Prince Charming, The Duke).  The Duke was especially refreshing b/c the heroine was a courtesan. Of course she was practically “forced” into it out of necessity, but she was a proud courtesan nonetheless.  All around, that book had real depth and emotion and is one of my favorites of any author.

    Yet I bought all of the Lord in… books and still haven’t been able to get through 1.  I don’t know what it is but they bore me after 3 pages.  I don’t know what’s happened to GF.

  12. 12
    Sarah says:

    I haven’t read all of Foley’s books, as Candy just sent me two to experience. I don’t think you read them – they’re like going back in time to the era of flowery over-the-top writing, minus the rape scenes that populated those novels. I enjoyed “The Pirate Prince,” much like one enjoys watching an old movie that used to be a big favorite and now is so old it’s almost camp.

  13. 13
    SandyO says:

    I have to admit, I like Gaelen Foley’s stuff.  Basically for all of the reasons Beth hates it.  It drives her nuts. :)

    I do take full responsibility for being the one who originally gave Beth the link to Smart Bitches.

  14. 14
    sybil says:

    But really beth, how did you like the book?  You can tell us, stop holding back.

    LOL I have read this series because I adored Devil Takes a Bride (which I would guess you would hate) but I don’t remember this book at all from your review.

    I am going to have to reread it now.

    I was feeling bad that the book I finally picked to review is so sucking ass that if I hadn’t decided on it I would skim to the end.  But hell I don’t hate it this much ;).

  15. 15
    Candy says:

    You know what I liked best about this article? That Beth came right out and said yes, there is such a thing as bad writing in romance novels, and it’s OK to like it.

    I think the corrolary to this is that it’s OK to not enjoy good writing, too; for instance, I have never been able to get into Hemingway or James Joyce. I acknowledge that what they did was amazing and groundbreaking and bla bla bla bla bla, but really, I give a big old “meh” all around for those two guys in terms of reading experience.

  16. 16
    Beth says:

    Thanks, Candy. I think I’m just incensed at the lack of any semblance of literary criticism in the genre. Or hell, in modern literature at all. There’s a lamentable focus on style (and one’s like or dislike thereof), to the exclusion of all other elements that make a book good or bad.

    And good heavens, YES it’s okay not to like excellent writing, much less perfectly sound writing. Hemingway puts me to sleep, and I’ve never even bothered to try Joyce because it seems like such a chore.

  17. 17
    LK says:

    Anyone else amused she reviewed Lord of Ice and called it Lord of Fire? It just so happens that I thought LOI was completely stupid for all the reasons you just mentioned, but it does not lend credibility to your rant when you can’t even get the name of the book right (and especially when the book, Lord of Fire, actually exists…).

  18. 18
    LK says:

    Ahhh…I see now. Sorry, got confused with the Lord references at the beginning. Still agree with the motivation being totally retarded, though, no matter what the name of the book was.

  19. 19
    bam says:

    beth is fucking awesome.

  20. 20
    gottcha78 says:

    Historical romance novels, as a whole, are mind-numbing fun. Gaelen Foley is actually one of my favorite authors… but that is a preference that I can tell you will never have in common with me! Lol! I love your ability to turn a phrase:

    “And you don’t mind if I break the fourth wall here for a second and admit that I’m beating up on you just because your oeuvre had the misfortune to be sitting at the top of a pile of steaming horseshit? (And by horseshit, I mean about a dozen other acclaimed romance novels.)”

    I was ROTFLMAO! While I don’t agree with your feelings toward Gaelen, I understand that there are many who will never like her. And then on the other side of the spectrum there are many who will love and follow her work like rats following the Pied Piper into the river to drown! As you stated it’s “all a matter of taste” is as close as any can get to making a good case for this author. Thank you for your rant, it was extremely entertaining to read!

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