I received the following Book Rant from Heather, who read a book that made her so incredibly angry, she had to share. This happens more than you think – and they find their way to my inbox, which means I get to share them with you! And now, Heather’s Book Rant.
I recently read The Surrender of Miss Fairbourne by Madeline Hunter. I’ve read quite a few of Madeline Hunter’s books, and generally at least mildly enjoy them. This book was WRETCHED. Strangely, Amazon has mostly positive reviews for this book. It makes no sense.
What about this book made me feel stabby? It was packed with improbable yet stereotypical and unlikeable characters. For each character, no matter how minor, a mysterious past/back story/ motivation was hinted at, leading you to read on in hopes of SOMETHING happening. Nothing happens. None of these back stories/mysteries bear any fruit. It was infuriating and inexplicable.
The cast of characters (caricatures, maybe?):
Our Heroine, Miss Emma Fairbourne – Her father is recently deceased under “mysterious” circumstances,” and she is determined to continue running his prestigious auction house. Of course, as a woman, no one will believe her capable, so she must concoct all sorts of ruses to run the auction house from behind the scenes. This seemed promising. I was hoping she would be some sort of art/gem/whatnot aficionado with a passion for auctioning or some such, but she is actually only moderately talented and doesn’t seem at all passionate about the business.
So what motivates her to pursue this seemingly hopeless scheme? The auction house is her brother’s legacy and must be preserved! This brother is presumed dead, and didn’t really have a passionate interest in the business either, but if she sells the business it will be GIVING UP ON HIM. Which is basically the same as murdering him, of course. So, she blunders on. The hero suggests selling the auction house and putting the income in trust for the brother, but this is similarly GIVING UP. The reader doesn’t know why, and doesn’t particularly give a fuck for Emma, or her brother, or the auction house.
It’s hard to care much for Emma because she has no real personality. Her “defining” characteristic is that she SPEAKS HER MIND and is UNFLINCHINGLY HONEST – even though she lies routinely throughout the book. And there is “something about her.” We know this because the hero and his cronies all remark upon it…she wasn’t particularly beautiful, but there was “SOMETHING ABOUT HER.” This was repeated enough so that you knew it was IMPORTANT.
Our Hero, Darius, the Earl of Southwaite – He is, of course, large, dark, and stormy. He somehow acquired half of the auction house from Emma’s father and now wants to sell it. Of course, they battle about this ad naseum. And she always wins. Usually through some sort of improbable lie paired with ridiculously transparent reverse psychology, and he always walks away astounded by how she pulled one over on him. But we are supposed to believe he’s clever, and also in charge of the security of England’s coasts against the French, even though he can’t argue his way out of a cardboard box. And if he ever makes a legitimate point, her eyes glisten with tears and he folds. Inexplicably, after first meeting Emma, Southwaite starts having erotic fantasies and dreams about her. Neither he nor the reader has any idea why. It must be that “something about her.”
The Heroine’s Sidekick – Lady Cassandra – She is a “fallen woman” and apparently befriended Emma because no one else would associate with her and Emma’s auction house provides a convenient way to sell her jewels to repair her impoverishment (also a result of her “fallen” status). She spends all her “friendship” energy attempting to get Emma laid, and making money from the auction house through her jewels and shady connections with French émigrés with art collections.
Even though her behavior is suspicious throughout, and I was certain she was being set up as the “hidden villain,” nothing comes of it. All the foreshadowing was for naught. Her main act in the book is to help Emma concoct an advertisement for an employee that, of course, sounds like an ad for a lover, leading to the necessary “huge misunderstanding” where the hero is certain Emma is a woman of ill repute but of course offers to service her. When he offers his “services,” Cassandra encourages Emma to become his mistress, because fallen-woman misery loves company!
In spite of Cassandra’s consistently horrible advice and general shiftiness, Emma continues to believe Cassandra is a true friend with wonderful intentions. Southwaite is, of course, suspicious of Cassandra and has forbidden his sister to associate with her. Apparently, since he doesn’t want to “service” her, she’s inappropriate company.
This leads to another “plot twist.” After Southwaite forbade his sister from associating with Cassandra, the sister withdrew from society and wouldn’t talk to anyone, especially her brother. Southwaite constantly bemoans that she won’t confide in him, while he continues to autocratically dictate her life and then wonders why she doesn’t trust him with her secrets. He spends an inordinate amount of time speculating about what his sister is “hiding.” This seemed promising! I was hoping for a shocking reveal where Cassandra and the sister are lesbian lovers and Southwaite has thwarted their love, or at least that Cassandra was some sort of evil mastermind ruining EVERYONE’S lives and selling Southie’s sister to Frenchmen to be molested, or ANYTHING INTERESTING. But no, she’s just a shallow, sly person and Southie’s sister is just shallow and pouty.
The Hero’s Cronies – Southwaite’s two friends are similarly clichéd and shallow. Ambury is “devil-may-care” and Kendale is inexplicably (EVERYTHING is inexplicable!) angry and suspicious. His anger/suspicion is explained by his recent tour in the army. No further explanation is given. But Kendale spends all his time enraged and suspicious and waxing melodramatically about his “duty.” Each incident is explained away by stating “he had been in the army, after all.” It is hinted that something important happened whilst in the army, but is this fleshed out later in the book? Of course not!
So, the cast of half-developed clichés is rounded out by:
A Mysterious French Émigré – we know she is mysterious and French because she can make a paper bag look supremely elegant.
The Auctioneer-Savant – he’s shy, knows nothing about art, but has a “magical” power to drive bids to never-before-seen heights.
The Schmooze-Savant – Mr. Nightingale, who succeeds at whatever he does for the auction house (also not fully explained) by being ridiculously good looking, “slithering” about, and possibly whoring himself out to the men and women who appreciate his ridiculously good-looking slithering. Regardless of his amorphous man-whore role at the auction house, he is ESSENTIAL to its success.
The Mysterious Duke – A former friend of Southie and cronies, he is now shunned for killing another mutual friend in a duel. It is hinted ad naseum that there is more to this story. Guess what! We never find out this significance of this either!
In spite of the execrable characters, the premise seemed promising…. Smuggling! Kidnapping and blackmail! Treason! In reality, this book was about pointless, fabricated obstacles that could have been easily solved with a single conversation between the two main characters. Miss Fairbourne isn’t even very good at running the auction house, and doesn’t seem to be any sort of an expert in art. She is merely better than the other completely incompetent employeess. In spite of their incompetence, it is ESSENTIAL that she retain these two art nincompoops, because one is the aforementioned “auctioning savant”, and the other the “schmoozing savant/man-whore.”
Even the kidnapped brother, who provides the foundation for all the misunderstanding and angst in the book, turns out to be worthless and annoying. Also, his kidnapping was really just a long vacation in France with his new wife.
I had borrowed the book from my trashy-books partner in crime, who had just finished it. I kept loudly complaining to her about how much I hated everyone in the book. But, I was sure that something really shocking would happen to redeem the book, and the plot would be so convoluted and WTFish that it would be amusing at least. My friend was amused by my speculation, but did she warn me that I would be horribly disappointed? No. Apparently awful-book misery also loves company. Nothing exciting happened. EVERYTHING WAS FOR NO APPARENT REASON AT ALL.
At the end, everything is boringly wrapped up, and seems very rushed. Which makes no sense, because the rest of the book meandered aimlessly in no hurry at all, so what was the sudden rush? Was Ms. Hunter planning on a more intricate ending, but ended up so irritated with all her characters that she just gave up? If so, I don’t blame her. If this book didn’t belong to my sneaky “friend,” I would burn it. I can’t do justice to how awful it was and how it sucked up hours of my time that I will NEVER get back.