Book Review

Impostress by Lisa Jackson: A Guest Review by RedHeadedGirl

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Title: Impostress
Author: Lisa Jackson
Publication Info: Signet 2003
ISBN: 978-0451208293
Genre: Historical: European

Book CoverThis was a HABO that Laura asked about back last spring, and I ordered it back then and didn’t even open the package until this week.

(This semester is even crazier than last spring, I’m doing an internship that’s 15-20 hours a week, plus 4 other classes and it’s kind of insane.)

Okay.  So.  This is full of whatthefuckery.  Really.  With a side dish of anachronism stew.  (I’m also writing this while watching the pilot of Ringer which involves a twin-switch scenario, and it’s actually pretty good.  If you like film noir-y drama, give it a shot.)

So our story begins in Wales in 12-something or other, with Kiera, our heroine, out for a ride on daddy’s prize stallion (who, like all prize stallions, is a giant black horse). She’s disguised herself as a stableboy to avoid trouble, but naturally the black stallion is a lot of horse and dumps her, basically into the arms of a ruffian who makes like you expect ruffians to act when a woman who is disguised as a boy lands in his arms- not honorably.  Kiera’s older sister Elyn happens to be out running around at the same time, and shoots the ruffian with an arrow or something, saving Kiera’s life and/or virtue.  Kiera than declares that she owes Elyn a favor, whatever Elyn asks, it shall be hers.  Elyn’s like “are you sure about that?” and Kiera’s like “YES OMG YES” (foreshadowing) and Elyn’s like “okay then.”

So we fast forward three years on the eve of Elyn’s wedding to Kelan of Penbrooke (neighboring baron).  Elyn does not want to marry Kelan, but will grudgingly put up with it if and only if Kiera will stand in during the ceremony and the wedding night.  BUT NOT LIKE THAT, oh no.  The plan is to get him drunk and then drug him and then “sprinkle a vial of blood” on the sheets to make him think he deflowered his wife while leaving Kiera’s virtue intact and then Elyn would swap back in and be Kelan’s wife.  Because of course Elyn is in love with the son of a neighboring baron and has already slept with him and can’t possibly pass herself off as a virgin.

(Why Kiera didn’t say “Elyn, why on earth can’t YOU drug him and then sprinkle the blood on the sheets and make this a less interesting book?” I don’t know.  Well, I do, because then Elyn might have had to admit she was never coming back.)

(SPOILER)

Anyway, so Kiera tries to argue that this is a bad idea, and Elyn’s like “YOU PROMISED ME A FAVOR BITCH” and that’s pretty much that.  The only people in the castle who know that Kiera is pretending to be Elyn is her nanny, Hildy and their little sister Penelope.  Or Priscilla.  Or something with a P.  Anyway, you can already see how this is doomed to fail, since as the Klingons say, two can keep a secret if one of them is dead.  (Or was that the Narns?  Certainly not the Centari.  Or the Ferengi.)

So they do that, only of course Elyn is running off to Brock, her One True Love (as an aside, there was a kid I went to elementary school with who’s name was Brock, and I hated him.  So I predisposed to hate Brock on sight), and the whole “drug him so he can’t get it up” plan fails because he’s got the liver of a, well, an alpha male Romance hero.  NO DRUG SHALL GET BETWEEN THE HERO AND HIS NOOKIE.  And so there is sex. Lots of sex.

Elyn never shows up in the morning, and Kiera goes out for a ride to look for her, and then, in desperation embarks on a campaign to keep Kelan in their chamber (guess how.  G’wan.  Guess.) so no one will see her and him and let the fact that she’s not Elyn slip in front of him while she tries to think of something better.  Sort of lucky for her, he gets a message that his mother is dying, and he and Kiera and his people head back to Penbrooke post-haste.  So she doesn’t have to keep it up for very long.

In the middle of all this acrobatic sex, Kelan does find the vials (she attempted to get rid of them, but failed, apparently) and wonders what the hell is going on and spends the rest of the book wondering and having sex.

At the same time, Elyn finds Brock and she’s all “Let us run away together like we planned!” and he’s kind of hesitant and then flat out tells her that he has to marry the woman HIS father picked for him, Wynnifrydd because Wynni is pregnant.  Elyn freaks out (and rightfully so) and then falls off her horse into the river and drowns.

Once Kelan and Kiera get to his castle, his sister immedietly calls her out for not being Elyn.  Kiera freaks, but then rallies and bluffs her way through, and it sort of works.  Kelan’s mother tells Kiera to do whatever she needs to to make the marriage work- and then dies.

Hildy, the nanny back at Kiera’s father’s house, is of course freaking out because she has no idea where Elyn is, so she sends out Stableboy Joseph (who is in love with Elyn.  And Kiera.  Kind of both) to go find her.  He heads out to Brock’s barony and overhears Brock tell Wynni that he can’t marry her because he realized she’s a bitch or something (it wasn’t clear) and Wynni goes off on the “the wedding is TOMORROW and you’re gonna LEAVE ME AT THE ALTER?” tear.  Then she accuses him of leaving her for Elyn and he says that he can’t, Elyn is drowned.

She flounces off and Stableboy Joseph jumps Brock and trusses him up and drags him back home.  He does later admit he has no real idea what he’ll do with Brock, but he has the opportunity to do something.  But then Brock escapes and heads off to Penbrooke.

At which point Elyn wakes up.  Because she’s not actually dead.  Bet you didn’t see that twist coming. Also she’s had a miscarraige.  Bet you didn’t see that one coming, either.

Kiera attempts to tell Kelan the truth, who thinks she’s playing some sort of kinky game (“Oh I see!  You’re my wife’s sister and you’ll do anything I say?  I love this game!”) and won’t listen to Kiera at all.

Elyn heads off to Penbrooke.  And Wynnifryd heads off to Penbrooke to find Brock and drag him back to the altar.  And Hildy and Penelope/Priscilla head off to Penbrooke because clearly that is the place where the plot is crashing together, and who would want to miss that?

Elyn finds Kiera and throws a complete nutty because Kiera…. Did exactly what Elyn told her too, and had sex with Elyn’s husband, and was basically living Elyn’s life…. Like Elyn wanted…. But HOW DARE SHE ENJOY IT.  Also Kiera is pregnant because of course she is, and she’s in love with Kelan and feels horrible about it.

So Kiera and Elyn find Kelan and tell hm the truth, and then Wynnifryd bursts in like a crazy woman and throws her crazy all over the place and then they find out that Wynni wasn’t pregnant after all, she just told Brock that so he’d have to marry her.  Then she freaks out and pulls out a knife to….kill Elyn?  But then Kiera gets stabbed and collapses in Kelan’s arms while whispering, “I love you.”

And then we jump to some time later, where Kelan has gotten an annulment of the marriage, Elyn has been sent off to a convent, Kiera is being allowed to hang around Penbrooke until the baby is born and then will be sent away is disgrace but has to leave the kid there.  Kelan’s brother decides enough is enough with this shit, loudly proposes to Kiera where he knows that Kelan will hear, and Kelan’s like “FUCK THAT IF ANY ONE IS MARRYING HER IT’S ME!” and that’s the happily ever after.

It is exactly as rushed as it sounds.

I feel like there’s a good story in here, but it’s tangled up in a bunch of half developed plot threads that go nowhere, and a crap ton of anachronisms and, I’m sad to say, sloppy writing.

The biggest problem is that there’s no real development of Keran.  He shows up, he makes some references to a hellraising past, there’s an implication that he was the ruffian that attacked Kiera at the beginning of the story, and there’s no follow up.  He likes sex and can hold his liquor. And he loves his mother.  There’s not much else there.

What happens with Brock and Stableboy Thomas?  Hildy?  Little Sister P?  NO IDEA.  I know that there’s more books in the series, but these threads don’t seem like ones that should carry over. They just hang like those annoying threads that you have to snip on that summer skirt you just made out of a repurposed sari, and it’s super pretty and then the day after you finish it, the weather turns too cold to wear it and you have to put it aside until next summer.

My life, you guys.  MY LIFE.

The blatant anachronisms bothered me a lot.  I don’t expect an exhaustively researched book, and maybe I know a bit more about medieval stuff than others.  I know in the comments of the HABO request that we talked about the names issue (Some Welsh, some “Welshish” and some modern Irish, I think?).  It’s 12-something or other, I don’t think Kiera would be wearing lace.  Or velvet (velvet wasn’t even invented until the middle of the 14th century).  Silk in Wales, even for minor nobility?  Seems to be a bit of a stretch.

I didn’t notice any potato rage-y food elements, however.  So there’s that.

But the worst thing, the WORST was the anachronistic crap that came out of the character’s mouth.  Elyn justifies her desire to not marry Kelan as her father arranged because she wants to “marry a man she loves” and that arranged marriages for political purposes are old fashioned.

It’s 12-whatever.  NO THEY ARE NOT.

Most of the time, most characters speak in vaguely stilted, medieval-oid speech (“Aye” “Mayhap” etc).  But then things like “It will never ever work!” and “you are out of your mind!” creep in and pulls you out.

“You know that Brock’s a scoundrel.  You’ve said so yourself.”

    “Mayhap, but the heart knows no reason.”  Elyn stared into the storm as if she were searching for some kind of divine intervention, some kind of insight into her plight.”

    “Oh stop it!  I’ve heard you spout this romantic nonsense too often, and look where it’s gotten you.”  Kiera felt a pang of something akin to pity.  Her strong sister was such a fool when it came to love, but Elyn had always been a bit of a dreamer.  “I know you don’t want to marry Penbrooke.  Have you not said as much every day since Father announced the agreement?  But what you’re suggesting is mad…absurd. It will never ever work.”

See?

Or there’s the awkward sex scene where Brock and Wynni are arguing and he grabs her “tight ass” to initiate sex to make her shut up.

And then there’s the part where Jackson either doesn’t know or doesn’t care how inheritance law works (I mean, Welsh law might be different in this regard, but based on my understanding of English inheritance schemes, she is wrong).  Kiera and Elyn don’t have any brothers, so the title and entail will go to Elyn.  Except no.  And when Brock marries Wynnifrydd, he will inherent Wynnifredd’s father’s title.  Except no.  In both cases (unless I am wrong), we’d have a Downton Abbey hunt down the surviving cousin situation, or the titles and entails would revert back to the Crown.  Not to the girls.

Which brings me to the final thing I want to talk about.  Of the three female characters that are sexually active, the only one who is presented as somewhat sane is Kiera.  Elyn is flighty and a manipulative bitch and believes everything Brock tells her.  Wynnifrydd is legit crazy, and kind of a slut and greedy and manipulative and basically a mean girl.  It’s a little insulting.

I will say that I liked how Jackson presented Kiera’s growing anxiety when Elyn doesn’t come back and what is she going to do, and how on earth did it get this far- that was well done.  I really wanted to know how this was going to be resolved, and I wanted to know how Kelan was going to take the news (I admit, the “oh, so you’re my sister-in-law” kinky-times was not what I was expecting him to do).  Which is why I found the ending to be so disappointing.  It just ends with a magical wedding, woohoo, no harm no foul.

I feel like there was a potential for a good story here- but the dangling half-plot-threads and awkward dialogue, missing characterization (seriously, why do we give a shit about him?), and abrupt “oh hello there, deadline!” ending just smothered it.


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Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Stef says:

    Love the review.  This book sounds seriously ridiculous, even for a crazy medieval.

    I just have to say WORD on the object anachronisms.  I have read two separate books ( so far that I’ve noticed) where parts of the heroes’ anatomy in a medieval and in a late Georgian have been compared to “steel.”  Steel was not popular in England until the Bessemer process was invented in 1858 (thanks to wiki for the fact check) and definitely wasnt well known in 1178AD.  It totally takes me out of the story—its like steel rage instead of potato rage.  I’m willing to forgive the Georgian because some steel was being made but I’m not so lenient on the medieval.  Couldn’t the writer just substitute “iron”? Although then the prerequisite cliche phrase would not be in the book.

  2. 2
    shawnyjean says:

    I’m new-ish to romance reading and this was one of the first I read. I remember thinking that if all romance novels were as contrived as this one, this was going to be a passing phase for me at best. Fortunately that turned out not to be the case. I especially love your description of everyone rushing to Pembroke because that’s where the plot is happening and why wouldn’t you want to be there? Reminds me of old Thin Man movies where you get a body at the beggining, then an hour of heavy drinking and 1930s banter and not a lot of actual detective work, and then everyone winds up in a room together and Nick Charles wanders around and then goes “IT WAS HER!”, and her whoever pulls out a gun, is subdued, and we all go back to the wet bar. Same thing here with crazy Wynni, except with a little extended baby drama after.

  3. 3
    awasky says:

    I’m not actually sure that Welsh inheritance law would be the same as English. Wales kept a different law code until 1535, and I vaguely recall it not being primogeniture? I guess it would depend, too, if you were dealing with an English Marcher lord or a true Welsh lord. (And see, right there it sounds like I’ve surpassed the author’s research.)

    My personal pet peeves of historical inaccuracy?
    1) The stirrup didn’t start being used until sometime in the sixth to eighth century. Romans didn’t use stirrups.
    2) The word “Hello” didn’t start being used until the invention of the telephone. Wiki says it was first written in 1833, but the dictionary puts it at 1877. In either case, it was not used during the Regency era. Period.

  4. 4

    Oh boy. Sounds like a definite pass. And to answer your question on Brock and the Stableboy? They went off together. Because with this many crazy women around they’d have to shack up together to just get some sane in their lives.

  5. 5
    Todd says:

    A friend once ended up throwing a book across the room when, in a medievil historical, someone said, “grow where you’re planted.” She still starts sputtering in rage when reminded of it.

  6. 6

    Another RedHeadedGirl review!  Thanks for taking time to share with the rest of us, especially considering your crazy, hectic schedule.  Awesome as always!

  7. 7
    Suzanne says:

    Oh I cannot stand it when authors get something basic wrong. If you are going to write a certain time period, or a certain set of people (the aristocracy), then you have to get the details right.

    Two things that have caused deletions on my kindle this week, riding in a chaise and four from Leamington Spa to London…in a day >.< and drawers being delved into when our heroine is in the 18th century… thats all 19th C peeps

  8. 8
    Lara Amber says:

    Kiera and Kelan?  Ick, instead of “couple for the ages” I get “yuppy fraternal twins in expensive private preschool wearing Burberry coats at age 3.”

  9. 9
    Mary McElroy says:

    Great review!  My fav part:  ” (“Oh I see!  You’re my wife’s sister and you’ll do anything I say?  I love this game!”).  lol.
    Thanks for the giggle this morning!

  10. 10
    Jae Lee says:

    Hah, I read this based on the HABO too, because why not? Seriously, it was terrible. I had to skip so much of the text because the “holy sh*t, what NOW?” made my brain hurt. Good on you RHG, I could not pay enough attention to this book to actually review it.

  11. 11
    snarkhunter says:

    Even if the book didn’t sound so ridiculous, I could never read it because the title may be the worst thing ever.

    “Impostress”? REALLY?

  12. 12
    becca says:

    I remember reading one “regency” – in the 80s? 70s? can’t recall for the hideousness, but the heroine was zipped into her gown by her maid, and she went to visit the Eifel Tower for a weekend while she was in a snit with the hero. The characters were Lord Rex and Lady Muffy, or soemthing like that as I recall. All I remember is that it was published by Dell.  I’ve never knowingly purchased another book by Dell.

  13. 13
    AgTigress says:

    @awasky:  you are absolutely right that Medieval Welsh law was different from English/Anglo-Norman.  In many respects it was superior.  I don’t know the details of inheritance law as it affected males and females, but researching the matter would not be unduly difficult.  The Wikipedia article on Welsh Law would get one off to a good start.

    Some of the names infuriate me (as I think I mentioned when the book came up as a HABO).  Again, sources for genuine Welsh names are not hard to find, and confusing Welsh and Irish is unforgiveable.  I just do not see the point of an author setting a story in a given place and time if she is not interested enough in that place and time to learn some facts about it.

  14. 14
    DS says:

    Ha!  Dell was responsible for the book I read where a Regency miss took a train to Bath.  I’ve always wondered if the author intended it to be a Victorian novel and Dell edited it to a Regency because they had a Regency line—it was either late 70’s or early 80’s.

  15. 15
    Donna says:

    Thank you RHG, I just spent the first 45 minutes of my work day (stay in school!) listening to my coworkers rage about the way things work around here. As this happens at some point everyday, it was lovely to spend ten minutes of pure delight reading your review.

    Funny story about anachronisms – which make me bats**t crazy – I was going off on a book in which the medieval heroine was worrying about the corn crop. Corn, new world food, medieval time period. Rant. “I’m writing this woman a letter” rant, “What kind of idiot doesn’t know” rant. Rant, rant, rant. And then, while researching that letter I was going to write, I discover that back in the way back corn was a general term for grain crops. So, aren’t I the red faced idiot?

  16. 16
    Bev Stephans says:

    This was a DNF for me.  I read about 25 pages and decided that life’s too short to read bad books.  I don’t know how you made it to the end!

  17. 17
    Karenmc says:

    I actually read this poor puppy a few years ago. It was terrible. I mean TERRIBLE. My hat is off to you RHG, for finding ways to make it funny.

  18. 18
    Erica Anderson says:

    @Donna—OMG! I had the corn anachronism meltdown, too! It was a Jo Beverley book and I remember being surprised that she made an error like that. Thank heavens I figured it out before I made an ass of myself.

  19. 19
    cbackson says:

    You know, `likes sex, can hold his liquor, loves his mother’ would basically get it done for me, but I have simple needs.

  20. 20
    Lara Amber says:

    Donna:

    That is why I think historical romance novels should have a footnotes section in the back explaining terms that are unusual or may have changed definition over time.

  21. 21
    AgTigress says:

    ‘Corn’ is still the generic term for any cereal crop in modern British English;  it can refer to wheat, barley, oats etc.  What you lot call ‘corn’, we call maize.
    ;-)

  22. 22
    umair says:

    hi your blog is so nice i like it very mch thnx
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  23. 23
    kkw says:

    He likes sex and can hold his liquor. And he loves his mother.  There’s not much else there.

    I’m with cbackson on this.  In an ideal world he also wouldn’t be able to speak English.

  24. 24

    Never read the book, but I love the review.  Thank you, RHG!

  25. 25
    Miranda says:

    Speaking of names, I’m reading ‘Betsy Ross: The Making of America’. An actual male name of the era: Plunket Fleeson. Mr. Fleeson was a well-to-do upholsterer.

  26. 26
    Cathy B says:

    OKay – a couple of things I want to comment on. RHG as usual your reviews are hilarious, but as a Welshwoman I want to comment on one or two things you’ve picked on.
    There are, and always have been, heaps and heaps of Irish descendants in Wales. My grandfather’s family had been in Wales for 5 generations and his name was Kieran Patrick Lynch. His father was Connor Aidan Lynch. Ireland and Wales are geographically so close you can travel between them in a rowboat, without oars if the currents are right. Irish names in Wales are common and have been for at least a thousand years.
    That said, they were less common among the nobility who tended to marry other members of the nobility, who tended to be pure-blood Welsh.
    And yes, to those of you who have commented that medieval Welsh law was not the same as English law. It was different. Boy, was it ever. In 12-something women in England could not even own property. The women in this story would most certainly have been able to inherit their fathers’ property, and their father would most certainly have made damn sure they married someone who could protect it and them. Their Prince would have required it.
    If you want to read some Welsh historical romance with some accuracy to it, may I suggest that you try Sharon Penman’s glorious Last Princes series, beginning with Here Be Dragons.
    Be prepared to cry. Lots.
    The best part is that these books are about real people and stuff that actually happened. Penman is a serious historian and she knows her stuff, but she also writes amazingly sympathetic characters, who are some of the most fascinating people in history – Eleanor of Aquitane, Richard Lionheart, King John, Llewelyn Fawr and my personal favourite, Llewelyn’s wife Joanna who was one of King John’s illegitimate daughters. Llewelyn and Joanna are the protagonists of Here Be Dragons.

  27. 27
    LMG says:

    If we’re going to be talking about mistakes in inheritance laws, I have to call out a contemporary pet peeve (it’s not even an anachronism – it’s just a fake cliche):  AFTER SOMEONE DIES, FAMILY MEMBERS DO NOT GATHER INTO A ROOM SO A LAWYER CAN READ THE WILL OUT LOUD.  I know this because I’m a lawyer who writes wills, and probates them, and deals with some really batsh** crazy familes.  And what we do is mail a copy of the will to people who are going to get stuff.  Or we email a pdf.  And then if they have questions about what the will says, they call on the phone and we talk about it.  And if everyone really hates each other, they all go and hire separate lawyers and spend all the dead person’s money fighting.

  28. 28
    etv13 says:

    @donna:  Lindsay Davis used to have a pretty funny piece on her blog talking about an American reader who called her to task for using “corn” in her Roman-set mystery novels.

    @cathyb:  women could, in fact, own property in 12th- and 13th-century England.  Under English law, if there were no sons, the daughters inherited the land in equal shares.  (There was no primogeniture for girls.)  John of Gaunt’s first wife, Blanche (the duchess of Chaucer’s Book of the Duchess) was a huge heiress, and there were others before her.  Their husbands would control the property, but upon the wife’s death, the land would go to her heirs, subject to the husband’s right to curtsey (a life interest in all the wife’s land IF there was a child of the marriage that lived long enough to be heard crying).  Widows also owned land—they had a life interest in a third of all the land their husbands held during their lives.

    This book would have to be set in very late “12-something” for there to be an entail; the statute that made the fee tail possible, De donis condicionalibus, was enacted in 1285.

  29. 29
    RevMelinda says:

    If someone would only write an opera based on this novel, I would pay serious money to see it. I think the plot and dialogue could really work with an orchestra, louder, and in Italian.

  30. 30
    DreadPirateRachel says:

    Speaking as one who went all rant-y about potatoes in medieval novels a while ago, I have to say that “potato rage” is the best possible descriptor of the irritation I felt. I nominate it for entry in the Urban Dictionary.

    potato rage
    noun
    puh-tey-toh reyj
    the peculiar combination of disgust and fury experienced by a reader of historical romance novels when confronted with an anachronism so blatant as to provoke book-tossing and blog-ranting.
    N.B. Potato rage is reserved for the most extreme transgressions of historical accuracy.
    OMG, that Regency with the Rolls-Royce totally gave me potato rage.

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