I just came out of a horrible reading slump. I know, there’s no reason to be ashamed. It happens to ever reader sooner or later. I was probably just tired. Every single book I picked up, I put back down after a chapter. Nothing seemed able to hold my interest. And the more I thought about being in a slump, the worse it got. I started to psyche myself into not being able to read.
That’s right, if there’s anyone neurotic enough to turn their favorite hobby into a chore, it’s me.
So what did I do? Eventually I broke my dry spell with one of my favorite books, a historical that I read fifteen years ago and never parted with. This book is a Scarlet Pimpernel/ highwayman/charming rogue/sassy heroine/crazy-sauce plot of historical epicness.
Pale Moon Rider by Marsha Canham is amazeballs. I forgot how much so until I re-read it, and then it was all ooh’s and ahh’s and gooey happy feelings. I was in high school when I first picked this up, and I was way into star crossed lovers, the way emo high school girls are. I was still recovering from the season two finale of Buffy, where she has to stab Angel and send him to hell. She was a slayer. He was a vampire. If they had sex he turned evil. So. Much. Star-Crossed. Pale Moon Rider hit me square in those feels.
First of all, the writing, oh my God, the writing:
It was a fine night for treachery—dark with a pale moon rising. The silence was profound enough for the shadowy figure seated on horseback to hear the soft slither of mist curling around the trunks of trees and the moisture dripping off the sleek surfaces of leaves overhead. He felt the chill of the night air through his heavy wool greatcoat and kept the uppermost two collars standing high, almost touching the brim of his tricorn. A glitter of wary eyes showed through the narrow gap between collar and hat; they were the only feature that would have been visible even if the light of a dozen lanterns surrounded him.
I…I think I need a cigarette.
The heroine of Pale Moon Rider is Renee, a recent émigré to England. Renee is the daughter of minor French nobility, and she witnessed her mother being beaten to death in the streets of Paris during the Terror. Her father died at the guillotine along with her fiancé. Her fourteen-year-old brother Antoine is so traumatized, he cannot speak.
She’s currently living with her uncle, who is not awesome, and who has arranged for her to marry Edgar Vincent, a disgusting piece of slimy ooggly grabby hands. He is all bad breath and meaty paws and unwanted fondling. He is begging to be kicked in the nuts.
But wait! It gets worse!
Antoine has been accused of murder (which he obviously didn’t commit) and faces trial as an adult unless Renee helps a dude named Colonel Roth (also a douchebag) capture a nefarious highwayman called Captain Starlight (was that a character from Sailor Moon?).
Renee takes a coach ride in the middle of the night and—bam! Is accosted by Captain Starlight, whose real name is Tyrone Hart. She explains to Tyrone that she was hoping to be held up. Her crappy fiancée gave her some rubies worth a shit-ton of money, and she wants Hart to “rob” her at a pre-arranged time, and they’ll sell the rubies and share the money so she and Antoine can run away. Tyrone is all, “Why don’t you just steal them, duh?” but obviously she needs his underworld connections to sell them and such.
This is all really a plot by Colonel Roth. He wants Renee to set the trap for Captain Starlight, and then he will pounce!
Renee is like, “This is fucking stupid, I really should steal the rubies.” So then she tells Tyrone and it’s a triple cross…I guess? I’m not going to lie, there’s a lot of plotting and counter-plotting in this book, and sometimes it’s hard to keep track of who is lying to whom. But none of that really matters—because sexy highwayman scoundrel.
Tyrone sneaks into Renee’s room at night (as highwaymen are wont to do) and the plotting turns to kissing followed by very athletic “Oh, no monsieur you mustn’t kiss me there” sex. Upon re-reading it, I did notice that Renee’s vagina is constantly clenching, spasming, grasping, shimmying or shaking during their entire interlude. Girlfriend does her Kegels.
So after the glorious smexing, imagine Renee’s shock when she goes downstairs the next day and there’s Tyrone, except dressed up in the latest fashion, wearing a powdered wig, and generally being very dramatic and foppish. He’s apparently helping Colonel Roth and Edgar Vincent help find that “dastardly” Captain Starlight by acting like a buffoon that no one suspects, and thereby staying one step ahead of law. Of course.
I love Tyrone Hart. He was raised beside the son of a nobleman and so he can mimic the mannerisms of polite society, but he’s a rogue at heart. I love rogue heroes, especially when they are smarmy and sexy and have crooked grins. Give me a scoundrel or a trickster or a thief in my fiction any day, because in real life, they’re probably a lot of fucking work. Han Solo, Jack Sparrow, Captain Jack Harkness, Patrick Jane, Killian Jones, Spike, Tony Stark, Mal Reynolds… le sigh. And Tyrone is just the right blend of “this seems like a bad idea but I’m going to do it anyway” and “begrudgingly noble” that you have to love him.
When he’s shot, Renee and Antoine take care of him in a secret room in their uncle’s crumbling house, and it’s there that Renee and Tyrone really start to fall in love (and she gives him a BJ. Cuz she’s French. She was born knowing how). The odds of them making it work are slim. He’s a criminal. She’s got to take care of Antoine, even if she were inclined to run off with him, and Edgar Vincent is the sort of fiancée who hunts you down and dismembers you for jilting him. Wonderfully, gloriously star-crossed.
The thing I love about rogue heroes is that when they decide to fall in love (or realize they are) they embrace it. I like tortured, angsty heroes too, but they do so much navel gazing sometimes it’s exhausting—“I sneezed in front of Penelope and then she got consumption and died so it’s probably my fault AND I WILL NEVER HAVE FEELS AGAIN!” Meanwhile rogue heroes are so used to making epically bad, spur-of-the-moment decisions that they just roll with it.
So Tyrone (who was totally able to put out after being shot in the ribs like a boss) realizes he needs to save Renee and Antoine and foil Uncle Assbag and Edgar Vincent who we find out are engaged in criminal activities with Colonel Roth.
I’m not going to lie, the plot is a big twisty mess, but I don’t give a shit. Because Tyrone Hart is fucking epic. And Renee is gloriously sassy:
“Colonel,” she murmured in her very best harlot’s voice, “if I thought for one second I could keep the contents of my stomach intact while I played the whore for an Englishman, I would just as easily have sold myself for the glorious procreation of Robespierre bastards.”
I don't even know what that means and I feel the burn. You go with your snooty-Frenchness, Renee.
There is swash-buckling. There is love-making. There are sexy stolen kisses in dark corridors and who-was-that-masked-man? It was everything I needed to get my groove back.
And if you really want to have the feels while reading this book, listen to Loreena McKennitt’s musical version of “The Highway Man” by Alfred Noyes and let the star-crossedness seep into your bones. It is excellent.