Monday, March 28, 2005

The Best Books You Aren't Reading

After a week of neglecting my reading, I finally wrapped up Petty Treason by Madeleine E. Robins. Just as her last book, Point Of Honour, Robins manages to inject some new blood to the Regency London setting - a setting I'm admittedly not wild about.

My reasons are not loving the Regency are twofold:
  1. I've just never cared for that time period in British history. Yes, yes it's all a rich tableau and I'm just too ignorant to grasp it all - blah blah blah.
  2. It tends to be portrayed by romance novelists (with exceptions of course) as a "light and fluffy" time period.
The Regency era was not "light and fluffy" by any stretch of the imagination. For one thing, there was Napolean. For another, as Robins quotes in her book, "...the history of George III and his children is filled with the sort of family dysfunction that could keep a panel of psychiatrists busy for years."

And ain't that the truth. But the fact remains, that this sort of thing gets glossed over in a lot of romance novels set during the period (yes, yes I know there are exceptions!)

That's why I enjoy Robins' Sarah Tolerance mysteries so much. Miss Tolerance is a Fallen woman, having made the "mistake" of falling in love with her brother's fencing instructor. Robins doesn't sugarcoat this. The way Sarah is treated by society at large, and the fact that the only relation still speaking to her is a madam - well it's either become a whore or find another line of work. So Sarah becomes an "agent of inquiry" - a Regency-era private detective if you will. And since she is nothing but discreet, she has many clients among the priveleged.

This book finds Sarah looking for the murderer of a French emigre. The fellow was murdered in his own bed, while his house was locked up for the night. The widow's brother hires Sarah in order to protect his sister. Naturally she's prime suspect #1 - and given the Frenchman's sadist predilctions it's not a huge leap to say wifey offed him. Except that she's a tiny little thing, and seems incapable of making a decision about what wine to serve - let alone having the wherewithal to bash her husband's brains in.

Robins has a way of exploring London's seamier side that I find fascinating. When was the last time you read about S&M brothels, the conditions of London's streetwalking whores, and overflowing privies in a romance novel? I also adored how Robins addresses the defination of a "Rake." That male creature so often romantized in romance novels. Here's a taste:

"But there are some gentlemen who find that giving rein to their desires only leads to the increase of those desires; and a man who lives for pleasure, and for the pleasure of being more debauched, more drunken, more spendthrift, more heedless, than his peers, is called a Rake."

Thank you very much.

I cannot recommend this series more. I hope Robins is selling oodles of books, that Forge will keep publishing them, and most importantly that she doesn't tire of writing about Sarah. Besides the fascinating look at Regency London so often unseen, Sarah is pretty darn kick-ass. I have a sudden urge to take up fencing....

1 comment:

AAR reader said...

This does sound like a great series. I have been waiting to get my hands on those books (I live overseas). BTW your column is hilarious. I too live for the pleasures of reading, and used to work in a library (for peanuts).