Fiction: “Beguiled” by Shannon Drake

Beguiled is, on the outside, the story of Ally Grayson (short for Alexandra), living during the tail-end of Queen Victoria’s reign during a time when anti-monarchists are prevalent and highwaymen aren’t afraid to stop the carriages of wealthy nobles. In fact, just past the prologue, a daring highwayman stops Ally’s carriage on her way to her birthday celebration. When he learns her name, he lets her go, unmolested. She reaches her destination unharmed. At her birthday celebration, she learns that she has been betrothed to Lord Mark Farrow since her birth, so Happy Birthday, here’s a husband!

Meanwhile, Ally meets the Highwayman a few more times, and eventually she falls in love with him. It helps that after her second meeting with the Highwayman – and her first official meeting with the Lord Mark Farrow – she realizes that – yes! They are the same person.

In the background of this romantic triangle that turns out to be more of a straight line, there have been murders of prominent anti-monarchists. Mark Farrow is investigating the murders in connection with the London Police (not the Scotland Yard, however) under the guise of the Highwayman. Also stirring up emotions are rival news reports: one from Thane Grier, and one from A. Anonymous. When Mark discovers that Ally is actually A. Anonymous (of course she is!), things start to get slightly tense between the couples.

Overall, the plot of the story is meh. It’s a[n] historical romance, for cripes’ sake, I wasn’t expecting Dostoevsky. (Sidenote: would I read a romance novel written by Dostoevsky? HELL YES I WOULD.) Obviously, about a third of the way through, both Ally and Mark realize that Ally knows Mark is the highwayman. Mark tries to protect Ally from the murderous fiend running around London. They get married, there’s a slight power struggle (because Ally wants to maintain her independence and all that crap [that’s going to get me in trouble with any feminists out there, but I’m tired, I don’t really mean to say that female independence in relationships is crap – OH LOOK OVER THERE DOSTOEVSKY IS WRITING A ROMANCE NOVEL]), and of course the killer gets caught and everyone lives happily ever after.

Now that I’ve just spent about five paragraphs on plot, I have to say that I don’t want to talk about the plot. I repeat: it’s a[n] historical romance, for cripes’ sake. What I do want to point out are two things:

1. You know how Stephenie Meyer got “moat” and “mote” confused? As much as it pains me to say it, at least Stephenie Meyer (and her editor) never lost count of how many people were in a carriage at one time.

Par exemple: Ally’s godmothers (or whatevers) Kat and Camille arrive to pick Ally up for lunch, after her engagement to Mark is announced but before she is able to meet him:

She was alone in the carriage with Camille and Kat. [p.133]

They discuss Mark and Ally’s impending marriage, and Ally states that (like an independent lady should) she wants a career:

At last Camille asked, “What career is in your mind?”

“I wish to write.”

“To write,” Kat repeated. She looked at Maggie. “But she can write as a man’s wife.” [p. 140]

Did you see that? She looked at Maggie, but seven pages earlier, the narrator clearly stated that She was alone in the carriage with Camille and Kat.

And look, I went to the same place: “She forgot who the other woman in the carriage was for a moment, and the editor never caught it; she clearly meant to say that Kat looked at Camille.”

But no:

“But I feel I must say something to Brian, Jamie and Hunter about my own plans.”

“No!” Kat protested.

“No, please. Not yet,” Maggie begged.

“Do nothing until you have at least spoken with Mark,” Camille said.” [p. 142]

Now she’s having dialogue! What happened, was Maggie able to teleport herself into carriages where she knows important things are being discussed? Is Maggie a ghost?

And then, when they finally reach their destination:

“Ah, there are Maggie and Jamie, speaking with Lord Joseph Farrow…” [p. 150]

And yet, I still enjoyed this book. I know!

Number 2: I think Shannon Drake has watched Sleeping Beauty one too many times. I know I have, but … well … :

Okay. There’s the whole betrothed at birth to a Lord. There’s the mistaken identity of said future husband (Lord by night, Highwayman by day – see Prince Philip, who passed himself off as a humble farmboy? I think?), oh, and I forgot to mention that Ally was raised in a cottage in the woods by three “aunties,” named Violet, Edith, and Merry? I mean come on, one of the fairies in the movie was named Merriweather.

Oh, right, and Ally is the long-lost daughter of Prince Edward, so she’s the granddaughter of the Queen, but no one knows that, so yeah, she’s a princess hiding in the woods.

At her birthday celebration (after the betrothal announcement), the bestowing of gifts is interrupted when the widow of one of the murdered men crashes the party:

Ally was startled when the woman’s wild eyes suddenly settled upon her and she stretched out a bony, black-clad arm. “You!” she shrieked. “You would-be child of the elite. Curse you! May you die a thousand deaths. So this is your birthday? And you are newly betrothed? Then again I say, curse you! May you die a wretched death before your wedding day ever falls.” [p. 85]

… oh right, and curses her. Sound familiar?

More evidence of the fairy-ness of the ‘Aunties’:

“I told you off-white would be perfect,” Violet said.

“My dear sister, that’s a soft beige,” Merry protested.

“It’s off-white,” Violet insisted.

“You’re both wrong. It’s pearl,” Edith announced. [p. 338]

I’d like to direct you to this clip (and fast-forward to 6:00).

Even Ally knows what she has for guardians:

Ally smiled and turned to the aunties first. Her godmothers would understand.

“I dreamed of you the whole time,” she whispered. “You were the most darling fairies, flitting about, watching over me.” [p. 417]

And finally, at the end:

It was Merry who stepped forward. “She will live. Our Ally is a precious princess, and she will live.”

[Mark] trembled with fear. … She had never appeared more beautiful to him, as she lay so silent and pale on the bed. Shaking, he touched her lips with the whisper of his own.

Her eyelids flickered. They opened to his. She almost smiled. [p. 416]

As weird as it is to say it (after over a thousand words, I’m sure), I really did enjoy this. It was nice and mindless, and the characters were easy to take and … not admire, but have positive thoughts for. If you go in for the historical romance genre, give Beguiled a try.

(I’m still not sure that Beguiled‘s the best title, but hey, I’m not an editor.)

Grade for Beguiled: 2.5 stars


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