So ... this was another one of those books I picked up on one of my late-night Wal-Mart runs, and when I took it out of my bookcase, I knew immediately why I had purchased it: the male character’s name is, according to the back cover, “Dominic Edgemont, Lord Nightwyck.” Honestly, I’m a little disappointed the character wasn’t named “Dominyc Edgemont, Lord Nyghtwyck,” but what are ya gonna do.
In addition to the classic rule of “not using an ‘i’ when a ‘y’ will do,” Dominic is … well, again referring to the back of the book, “of tainted blood, a half-gypsy bastard.” And how does he meet the love interest, Catherine Barrington, Countess of Arondale (but not Arendale)? Well … Catherine was kidnapped out of her bed on orders from her jealous cousin and sold to a band of gypsies.
I’m going to repeat that. The female lead character was kidnapped and sold to a band of gypsies.
And Dominic meets her when he and his band of gypsies comes across the band of gypsies to which Catherine was sold, and her owner or whatever is in the process of starting to whip her. And Dominic was horrified, so he buys her to save her. And then when he tries to integrate Catherine into his band of gypsies, he pretty much tells her up front that he’s gonna sex her up, and she’s gonna like it, and there’s nothing she can do about either of those facts.
So … look. You know why I read historical romance novels? Because they’re ridiculous. Female spies falling in love with their handlers, Pride & Prejudice-ey banter where neither of the characters like each other until they get to know each other, fairy tale retellings, innocent girls who decide to hide their innocence in order to make money for their family back home in the country, women searching for revenge on their kidnapper … look, whatever ludicrous premise, the thing that I never compromised on was the fact that the power was equal between the man and the woman. They may have come from different social circles, but what the girl didn’t have in money she definitely made up for in wit and intelligence. There may have been a villain who kidnapped the heroine, but the hero was not that kidnapper — or, if he was, it was revealed he was forced to kidnap the heroine in order to save someone else he loved, like his mother or his farm, and he never hurt a single hair on her head.
And if Dominic had acted generously towards Catherine once he had rescued-slash-purchased her, maybe I wouldn’t have been so disgusted with the first half of the book. But guess what? He was a big asshole, and had some rapey overtones to boot.
Actual Quote, from the morning after he bought Catherine:
He would have to go easy with her, let her get used to the idea of sharing his bed. He would give her some time, not much because he had so little remaining. Just enough to ease her fears and let her warm to him.
Dominic had no doubt he could bed her — quite willingly.
After all, Gadjo or Gypsy, she was only a woman. [p. 32]
Wow. Wow. If not for my promise that I would never not finish a book, I would have tossed this away right then, because holy shit. I don’t think I have ever read a novel from this genre with the phrase “she was only a woman” in it. And that attitude from Dominic continued until Catherine finally made it home to England. In addition, that horrible attitude was continuously blamed on his gypsy heritage, which is a whole ‘nother can of worms that I’m not going to open, because I don’t have time for that. But seriously, blaming that attitude on his “tainted” blood is a horrible excuse.
I get that this was a legitimate subgenre for historical romances for years – the Stockholm Syndrome fantasy, if you will. (I’m not going to say “rape” fantasy because I really really just choose to ignore the fact that there are indeed books out there that legitimize that concept. And if that gets you off, fine, go with God, but I literally do not understand how that can be a thing.) I think I was surprised because most, if not all, of the historical romances I’ve read so far have been published recently, and the “Stockholm Syndrome fantasy” has been called out for its undertones of rape, and writers are steering clear of those undertones – which I applaud wholeheartedly. But while I picked up this book a couple of years ago, maybe, it was originally published in 1992, which I believe was smack-dab in the middle of the Stockholm Syndrome’s golden years? (SIDENOTE: “Stockholm Syndrome” would be an excellent name for this year’s pub trivia team.)
ANYWAY. Catherine tries to fit in with the band of gypsies Dominic belongs to, because they’re not as violent as the other guy, and really, she’s just hoping they stop paying attention to her for about five seconds so she can run away back to England. It’s like when Maeby realized that Michael actually was taking her to work and she tried to jump out of a moving staircar twice. (Arrested Development fans will immediately get that reference. “Who knew you were such a good little climber?”) Because Catherine tries to escape multiple times, and each time, Dominic brings her back to the camp.
(Oh shit, I brought up that episode on Netflix and now I’m getting distracted.)
(Oh shit, I’m getting caught into a sinkhole. I MUST CARRY ON. But really, was there anything better than Season One Arrested Development?)
So as typically happens – and I am stymied as to how it happened in this instance – Catherine starts to fall for Dominic. I mean, he’s nice to her mostly, and she likes his mother, and she is interested in the gypsy culture, and if it weren’t for the near-constant innuendo about him sleeping with her, he could be a nice guy. But every time he thinks about sleeping with her, goddammit, he sounds rapey:
He smiled to himself. In light of this new information, the idea he’d been considering seemed even more appealing. He would bed her, make her see that her feelings for her betrothed had long since faded away, return with her to England, and make her his mistress.
The next time the opportunity presented itself, nothing Catherine could do or say was going to make him stop. Once she discovered the delights he could show her in bed the rest would be easy. [p. 116-117]
And the first time they actually do have sex, it’s after Dominic gets angry at Catherine for trying to tell fortunes to make money for the camp, because he believes she’s only trying to get the money so she can escape again, and he almost turns into rape. She manages to stop him, but only to tell him that she’s a virgin and maybe he should be a little more careful. In the end of the scene, everything is willing and consensual, but that first part turned my stomach.
Once they get back to England, they go their separate ways. Dominic returns to his country estate where his father is dying (Catherine has no idea he’s a marquess or whatever), and Catherine returns to her estate (and Dominic had no idea that she was a countess or whatever). Catherine tells her uncle that she had a lapse in judgment and compromised her virtue when she was in the gypsy camp. When her uncle sees her and Dominic talking, he puts two and two together and …. instead of going to Dominic and talking to him man-to-man, decides to trap Dominic and Catherine in flagrante delicto and therefore, into marriage against their will. Because see, Dominic never wanted to marry because he didn’t want his father’s bloodline to continue. It’s all really stupid and awful, and now they’ve gotten married in spite of each other.
But we’re not done! Dominic agrees to marry Catherine, because it’s the right thing to do, but only on the condition that are to never have children. Catherine agrees reluctantly, because there really is no other option, and they wait until after she gets her period to prove that she’s not pregnant. They get married, and then Catherine gets it into her head that she can change his mind, because isn’t that what all women want – to convince men who are dead-set against it that, no, really, a marriage is the answer to all of life’s problems? So she starts seducing him, but he keeps pulling out, because they can’t limit themselves to hand stuff. And just when she thinks she’s got him on the ropes, she learns that she’s pregnant.
And I’ll be honest — my first reaction to that was, “I’m pretty sure you can’t get knocked up from hand stuff, what the fuck?” But then it’s explained that her “monthly time” was just spotting, and I’m sorry, I realize that Victorian England isn’t probably the best at family planning (hell, heaven knows that current America isn’t great at family planning), but … doesn’t a period mean no baby? Or am I just stupid?
I don’t know about me, but this book was exceedingly stupid. On top of the rapey overtones, the abstinence-only sexual education program, and the never-ending descriptions of things that didn’t matter to the plot (which I didn’t discuss, because I don’t really want to waste any more time on this piece of shit, but there are entire paragraphs where the author describes what someone’s wearing, or what the dinner looked like, and none of it matters, get on with it!), it was just … so, so bad. It was like The Parent Trap meets Jane the Virgin meets The Hunchback of Notre Dame meets The Accused.
Dear Readers, if I somehow come across Sweet Vengeance (the next book) on the Wal-Mart shelf and think it’s a great idea? Punch me in the face.
Grade for Gypsy Lord: No stars