Fiction: “The Deception of the Emerald Ring” by Lauren Willig

emerald ringI told myself I couldn’t have dinner until I posted this, so – let’s see how late I eat tonight!

A very odd thing happened when I finished The Masque of the Black Tulip — I immediately picked up the next book in the series. I mean, you guys should know me by now; it takes me, on average, two years to get to the next book in the series. (Spoiler alert, coming soon!: the second book in a series where I read the first book five fucking years ago.) (And let’s not get into the time that goes between my finishing a book and then posting the review. Two months is not a good thing; especially when, within that two months, I have developed a backlog of ten books.)

(On the plus side, I am killing my book goal for 2016.)

As much as I’ve — not ranted, or even complained — I guess as much as I’ve made a Whole Big Thing about how this series doesn’t return to previously-coupled characters, I went to the next book immediately because of the romance between Colin and Eloise, the modern couple. Eloise and Colin had A Moment during The Masque of the Black Tulip, and then the next day, Colin shunts her back to London with nary an explanation. As he’s pulling away from the train station, he asks her if she wants to get a drink sometime. Eloise quickly acquiesces, but it’s not until she’s back in London in the beginning of this book that she remembers —

— he doesn’t have her phone number.

So I went to the next book so quickly, not to get to know the new couple, but to see how the Colin/Eloise romance fares. Good news! It fares well, thanks to some intervening and cute manipulations of Eloise’s friend Pammy. The next book in the series will cover their first date.

But who are the players in the new historical couple? This time, we meet again — but with greater detail — Richard’s second best friend (in quantity, not rank), Geoffrey Pinchingdale-Snipe. Geoff has been in love with Mary Alsworthy for a couple of books, but only in passing — we’ll hear about him writing a terrible poem for Mary, and his other friends make fun of him, and then the plot continues on. But at the beginning of the historical portion of this book, Mary’s sister Letty hears Mary bustling about in her room around midnight, and there’s a carriage in the alley behind their house, and —

— Mary’s going to elope with Geoff to Gretna Green! As eloping in that day and age was a mark of ill-breeding and overall tragedy, Letty tries to tell the carriage driver to leave, but instead she gets put into the carriage and driven to the hotel where Geoff is waiting for Mary. When Geoff gets into the carriage he automatically starts kissing the woman inside, assuming it’s Mary – and that’s when two loud drunks show up, and Letty is unable to escape.

And that’s how Geoff ends up married to Letty – if he doesn’t marry her, she’ll be ruined, because remember – virginity is the most precious commodity a woman had back then! Neither Geoff nor Letty are happy about the arrangement, but marry they must.

Oh goddammit – I just got stuck in an endless loop of #Ham4Ham videos for about thirty minutes. Dinner, Alaina! Focus on the goal!

Anyway, after the wedding — but before the wedding night — Geoff is sent out on a mission to Ireland to try and stop a revolution spear-headed by the Black Tulip, who escaped at the end of the last book. After finding out Geoff’s deserted her, and with the help of a lot of champagne and some advice from my second-favorite duo, Miles and Henrietta, Letty hightails herself over to Ireland.

In Ireland, we catch up with Jane, the Pink Carnation, and her governess-slash-right-hand-woman Miss Gwen. This is welcome, because Jane is an excellent character that we don’t see enough of. Jane welcomes Letty into the spy-fold, and together they gather more information to be able to stop the Irish Rebellion, which would have brought Napoleon closer to England. (It’s a whole historical thing. It’s interesting, but not enough to get into depth with. My hungry stomach apologizes.)

Meanwhile, Geoff isn’t too thrilled with Letty putting herself in danger – while he’s not happy about being forced into a marriage he never wanted, he also doesn’t hate Letty; nor does he want to see her hurt. As typically happens in a Marriage Before Romance plot, Geoff begins to fall in love with Letty, and his obsession with her sister Mary falls away.

He realizes that Mary was acting all time in order to gain herself a husband, but behind the beautiful mask, there wasn’t anyone real. Whereas Letty, who is plainer and quieter than Mary, shows her emotions and headstrong-ness and can cut a bitch with her wit at twenty paces, and also hides her self-esteem issues behind her sarcastic, self-deprecating style of humor, and —

— huh. That’s — … huh.

Uh, ANYWAY. They fall in love and their marriage becomes happy, because romance novel.

One of the best scenes for Letty is at her wedding reception. Her new husband won’t look her in the eye, and everyone invited assumes Letty was so desperate for marraige that she would throw her sister over for her own beau, and everyone is judgy and awful – and halfway through, Letty realizes that she no longer has to distribute fucks. It’s like, “the gift for coming to my wedding? Were fucks. And oh, look, the gift table is empty, for I have no fucks to give.

Mrs. Ponsonby’s bosom filled with pleased pity. “But for Mary to lose her beau — to you! Who would have ever thought it!”

“Who, indeed?” tittered Lucy [Ponsonby].

Lowering her hand to her side, [Letty] leveled a long, hard look at Lucy […] For over a year, Letty had been forced to endure Lucy’s jabs about her dress, her hair, her clothes, a million little snubs under the guise of being “helpful” to Mary’s younger sister. And since there was nothing she could say without looking a shrew or causing a fuss, Letty had curbed her naturally blunt tongue and let Lucy jab.

Not anymore.

In a voice that sounded strange to her own ears, Letty said, “You’re just upset that you didn’t think of it yourself.”

Lucy’s mouth fell open in an entirely unflattering and gratifying way, and two round pink spots formed on her cheekbones. “Well, I never!”

“No, you didn’t,” agreed Letty, deciding that there were advantages to being ruined. “But it wasn’t for lack of trying. I saw the way you tried to get Lord Pinchingdale out on the balcony at the Middlethorpes’ ball. If you could have stolen him from Mary, you would have in a minute.”

“I don’t know how you can say such things,” […]

“Because it’s true,” said Letty calmly. “You don’t think Mary didn’t realize? She found it amusing. Because she knew you couldn’t possibly be a threat.”

[…] “Young lady …,” [Mrs. Ponsonby] blustered.

Letty lifted her head high and looked Mrs. Ponsonby levelly in the eye, buoyed by champagne and a year’s worth of pent-up indignation. In a voice as quiet as it was deadly, Letty asked, “Don’t you mean, ‘my lady’?” [p. 90-91]

applause

Unfortunately, Geoff wasn’t around to see that. If he had, it would probably been a shorter book, because who can resist someone who can throw that much shade that elegantly?

Speaking of Geoff, it took a while, but the more he interacts with Letty he realizes how wonderful she is; especially compared to Mary. Geoff was one of the people operating under the assumption that Letty was merely trying to trap him into marriage with her. When Letty gets swept up in the spy game and Geoff realizes she has “no talent for dissembling,” he finally realizes that she couldn’t possibly have had an ulterior motive in ending up in that fateful carriage, and his opinion of her softens. Over another couple of weeks (in book-time), he realizes he loves her.

Not only is Letty unable to act or lie, but she also doesn’t believe any compliments that come her way – most likely as a result of always being the quieter shadow to her more classically beautiful sister. So when Geoff tries to tell her she’s beautiful, she really doesn’t believe it:

But Geoff correctly read the slight tightening of her lips, and the way her eyes slid away from his.

“You really have no idea, have you?”

Letty bristled. “I have a mirror. And eyes.”

“And no idea how to use either,” muttered Geoff, before realizing that probably wasn’t quite fair of him.

He looked down into her flushed face, framed with its tangle of hair that alternated between copper and gold in the candlelight, and knew that no number of compliments would convince her. With her sturdy common sense, she would write them off as pure flummery. To a certain extent, she would be right. She would never be a beauty by the accepted standards. Pretty, yes. Even lovely. But she lacked the stateliness and symmetry society demanded of its chosen goddesses.

[…]

“Right.” He raised one brow in an unspoken challenge. His voice dropped seductively. “Then I’ll just have to show you.” [p. 346]

He is finally able to convince her of his love for her about fifty pages later, using the early 19th century edition of the Harry Burns “I Love You” speech:

“That’s where you’re wrong. Perfection may be admirable, but it’s not very lovable.”

Letty’s disbelief must have shown on her face, because Geoff repeated, “Yes, lovable. I love the way all your thoughts show on your face — yes, just like that one. I love the way your hair won’t stay where it’s put. I love the way you wrinkle your nose when you’re trying to think of something to say. I love your habit of plain speaking.” He touched a finger to her nose. “And, yes, I even love your freckles. I wouldn’t eliminate a single one of them, not for all the lemons in the world. There. Does that convince you?” [p. 410]

Please compare that with Harry Burns’s New Year’s Eve speech to Sally:

harry met sally quote

#ProTipsForDudes: This scene. Every time. Speaking as someone who has no idea if men ever flirt with her (“I’m telling you, I have never been flirted at. Men aren’t attracted to me.” “That’s not true, Alaina – you just don’t know when you’re being flirted at.” “Isn’t that the same thing?! If I don’t know it’s happening, is it even happening?” “Next you’re going to ask me what the sound of one hand clapping is, aren’t you?” “Don’t be silly, everyone knows Bart Simpson answered that question twenty-five years ago.”), how about using pop culture references instead? Seriously – tell me I’m your density. Buy me a diary and tell me you like me just as I am. Send me any one of those Hannibal-related Valentine’s I post every fucking year.

But don’t you dare tell me “as you wish” unless you fucking mean it.

[Special thanks to Best Friend Kerri for the above conversation re: flirting, Alaina’s inability to recognize it as it is happening to her.]

The last thing I wanted to mention about this book is just a drive-by name-drop of a Ms. Siddons. This is a reference to Sarah Siddons, the famous Welsh actress of the late eighteenth century. She is also the thespian for whom the Sarah Siddons Award is named, and — hold up, it’s a real thing?! That’s fantastic!

See, the Sarah Siddons Award is named by my number-one Patronus, Addison De Witt, in the opening sequence of one of the greatest movies ever made, All About Eve. Sarah Siddons was a real person; the award was created by Joseph L. Mankiewicz in the script. But apparently, the city of Chicago took that idea and ran with it, and now gives out a Sarah Siddons Award every year. Go Chicago! (PS I’m ecstatic to see Bette Davis’s name on that list of recipients.)

So that’s my review of The Deception of the Emerald Ring. And for my concerned readers who are seeing that the post-time on this is nearly eleven o’clock, please be advised: I took an hour break when I remembered I had potstickers in the freezer, so I didn’t have to go out and get food. I ate dinner around 8:30.

I can’t tell when flirting happens, but I know how to find food, so — don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine.

Grade for The Deception of the Emerald Ring4 stars

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