Monday, May 3, 2021

"The Lady and the Lionheart" by Joanne Bischof

I'm glad I read this book for two reasons.

One, it's shown me several pitfalls NOT to stumble into with my own Beauty and the Beast retelling, which I'm currently writing the first draft of.  Such as, if your 'beast' is going to have some kind of physical 'otherness' that is supposed to be shocking and off-putting... make it something that actually would be shocking and off-putting. 

Two, it hammered home the fact that Research Really Matters.  A lot.  And getting lazy with your research is not okay.  Especially not in the age of Wikipedia.  Now, this book is set in 1890.  My own books are set from 1866 to 1884, so far, which means I have a reasonable idea of what kinds of words, fabrics, slang terms, music styles, and things of that ilk are contemporaneous to the last half of the 19th century...and also with how easy it is to find out if they're period-correct or not.  

For example, hey, guess what?  In 1890, no random chick in Virginia is going to know what ragtime music is.  It's just barely being invented in New Orleans right then, and it'll be years before it becomes mainstream enough that a random chick in Virginia would be able to recognize it, much less spontaneously play ragtime music on a piano (and that after not having touched a piano for five years).  And that's just the one thing that I was so annoyed over that I ranted to Cowboy over it for minutes on end, so I still remember it vividly.  There were a lot of other things that yanked me out of the story because I wondered so hard if they were accurate or not.  

I HATE being yanked out of a story by having my credulity stretched until it snaps.  (I also kept getting yanked out by the sloppy/clunky writing... and I'm not sure which annoyed me more.)

Also, if you're going to write about a 7-month-old baby, maybe check with the parents of some 7-month-old babies to see if what you're having this fictional kid do and eat is plausible.  I know it's been 8 1/2 years since I had a 7-month-old, but... most babies that age don't have very many teeth, for one thing.  They can gum soft foods like bread, but... I'm just sayin'.

I suppose I should briefly mention what this book is about.  A young woman named Ella who dreams of becoming a nurse comes to the rescue of a man named Charlie and his sick baby.  Charlie is a lion-tamer in the circus.  (He's actually named Richard Lionheart, because subtlety is not a big thing with this book.)  Ella is beautiful and Charlie has shaggy hair and tattoos, so that makes them Beauty and the Beast.  Romance ensues.

(Mine from my Instagram.)

(SPOILERS IN THIS PARAGRAPH).  So, the tattoos.  I know that they were a way bigger deal in the past than they are now.  Especially in the Victorian era, when people were Extra Sensitive about certain things.  But I really can't think of any evidence from any of my own historical research that would make me believe that people then found them so disgusting that, wow, it would be a tough choice between getting a lot of tattoos or becoming a male whore.  The whole tattoo thing seemed blown way out of proportion.  Yes, they're permanent.  Yes, they're unusual in that era, for people who weren't sailors or South Sea Islanders.  Yes, circuses would have a Tattooed Man or a Tattooed Lady as a curiosity or "freak" in their sideshows.  But... I did not buy that there was any reason for Charlie to assume that the fact that he had tattoos would make him unmarriageable or unfit for ordinary human interaction.  Seemed very contrived to me.

(MORE SPOILERS)  Also, while we're at it, what was up with the semi-erotic scene where Ella touches Charlie all over his bare chest and back and arms?  Now THAT would have been completely unacceptable behavior in Victorian times.  No way was she going to feel comfortable doing that, especially not with her lingering trauma from her rape five years earlier.  That felt very much like the whole scene was just there to give female readers a chance to vicariously get all hot and bothered, and I was NOT cool with it.

(END OF SPOILERS)

The romance in this is sweet and relatable, and I really did love Charlie in particular.  Men with Sad Pasts and Kind Hearts always draw me, you know.  But every time I'd get drawn into the story by the characters, I'd get thrown out again by the clunky writing.  I know this is an earlier book by this author, so maybe her writing skills have grown to match her story-creating skills by now...

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-16 for memories of a teen girl's rape, a visit to a brothel, suggestive comments made by minor characters.  There's also some kissing, but that's tame.

This is my 20th book read from my TBR shelves for #TheUnreadShelfProject2021.

8 comments:

  1. "choice between getting a lot of tattoos or becoming a male whore"

    *spits out drink*

    I'm sorry, WHAT????

    I know a lot of conservative Christians today are absurdly obsessed with the "shame" of tattoos, but even taking that into account, it's hard for me to wrap my head around a Beauty and the Beast story where the Beast is a social outcast SOLELY BECAUSE HE HAS SKIN TATTOOS? Did I read that right?

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    1. (ugh, Blogger still says I'm not signed in. I'm so sorry. Hopefully you can tell it's me by my overwrought capital-letter-laden commenting style. ;))

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    2. Katie, yeah, you read that correctly. I really think this is an instance of modern sensibilities being imposed on characters living in the past. It was hard/impossible to swallow.

      He's not actually a social outcast, exactly -- he just assumes he would be if he ever left the circus. When I think the fact that he's Romani would have way more of an impact, but is not mentioned as a potential issue at all. Sigh.

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    3. *blinks rapidly* I really read that correctly? WUT.

      Yeah, the racism he would face from being Romani would be a MUCH bigger factor, and far more important to address from a historical standpoint. This just sounds like the author went really overboard on her "tattoos aren't actually bad!!!" message, which ... is important for certain hyper-rigid 21st century Christians to hear, I guess? But sticking it in the middle of the Victorian era and acting like there was this huge society-wide stigma against skin tattoos just doesn't make sense.

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    4. Katie, I know! And honestly... the message felt more like "tattoos are awful, but having them forced on you doesn't make you a bad person." They started out talking about how convicts often had tattoos (true), and so you should suspect anyone who had a tattoo of being a convict (I suppose that could be a valid conclusion many Victorians would jump to).

      Again, a cursory internet search brings up loads and loads of info about how in reality... tattooing kind of became a Popular Thing in the Victorian Era. It wasn't just for convicts. Reportedly, even British royalty of the era had tattoos...

      But, you know, research is hard...

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    5. Ugh, that's even worse! "If you WILLINGLY got a tattoo, well, you're just a bad person, but if you had tattoos forced on you as part of this melodramatic and extremely unrealistic plot point, don't worry!" What ... how ... send help???

      I WAS GONNA SAY!!! I didn't want to make statements that I couldn't back up, but I had a feeling in the back of my head that the Victorians actually kinda LIKED tattoos ... Doesn't Sherlock Holmes say in one of his early stories that he's an amateur expert on tattoos and has written a little book about them? Or something?

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    6. (Yep, I was right! In "The Adventure of the Red-Headed League," Holmes tells Jabez Wilson, "The fish that you have tattooed immediately above your right wrist could only have been done in China. I have made a small study of tattoo marks and have even contributed to the literature of the subject.")

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    7. Katie, um, yeah. The more I think about the book, the more issues I have with it. And you're right, there are totally instances of actual Victorian literature talking about actual Victorians having tattoos. Sigh.

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