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[personal profile] zdashamber
Alright, so this weekend I started reading a book that I picked up in the supercheap bin at Borders because I thought Mary Stewart's Merlin books were great and I was curious what she was up to lately. And it turns out that Mary Gentle is a totally different person, but you know, historical fantasy romance written by people named Mary... ...right?

Anyway, I need to know if there's someone out there who has read Mary Gentle's book _A Sundial in a Grave: 1610_, because it was humming along very well (musketeers! tormented romance! samurai!) until a point about 60% of the way through, when the protagonist makes a decision that is just so fantastically idiotic that I put the book down and spent the rest of the weekend cleaning my house, occasionally shaking my fists at the ceiling and crying AARRGH!!

The question is, is this idiotic decision something I'd have to suffer through reading about for a couple hundred pages if I continued, or does the protagonist come to his senses within a chapter or so?

So, the only reason I ask is because it was a pretty tasty book before that. She does a good job with making history palpable; there is shit and swords scraping off bones inside people and the considerations of slipping in mud in your fancy boots. The samurai shipwrecked in 1610 England is a fun idea and I'm interested to see where she goes with it. The sex is fine, though BDSM is not my bag; still, nice to see some less vanilla stuff get play.

Trouble is, it's a romance; which I usually enjoy, but there are some pits that romances can fall into. Say boy + girl have gotten past the misunderstanding that had them at odds in the beginning, thanks to talking and working together, and things are going pretty well, yeah? What then? The correct answer is "wrap up the book", but I fear that Gentle has chosen the incorrect answer, "Have one of the participants in the romance stupidly create a new problem to add another couple hundred pages".

So, the stupid, stupid decision: the protagonist is a French duellist, Rochefort, who is the right-hand man of the Duke who is the chief adviser to the King of France. Same kind of guy as Scooter Libby. At the beginning of the book dude gets framed/implicated in the murder of aforementioned King of France and goes on the lam so that he isn't tortured into a confession that will bring down his Duke.

So he goes to England and hangs out there for months, which doesn't actually make any sense in-character since in-character he claims that advancing the Duke's cause is his chief goal in life and he also claims that what the Duke needs is for him to testify that it was the Queen who had the King murdered, which can only happen with him physically in France, and which needs to happen within weeks of the death of the King for it to have any relevance, but there's a flimsy rationale that in France he would get captured... And obviously the book is more of a romance than anything else and so it's necessary that the characters be thrown together in England so la la la no worries.

While in England a guy who proves he can calculate the future tries to force/manipulate our dude into assassinating the English king. Prophetdude has Rochefort beaten, personally kicks him in the balls, causes a lot of deaths, has the other main character raped.

So everyone escapes and is on an unlikely path of history that Prophetdude did not plan for: they are free! And Rochefort goes to the unplanned-for non-dead English king and says, "Say, how about we capture and use this guy who can figure out the specifics of liklihoods of the future? And I suggest this so that you arrange for the Duke to be kept alive in France by passing them Prophetdude's prognostications on that condition."


I mean, what?

Keep the guy alive who has proven that with a few months of time to calculate he can set things up like dominoes to any end possible?

Keep the guy alive who has actually tried to kill the English King who's nodding along here?

Keep the guy alive who has proven he could kill you at any time and the only reason you are alive is that prophetdude needs you to kill the King, which is now supposedly off the table?

And you're doing this so that the Duke can live as a pet enemy of a murdering Medici Queen?

Is that the kind of call that Scooter Libby would make? The whole book we hear about what a murderous badass Rochefort is and now when he has this chance to satisfyingly murder someone who desperately deserves it he's instead planning to put the future of two countries into the hands of a guy they're holding prisoner, who specifically wants the king dead?

Am I making it clear enough how fucking idiotic this "plan" is? They're for one moment riding the tiger, for one moment in a part of the future that prophetdude hasn't explored every angle of, and they're planning to put their heads into the mouth of the tiger.

So, look, the only reason I can see for making this call is an out-of-character need to have the romance not be smooth. And that kind of thing has to be backed up within the text. If Rochefort did in fact care about the Duke more than about Love, he would have gone back to France. If Rochefort cared about Love more than he cared about the Duke, he would murder the guy who hurt both him and his love. A book only gets one flimsy excuse, and this one spent it hundreds of pages before. Gentle went and shattered everything that made sense about the protagonist to try to make him fit into the plot, when he's the only thing carrying the reader through the plot.

Anyway. So I guess the book gets to go to the used store. Pity.

....I can't stand it when characters don't ask the obvious questions! "Why should we believe that this guy will steer us right!" Why would such stupidity show up in a book that had heretofore been pretty darn good about characterization and worldbuilding! It had so much promise! AARRGH!!

...Alright, I'm cool now.
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