As an ultimately unnecessary glimpse into Ryder's history, it's a good thing this novella is free. The reader will learn this information when reading...moreAs an ultimately unnecessary glimpse into Ryder's history, it's a good thing this novella is free. The reader will learn this information when reading the novel, but it entertaining to read it from Ryder's viewpoint. I'm not sure that I really learned anything from it, though.(less)
This is an extremely difficult book to review. I'll try to make this review as spoiler-free as possible. Most of the details I need to engage with are...moreThis is an extremely difficult book to review. I'll try to make this review as spoiler-free as possible. Most of the details I need to engage with are at the level of setting rather than plot, so that should not be to much of a problem with plot spoilers.
It tries to find a position for itself among very troubling imperialist (and racist) fiction set in colonial Kenya without triggering so many of the elements that make those books unsettling for a modern audience. I'm not certain that it always succeeds.
I am not an expert on Kenyan (or African) fiction by any means. I have taken classes on African fiction, and the professor that taught those classes was a Fulbright scholar that taught in Kenya. With that history, I started reading this book aware of the complicated position in which it is situated.
Delilah Drummond, our heroine, is a scion of two wealthy families--Louisiana planters and British gentry. Her mother is scandalous, having been married and divorced several times. Edith Wharton's fiction was written at the same time in which this novel is set, and Wharton was strongly interested in studying the changing attitudes toward divorce among American and European aristocracy. Delilah's mother, using Wharton's fiction as a guide to history, would then be something of an outlier--freely marrying and divorcing several times before it was even potentially acceptable. Delilah is scandalous as well. She is nearing 30 (if my estimates are correct), and she's been married three times. The last marriage ended in death and scandal, and her family decides that the best thing to do is to send her to Africa until the scandal dies down. In order to convince her to leave France, they threaten her allowance.
Her poorer cousin, Dora (called Dodo) accompanies her as a chaperone--an ineffectual one at that. Once in Kenya, Delilah finds herself among people that she's known for years--other aristocrats that have been outcast by society. There's Kit, the painter with a insatiable sexual appetite. Rex and Helen are a married couple that understand the need to look to someone other than one's spouse at times. Others--Tusker, Jude, Anthony, and Ryder--are new to Delilah. There are missionaries and a few others as well. The society of wealthy white planters in Kenya is limited, so they all know each other well.
The cover copy for the novel is quite clear that is the story of one woman's journey to find something that matters in life--something worthy of personal sacrifice. Delilah does not enter that journey willingly. She is, often, a repulsive character. Like Hemingway's characters, she has been scarred by World War I, and she disguises those scars with alcohol and sex.
The problems with this novel start with the idea of a colonizer finding him/herself in a colony. That sort of story has long been a part of the imperialist project justifying the growth of empire. Isak Dineson's Out of Africa is one such book. Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, in his essay "Her Cook, Her Dog: Karen Blixen's Africa," outlines the racist attitudes that laid at the heart of Dineson's characterization of Africans. He states that the Africa of European fiction is especially dangerous due to its embedded racism and the beauty of its presentation which allows the racism to be swallowed unnoticed.
Raybourn, on the other hand, tries to avoid the problem by presenting Delilah as a relatively enlightened woman willing to talk with and work beside Africans. She tries to learn native languages, including Swahili and Maas. The other characters (with the exception of Ryder) have slightly more historically accurate attitudes. Dodo, in particular, seems to embody the opinions of the establishment, as a chaperone should.
The problems in the book get more complicated by the fact that the white settlers are agitating for independence from Britain, just as Rhodesia was able to become independent a few years prior. The opinions of the local tribespeople never enter into the matter. The characters all state the part of the reason that Britain doesn't want to release Kenya is due to the number of Indian shopkeepers that have settled in the colony to do business; therefore, one of the very minor characters is an extremely stereotypical Indian shopkeeper.
Further, Ryder is the male lead for the book. He's a hunter, but he's not a "bad" hunter. He's not a hunter for profit, although he will lead safaris for the wealthy. Instead, he's more of a gameskeeper, worried about sustaining the viability of the African environment. When hunting, he only goes after man-killers and predators that attack livestock. He does not poach or hunt for ivory. He is, in a word, anachronistic. There may have been men like him in Kenya in 1923, but I don't think it's that likely. His respect for predators and the environment is based in modern knowledge about ecosystems, and I just can't see a hunter embracing some of the things he believes.
Raybourn walks a number of fine lines in this book, to use a very old cliche. She wants to embrace the romance of living in a wild colonial environment without embracing the social structures and racism at the heart of imperialism. She wants to present a narrative of personal fulfillment in Africa without glorifying empire. I'm not certain that she succeeds at anything she tries to do in this novel.
This is a well-written novel. Delilah is a complicated, rounded character. Ryder is less well-developed, but he's also not the heart of the book. Delilah is often unpleasant, but she's also fun with it. Her sarcasm is entertaining even as she cuts those nearest to her. The journey she makes--from debauched divorcee to something else--is powerful. As a novel, it functions well, and that's why I've given it four stars.
That said, I'm not sure that there is a place for a novel of this kind, one that embraces and ultimately romanticizes the colonial past so thoroughly. I desperately hope this is not a new frontier in romance, as "captive narratives" set in eighteenth and nineteenth century America were in the 1980s. Raybourn's project in this novel is ambitious, but I'm not willing to say it was successful.
I received a review copy of this book through the Goodreads First Reads giveaway program. (less)
Entertaining. Like most Mercedes Lackey novels, this one will not set the world on fire with its originality, quality of writing, or depth of characte...moreEntertaining. Like most Mercedes Lackey novels, this one will not set the world on fire with its originality, quality of writing, or depth of characters. However, it's a fun story, and the characters are enjoyable if not deep.(less)
I did enjoy this book. Livesey nicely captured the appropriate tone for this book, and she did an excellent job moving the setting to post war Scotlan...moreI did enjoy this book. Livesey nicely captured the appropriate tone for this book, and she did an excellent job moving the setting to post war Scotland. However, I don't think Mr. Sinclair was a very well developed character. All of the other characters had depth and nuance that made them original. Sinclair, not so much. (less)
This novel was a delightful way to cleanse my palette after the horror that was the The Hollow trilogy.
I won't give it a long review. All I can really...moreThis novel was a delightful way to cleanse my palette after the horror that was the The Hollow trilogy.
I won't give it a long review. All I can really say is that it questions what it means to serve and the nature of romance. Far from the instalove of so many young adult novels, this is a romance based on conversation, on ties built over time. I truly enjoyed it.(less)
Entertaining, but not something I really enjoyed. For all that I could accept these characters falling for each other, I never really liked them that...moreEntertaining, but not something I really enjoyed. For all that I could accept these characters falling for each other, I never really liked them that much. Jane's plot was the most fun and got the least attention.
I'm not certain I want to continue this series. Stuart is a talented writer, but I don't think I get along with her Rohan books at that well. (less)
I don't often say this, but possible trigger warning, y'all. This book has serious issues with consent.
I did enjoy this book, but it also got under m...moreI don't often say this, but possible trigger warning, y'all. This book has serious issues with consent.
I did enjoy this book, but it also got under my skin and irritated me a bit, too.
As I was reading, I kept getting the impression that Stuart was flirting with the old school romance plot of the rape fantasy. She constantly brought up issues of consent ("don't worry, everyone will respect your decision to say no") while at the same time her characters refuse to recognize a rejection ("I'll stop if she says stop--or maybe not"). As readers we are in the characters' heads enough to know that both parties involved in the sexual activity are enjoying themselves. However, one of the characters is manipulated into a situation where she believes she cannot escape. She is then seduced, even though she tells her partner "no" at one point. But he makes her feel so good that her objection is quickly dropped--and never referred to again.
The sexy-times are fun, and the dialogue is fantastic. But I have a real difficult time enjoying a book that works so diligently to evoke the rape fantasies of romance past. That's simply not a trend that needs to be revived. T(less)
I thought I wrote a review of this book some time ago, but all record of it seems to have disappeared from goodreads. A number of my friends liked thi...moreI thought I wrote a review of this book some time ago, but all record of it seems to have disappeared from goodreads. A number of my friends liked this book, but I simply could not enjoy it. The problem is likely with me rather than with the book. I'm an academic, and I study early nineteenth-century British literature. I've read Austen both as a fan and as a student. Despite Kowal's skill as a writer, I did enjoy the book because the language she used did not seem right. Austen's novels had a certain tone--as well as liberal use of free indirect discourse--that this book simply lacked. Most readers will probably enjoy it. Sadly, I could not.(less)
As the book opened, I wasn't certain that I'd enjoy it. As an adult reader of YA books, I tend to like my books to have a certain level of sophisticat...moreAs the book opened, I wasn't certain that I'd enjoy it. As an adult reader of YA books, I tend to like my books to have a certain level of sophistication in writing. Roughly, I tend to like books aimed at older teens. This book was clearly set for younger audience than I'm used to.
However, once the plot got moving, I got sucked into the story. It's a fairly straightforward plot--a young noblewoman is identified as a magic user. Magework is socially unacceptable, so her father sends her away to a very expensive school that can teach her to control and eventually bind away her magic. However, upon arrival, Tory learns that not everyone agrees with the mission of the school and begins to question why magework is so unacceptable.
Add in a cranky roommate, a love interest at the neighboring boy's school, and some time travel, and you've got this book.
There's nothing wrong with that. Nothing at all.
I do wish that Putney had written for a slightly older audience, though. There are hints throughout the book at the way in which social control is used to condemn magic, and there are hints of deeper relationships at work. I would have liked to see those hints developed further. As it stands, this is an enjoyable three star book for me. I'd rather have given it four, but I'm just a little too old.(less)