Tag Archives: romance

Jane Austen’s Persuasion

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I enjoy the version of Pride and Prejudice where Colin Firth plays Mr. Darcy, and there are two versions of Sense and Sensibility which I appreciate. I do not know who plays who in my version of Emma, but I like that one immensely. But the version that Gwyneth Paltrow is in is terrible, just terrible – in my ‘umble opinion.

One of the things these three stories have in common is their lead players’ sharp wit. The ladies in Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Emma all have razor tongues that cut as deeply as swords. Mr. Knightly and Mr. Darcy are not to be outdone by their ladies and have wits as acerbic as the girls’. Whoever suspected that verbal fencing matches could be so much fun? Nothing we have today is this cutting, this incisive, readers. It was truly an art of the time and these women were as adept at it as any samurai with his sword.

So when I saw Persuasion, I expected Anne Elliot to be just as quick-tongued as Jane Austen’s other heroines. But as the film progressed, I became disappointed, then confounded, then content. Why?

Anne is quick-witted, but she does not bite during the course of Persuasion. She hardly even barks. The middle of three daughters, Anne fell in love at a young age with a young officer named Frederic Wentworth (played by Cíaran Hinds). He proposed to her when she was nineteen but, since his financial prospects did not look good, Anne was persuaded not to marry him. She refused his offer despite the fact that she did in fact love him and he loved her.

It has been eight years since this occurred by the time Persuasion starts. Anne has been taking care of her foppish father and bratty older sister, Elizabeth, for these eight years, making her an old maid by the standards of the times. Her younger sister, Mary, is married to a Mr. Charles Musgrove and has two boys, who are unmanaged. Mary is always complaining of aches and pains, mostly so she can get her own way. She is so annoying that her husband takes every opportunity to go outdoors and hunt with his friends. Between the two of them it is not hard to see why the children are so undisciplined.

We learn at the beginning of the film that Anne’s foppish father has all but bankrupted the family, forcing him, Anne, and her older sister to “retrench.” In order to pay their debts they have to move to Bath from their country manor, which they must also rent to raise funds. A friend of Anne’s mother, the widowed Lady Russell, is the one who convinces Sir Walter Elliot that he has to move. Otherwise he would have to be dragged from the place by his heels.

Her father, Elizabeth and her companion, Mrs. Clay, depart for Bath. Poor Anne is left to prepare the house for rent, pack what the family “requires,” and then go see Mary, who says she is sick again. Neither her father nor her sister suggest they want anyone else to help with the work. They certainly do not volunteer their own time. Instead it is always Anne’s job to handle the practical matters. Elizabeth seems to hold Anne in complete contempt and there is little love lost between the sisters. The family estate, Kellynch Hall, is to be rented out to an admiral in the British Navy – whose wife happens to be the sister of Captain Frederic Wentworth.

Staying with her sister and in-laws at Upper Cross as the tenants move in, Anne ends up listening to the family’s vehement complaints about each other. Most of the Musgroves’ complaints about Mary are more than justified. Mary is as self-centered and snobby as Elizabeth, but she has less control and wit, holding Anne more as her personal lady-in-waiting than as a despicable housemaid. She is petty but on a lower level. Anne’s the only white sheep in the whole family since her mother’s death.

The best thing about Anne’s stay in Upper Cross is that it means she will not have to see Wentworth, who is coming to visit his sister.

So when her old flame turns up one day unannounced, Anne is thrilled, but also frightened. Wentworth feels somewhat the same. He still loves her, but he also does not want to get close to her. She turned him down once and he does not expect her to change her mind now. Nor does Anne expect him to propose to her again, given that she turned him down so long ago.

As the film progresses, we see Anne come out of her shell. Slowly, she breaks away from her empty-headed father and his fascination with power and fashion, as well as her bratty big sister’s control. She becomes a woman who can make her own decisions, standing firm when others demand she change her mind or do something they want her to do or believe is best for her. Eventually, she tells the man who still loves her that she does love him in return and that she will marry him.

The best scene in the whole film is also the only time we see Anne and Wentworth kiss. As a circus pulls into town Anne and her future husband clasp hands, with the camera taking special care to hover over their hands before this happens. While the world, represented by the circus, rattles on down the street and turns right, Anne and her beloved walk in the opposite direction. They are arm in arm as they converse quietly together.

That is all I am revealing about the film, readers. It is a masterpiece in every sense of the word, especially the scene I described above. Persuasion was written, I believe, when Jane Austen was at the top of her craft. Her first stories are marvelous tales, full of action, intrigue, and wit with teeth. But Persuasion is the cream of the crop. And I do not say that lightly!

If you can, readers, find Persuasion and view it. It is a chick flick, but it is a chick flick with style. Not many can claim that and get away with it.

See ya around!

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Book Review: The Gentle Infidel by Lawrence Schoonover

The Gentle Infidel is a historical novel set in the 1400s, the fifteenth century. It starts out with a Jew named Joseph visiting his friend Nicolo da Montelupo, a Christian Venetian merchant living in Scutari. Just across the strait from Constantinople, Nicolo lives in the territory of the Turkish Empire because its taxes are lower than the Greek taxes. But, because he is a Christian, he cannot have a brightly colored house, as the other inhabitants of Scutari do. His mansion must be painted gray, like all Christian houses in the Ottoman Empire.

Joseph has come to Nicolo looking for unset jewels to present to the emperor’s vizier. Nicolo shows him his collection of jewels – all splendid specimens. When Joseph agrees to pay 100,000 ducats for the gems, Nicolo suggests a diamond would not do for the centerpiece stone. He then calls in his son Michael, asking him to bring in the best and most beautiful of the collection. It is an emerald from India, said to be cursed, and Joseph agrees to pay 50,000 ducats for that one stone. All told, this venture will cost him 150,000 ducats. Ah, the price one has to pay for dealing with an Italian – even one who is a good friend!

The next day, however, Joseph cryptically warns Nicolo to take his son and sail back to Venice as soon as possible – that very day, even. But Nicolo does not heed his friend’s warning, not fast enough…

So when Michael is conscripted into the janissaries, the elite corps of the emperor’s bodyguards which is formed of the sons of Christians who are indoctrinated as Moslems, he is taken completely by surprise. Like any good father, Nicolo fights to get his son back. He even manages to get a meeting with the emperor, Murad II, himself. But, between his physical problems and the heat of the day, Nicolo’s body fails him. He dies of a stroke in the emperor’s palace in Adrianople – and Michael remains in the janissary camp.

The rest of the story focuses on Michael’s journey. Over the years he grows and becomes strong. Told by the masters of the camp that his father lied to him when he said Michael would be in the janissary camp for a few weeks on holiday, over time the younger Da Montelupo develops a contempt for his father and anyone related to him due to his perceived abandonment.

This makes him somewhat nervous when he is sent to investigate a suspected smuggler in Constantinople, one Filippo Bernardi. You see, Signore Bernardi was a friend of Michael’s father. Michael barely remembers him, but he recalls enough. And someone that close to his father might want to make him a Christian again….

But Michael takes the assignment all the same. It would be cowardice not to do so. He visits Bernardi’s home, and as he feared, both Bernardi and his daughter, Angela, recognize him. Angela and Michael were friends as children, and before he was conscripted, Michael gave her his toy dagger. Nicolo recognized the seed of romance in the gesture and, currently eyeing a Turkish courtier’s third wife, Michael does not wish this childhood idea to grow and bear fruit.

Angela, however, forgets the requisite behavior demanded of infidel women before the young janissary several times during Michael’s stay in her father’s house. This is especially true when Bernardi mentions Nicolo da Montelupo. Michael angrily cuts the old merchant off and states that his father lied to him and abandoned him, having never come to see him since he was taken into the janissaries. Horrified by the lie her friend has believed for so long, Angela breaks silence and tells him the truth: his father died a week after Michael went into the janissary corps. His last thoughts were of his son, not himself.

Michael is so taken aback by the news that he breaks his wineglass by gripping it too hard. Despite his training as a Moslem, Michael is known as a “gentle infidel.” He lets Bernardi off with a warning to stop smuggling, and then goes back to Adrianople – where he gets into trouble.

The Gentle Infidel is not a novel for children. All the same, it is an extremely informative story about the late Middle Ages in the Middle East. In it you will find romance, danger, intrigue… Also, in this modern era where much is misunderstood, this novel will enlighten readers about this important epoch in history. Lawrence Schoonover, the author of the book and another historical novel called The Burnished Blade, gave up his successful career in advertising to write both books.

Until next time, readers.

The Mithril Guardian

Avengers: Age of Ultron – Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff

Black Widow

Okay, I have to swallow a prognostication I repeated several times in my predictions’ posts, readers. Natasha Romanoff and Bruce Banner really do have a romance going on the side in Avengers: Age of Ultron.

It was, honest to goodness, a surprise to me. I did not believe Whedon would do it. But I also did not think Hawkeye’s family would be in Age of Ultron, so I am batting a thousand on several fronts.

All in all, the Natasha/Bruce romance was not so bad, in my opinion. Whedon may have made it a little sugary in places, but Natasha telling Bruce exactly how messed up she was by her Red Room trainers was very eloquent.

That scene also reveals Natasha’s low opinion of herself. She explained there that she sees herself as a monster. Never mind the fact that she is practically Hawkeye’s adopted sister, that she’s been an Avenger for almost three years, and has helped to save countless lives since Clint redeemed her from the “Dark Side.” She still has not forgiven herself for what she was trained, forced, and chose to do in her past.

That weighs her down. She has been forgiven by her friends and her “battle brother” has children who adore her like she was their blood aunt. But because she has not forgiven herself, she is still securely chained to her past, as we saw when Wanda hypnotized her in the bone yard in Africa.

Readers, we unfortunately cannot discuss Natasha Romanoff’s role in Age of Ultron without mentioning that there was a lot of rage about her portrayal in the film going around after the movie premiered. Though this is not something I empathize with at all, I have strong beliefs about the “rage” that sent certain people into a flurry of Internet activity. Also, this post is discussing Natasha’s role in the film, as well as her character, both of which were savaged in the hours following Ultron’s theater release. So the “rage” that ran rampant on the Internet has to be addressed.

Apparently, there were several groups who had gripes about Widow’s part in the film. One offended group said that having Ultron lock her up in a cell was demeaning.

Excuse me?! He rips her off the Cradle, flies her back to his base, during which time she is completely stunned by the impact of his attack. When she comes to in the HYDRA base Ultron commandeered in Sokovia, she finds herself facing an eight foot tall robot who could snap her like a twig – especially with his new, vibranium-plated body!

No amount of kung fu in anything less than the Iron Man armor would have protected her from him if he had decided to stop playing games and kill her. When faced with a metal monstrosity one cannot physically beat, the only sensible way to stay alive is to get as far away from it as one can. Natasha very wisely backs away from Ultron and into a room, which turns out to be a prison cell, where he locks her up (as he intended). She cannot bust the lock with the little equipment she has on hand, and he physically outmatches her. The only possible way she can survive long enough to help stop Ultron is to sit tight and signal her team – or rather, Bruce Banner – to come and get her out.  (Not to mention tell the Avengers where Ultron is.)

I see no problem with this scene, in so far as Natasha wisely keeps herself alive to fight later on. Any other captured member of the Avengers would have done something similar, as the cell was the nearest accessible point of refuge. And Natasha’s rescue, as far as I am concerned, was perfectly normal. It was also a great way to show that Beauty does not always need to rescue the Beast (sorry, Bruce).

Another crowd was apparently angry about the scene at Hawkeye’s farm, where we learn that Natasha was sterilized by the Red Room operators and, as a result, is unable to have children.

*Sigh.*

Okay, either these people did not – and do not – want to do their research on Marvel’s characters, or they take everything in the films at face value. Both of these attitudes are preposterous, because the filmmakers cannot, after a point, make up the characters and the stories out of whole cloth. Marvel will not and cannot let them do that if they are to preserve the integrity of their characters and storylines for their fans. It will not work, because the movies will not sell if it is attempted.

So I am sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but the fact is that in the “mainstream” comics, it was already a well established fact that Natasha Romanoff and the other Black Widows were all sterilized. The film version of the process is actually more thorough than the comic book depiction. In the comics, it was the Soviet version of Cap’s super soldier serum, which the Red Room handlers used to enhance their “charges,” that rendered the Black Widows sterile.

Was this a result of the Red Room serum’s inferiority to Dr. Erskine’s serum, or was it a planned “defect” the Soviets purposefully added to the mix? The point is debatable, but I lean toward the latter argument. If the Widows could not have children, it was “one less thing [for their handlers] to worry about.” And why should a Widow respect the lives of others when her own life had been so completely and carefully stolen from her?

The people who trained/raised Natasha wanted “a liar and a killer” who would do whatever they told her to do. They brainwashed her and the other girls, tore them down mentally and emotionally over and over again, until the girls could and would be whoever and whatever they needed them to be to get what they [the handlers] wanted. Natasha Romanoff was a tool, a slave, which they could remote control. They tried to erase everything – everything – in her that would possibly make her want to stop working for them. They did not manage to erase everything, which Clint figured out real quick, but the fact is that they wiped out a whole lot.

The most important thing they erased was Natasha’s ability to have children. All the brainwashing and training in the world cannot get rid of the potential that a female operative in Natasha’s line of work might have children. The one thing left that could probably unlock the chains the Red Room handlers had wrapped her in was that if, during a mission, a Black Widow had a child.

The child did not necessarily have to be born; it just had to be conceived. Once that happened, there would be no threat on earth, no chain under heaven, which could possibly convince Natasha or any other Black Widow to keep on playing the role of killing machine. Not when they had an innocent life they wanted – needed – to protect. The best way the Red Room could make certain that Natasha and the other Widows remained loyal slaves of the Soviet regime was to remove any chance that these women could have children.

The thing to remember, readers, is that Natasha can still lead a fairly normal life. This is something Bruce knows and she has not yet realized. Natasha cannot physically have children, but she could still get married and adopt a child or a number of children. She is fond of children. Bruce saw that at Hawkeye’s farm. In all truth, I think Natasha would make one hell of an adoptive mother. Having been deprived of her innocence, she knows how precious it is and is therefore willing to protect innocents – children especially – with everything she has. That is basically all you need in a mother.

But because Natasha will not forgive herself for her past, she has not moved on to that chance at a mostly normal life. She stays where she is, still chained by her guilt, by the idea that she is a monster manufactured by even worse fiends. Frankly, I am glad Whedon put this note about what the Red Room did to her in the movie. It ties back to the original comics and it adds a dose of hard reality to the film and the franchise. I think it needed to be there.

Of course, some other offended viewers also say that Natasha’s part in these scenes is demeaning because it makes her “less of a role model” for young girls. Pardon me for being so “backward thinking,” but I dare say that if Natasha Romanoff herself heard the words “role model” applied to her, she would laugh in the face of whoever called her such a thing!

Natasha Romanoff’s code name is the Black Widow, people. It happens to be a name she shares with a poisonous North American spider that is supposed to kill and eat its male mate. In her role as a Soviet spy, Natasha killed hundreds of people. And not just men, though they were very likely her primary category of targets. The stories about real black widows say that they kill and eat their male mates, after all.

But a deleted scene from The Winter Soldier shows the main villain of the film, Alexander Pierce, mentioning that Natasha had a role in something called the “Children’s War.” So it would appear that the Soviets were indiscriminate when they told Natasha who to target. If her handlers told her to take someone down, she did it. No reservations, no mercy, no regrets; she killed whoever they marked for death. End of one hellaciously ugly story.

So if the Black Widow, a.k.a. Natasha Romanoff, is a role model for young modern girls, does that mean we want our girls to grow up to be “liars and killers” like she was – and still is, occasionally? That is what Natasha would ask, and what she would see as the implication in people calling her a role model!

If Natasha wanted young girls to turn out like her, I do not think she would be letting Lila Barton draw pictures of butterflies or encouraging her in other traditionally “girly” pursuits. Considering Natasha supports the child in these activities, I think she wants Lila to turn out more like Laura than like her!

All of this is not to imply, readers, that I think young girls should not admire Natasha Romanoff. I admire and like her quite a lot, actually! However, I would be much happier if people allowed girls to admire and look up to Natasha for the right reason.

That reason is this: Natasha was raised to be a “liar and a killer.” But one day, she chose to be something else. She chose to do the right thing when she had been brainwashed and programmed into believing that making such a choice was to choose weakness. Despite years of training and programming, Natasha did something her handlers had believed was impossible for her to do: she made a choice of her own free will.

And that choice was to be someone good, someone who was not the “liar and killer” her handlers had spent so much time and energy molding her to be.

In making this choice, Natasha found herself. She left the Darkness behind and entered the Light. This is an extremely brave choice to make, something girls who admire Natasha should understand. Her choice had to have scared her to death on some level. Going from complete Darkness to bright sunlight for someone in her position is quite the change. But she did it anyway.

She was alone, seemingly, when she made this decision. But, as we know, she was not alone after she made her choice. No one who makes the choice to leave the Darkness for the Light ever walks alone; they are always provided with a guide of some sort. In Natasha’s case, her guide was Clint Barton, a.k.a. Hawkeye. This is the reason that they are best friends in the films. Hawkeye was there for her when she needed someone to help her learn to see in the brightly lit world she had just entered. Let’s face it; you are going to stumble around when you blink a lot. And Natasha probably did a lot of “blinking” in order to get her feet under her after she chose her new path. (So she was very lucky she had a guide with the eyes of a Hawk!)

All this talk about Natasha “learning to make choices for herself,” is from people who are not looking at her properly. Natasha has already made a series of independent choices, starting with the one where she said to herself, “I will do what I know, in the law written on my heart, is right,” and followed through. She then made the choice to join up with Clint and follow him into SHIELD. In making that decision, she chose to protect people. Then she chose to become an Avenger when Loki tried to take over the world. In The Winter Soldier, she chose to help Cap stop HYDRA, even when it meant letting the world see her gruesome past sins. After this painful episode, she decided to be an Avenger full-time.

Hulk SMASH

These are all very big choices that Natasha has made in Marvel’s movies, perhaps without truly realizing the full implications of what she was choosing. And in Age of Ultron, Natasha made another big choice. She chose to fall in love with Bruce Banner.

Think about it. She was very likely trained to believe that love of any kind was weakness. But she fell in love with Hawkeye as a brother figure, she who had never known even the love of sisters, since the Red Room violently discouraged the sisterly instincts of the Widows it manufactured. (Check out the Agent Carter episodes on the Red Room to learn more about that.) Then Natasha found sisterly love with her battle brother’s wife Laura, and learned to love like an aunt by interacting with the Barton children.

But with her own ability to have children gone, how could she possibly find love with a man? If she fell in love with a man who wanted children, how would he react to the news that she simply could not have any? How would she take being married to the man of her dreams but being without the ability to make their marriage a family life?

So she shut herself off from romantic love. “Love is for children, I owe him [Clint] a debt,” she told Loki in The Avengers. It was not a lie; it was a way of protecting herself and others from disappointment. Loki thought he had found a woman like Sif: a warrior female who loved battle but who would also willingly surrender her warrior duties to have a family at the first opportunity of finding real love. He never realized that Natasha did not have any such designs for her future, for the simple reason that others had denied her that dream long ago. The only thing she felt she had left was her job at SHIELD, and later, her job as an Avenger.

But in Age of Ultron, Natasha did fall in love – with Bruce Banner. And he could not have children, either, so it was a total win-win scenario for the both of them, right?

Sadly no, it was not, and Bruce knew it. Even if he could not articulate it, he knew it. Natasha, once she lets go of her past and starts thinking the way she should, will realize that normalcy is not something unattainable for her. She could easily fall in love with a guy, marry him, and adopt a few children. There is nothing abnormal about that process and, as I said above, I think Natasha would make one hell of an adoptive mother.

Yes, readers, Bruce also left Natasha because she threw him down a hole to awaken the Hulk so they could “finish the job.” Right when Bruce was perfectly prepared, for once in his life, to run off and leave the “job” unfinished. But I do not think Bruce hates her for it. The Hulk certainly did not look furious when he shut down the comm. on the Aveng-jet. But he did look very sad.

Why?

Because he and Bruce both know that they have no room in their life for anything or anyone normal. Bruce cannot be a father. It just will not work. Hulk cannot be a father either. There is nowhere in the world they can go without risking hurting someone. They can never give Natasha what they both know she deserves and is almost ready for: a husband and a family.

Even though the fact that Bruce and Natasha cannot have children is something they have in common, Bruce would not be the greatest adoptive dad in the world. The Hulk wants his say in everything in Bruce’s life. Bruce and the Hulk may be able to avoid being a threat to Natasha, but what about children? The Hulk has a soft spot for kids, sure, but not on a daily basis!

Natasha has not quite worked that out yet, from what we can tell. She fell in love with a man, for the first time in her life, and she knows that Bruce shut off the comm. to protect her. But – as of the end of Age of Ultron – Natasha may not yet truly realize just why and what he is protecting her from. Bruce can never lead a normal or semi-normal life. Never. Until the day he dies, he will always be contending for physical/mental space with “the big guy.” There is not room in his earthly life for anyone else.

But Natasha can have a mostly normal life, and Bruce knows it. He also knows that denying her that opportunity for such a life would make him just as bad as her old Red Room handlers. And he loves her too much to do that to her. The best thing Bruce can do for her – the only thing he can do for her – is to let Natasha go and find someone she can live a normal life with. He had to do the same thing for Betty Ross. If anything, Natasha needs the opportunity more than Thunderbolt Ross’ daughter ever did.

Before I sign off, readers, there is one more thing I should say about Natasha’s role in Age of Ultron. It was a good role, and viewed as she should be, Natasha Romanoff is a character any girl can admire and enjoy. She deserves that admiration, not for her skills or her knowledge, but for her decision to do the right thing, no matter how much it hurts her. Hopefully, she will keep up the good work. We will have to wait to see the end of Civil War to know just how well she gets off in Phase Three of Marvel’s film franchise.

As a fan of Natasha’s, I sure hope she makes the right choice again in Civil War. Otherwise, she will just be left with more guilt and sorrow. I do not wish that on her or anyone else, readers.

Excelsior!

The Mithril Guardian

Captain America The Winter Soldier

Book Review: Simon the Coldheart by Georgette Heyer

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Here we are again, readers, looking at another Georgette Heyer novel! The same friend who gave me The Talisman Ring also handed me one of Heyer’s earliest works, Simon the Coldheart. Where many of Heyer’s other novels occur in the 1800s (or thereabout), Simon the Coldheart is set all the way back in the 1400s!

That is correct – the 1400s! It is a time of knights, archers, foot soldiers, lords, ladies, wars, empires, and – of course – love!

Simon the Coldheart begins on the road to the Lord of Montlice’s castle. A youth of fourteen (whose height and shoulder width make one think him to be older than he actually is), walks up to the gate of the Lord of Montlice’s castle. With nothing but a quarterstaff and his own great strength, the youth gets past the guards and into the castle.

When guards in the castle block him from meeting Fulk, the aforementioned Lord of Montlice, the youth knocks one of them down as easily as you please.   Happening upon this battle is Fulk’s son, Alan, a full year younger than the youth. Alan halts the guards and asks the other boy his name. The youth answers, “Simon,” and asks to be led to the lord of the castle.

Alan pauses, looking the other boy over for a long minute. Then he agrees and takes Simon in to see his father. After some interesting words pass between the two, Fulk accepts Simon as his page, learning the boy is the illegitimate son of his rival, Sir Geoffrey of Malvallet. This makes Fulk’s day, believe me – he has the illicit son of his rival for his page, and what is more, the boy chose to squire under Fulk because it would be harder to earn a place in his castle than in his own father’s entourage! Ho, ho, ho, wait until Malvallet finds out about this!

So Simon acts as Fulk’s page, moves up in rank to squire, then to captain of the castle guard, and then becomes lord of his own barony just down the road from Fulk’s estate. In between these grand events he meets his half-brother (named Geoffrey, after their father), becomes a knight, and fights under King Henry IV. But the sparks start flying when he follows Henry V to France for the Hundred Years War. Here, Simon is to lay siege to the town of Belremy, which is ruled by the Lady Margaret…

Ah, ah, ah, I am not going to say anything else about the story! Well, maybe one or two other things. Heyer’s historical accuracy appears, as always, impeccable. She renders the time and place perfectly (from what I can tell). Her characterization of all her important characters is beautiful, especially in the case of Simon. Dare I say it, but I think Simon towers over even stoic, fun, Sir Tristram Shield of The Talisman Ring!

There is just one character who does not start out particularly believable, and that is Lady Margaret. Oh, she becomes believable soon enough, but when she first enters the story there seems to be no reasonable explanation for her behavior. Although my friend and I both think that Margaret behaves as she does for the same reason that Maureen O’Hara’s character in The Quiet Man demands John Wayne’s character fight her brother, the rocky entrance of Lady Margaret into the narrative must be acknowledged.

As an interesting side note, Georgette Heyer did not allow Simon the Coldheart to be republished during her lifetime. She published it once, decided it was not good enough, and then ensured it could not be published again in her lifetime. Her son had it republished after her death, claiming that his mother was her own worst critic and that, in this one instance, he thinks her judgment was in error.

I cannot say that I disagree with him, since I loved Simon the Coldheart! If you can find a copy of it, readers, I highly recommend it to thee. Twill make good reading and twill pass the while enjoyably!

Au revoir!

The Mithril Guardian

Book Review: The Talisman Ring by Georgette Heyer

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I am not usually interested in romantic fiction. The romantic fiction I typically enjoy has derring-do, villains of various and sundry levels of evil, the occasional explosion, and a hero and heroine who fall in love as they fight side by side to stop the bad guy (think Lord of the Rings). That is my preferred romantic fiction; I do not enjoy stories about summers where girls run into eligible guys who somehow just happen to walk into their small towns.

So when a friend of mine insisted I read Georgette Heyer’s The Talisman Ring, I agreed to take a look at it. My compadre and I have similar views of so-called “harlequin romances” and, since Georgette Heyer was a favorite of this friend’s, I figured, “What could go wrong?”

I was not disappointed. Georgette Heyer was a British writer who specialized in writing romances set in the centuries around the 1800s. Her fiction is a great deal like Jane Austen’s – except she wrote her books in the twentieth century, while Austen wrote about what she saw around her in the early 1800s.

Heyer’s work has received untold acclamation for its historic authenticity. I cannot say anything about that, since I do not really bother with it beyond how it affects the ways the characters behave. Nor do I take the time to verify the accuracy of the historical details.

It is not that I do not like historical accuracy; it is simply that I do not know enough about the latter to comment on it, and I have not the time to confirm it. Setting is always a big seller and it always will be. I like the film Avatar entirely because of its setting of jungles, floating mountains, and bioluminescent plants and animals. In this movie, all the rest can go hang.

These diversions aside, what can you expect from The Talisman Ring? A rip-roaring good time, for a start! Heyer’s romantic fiction, more so than Jane Austen’s, is almost always sprinkled with comedy. In fact, one might say her works are romantic comedies. For all I know, that is how they are classified.

Anyway, The Talisman Ring starts out with Sir Tristram Shield arriving to see his uncle, Baron Sylvester Lavenham, who is barely hanging on to “this mortal coil.” In fact, it is probably only a few days before he will kick the bucket.

Shield apparently has no love or concern for his uncle. Shield appears cold and unfeeling, though he has a sense of humor and an honorable, kind heart. At the same time, he is eminently sensible and practical, and he sees no reason to go around wearing his heart on his sleeve.

Shield goes up to see his uncle and final matters are discussed, among them the fact that Shield is thirty and unmarried, and the last of his line. In typical aristocratic fashion, this is something he wants to rectify somewhere in the near future.

Staying at Sylvester’s house are Shield’s cousins: Basil, the heir to Sylvester’s fortune and a fop, and Eustacie, the men’s seventeen year old French cousin. Sylvester got her out of France just ahead of the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror, and so she was spared going to the guillotine in a tumbrel. Sylvester wants her and Shield to marry, simply for convenience.

Times being what they are, both Shield and Eustacie see the sense in this. But Eustacie proves to be a romantic with a desire for adventure, and Shield is unable to wrap his mind around the girl’s fantasies. To top it off, Basil is mincing around the mansion, sighing and purring to his cousins, waiting for Sylvester to kick off and wondering over the whereabouts of their other cousin, Ludovic Lavenham, who is the direct heir to the old man’s fortune.

Upon hearing about cousin Ludovic, Eustacie is at once curious. As far as she knows, she has only two cousins – Basil and Shield. Who is Ludovic and why has she never heard of him before now? Shield tries to avoid the subject, but Eustacie is determined to know, and so Basil obliges her.

Apparently, Ludovic was the debonair, dashing heir of Sylvester Lavenham. He was a dead shot with a pistol and, like all good gentlemen of the time, he liked to gamble. He would go out with his friends and have a game every other evening.

Well, the last time he was at one of these card games, Ludovic was losing. So he bet the most valuable thing he had on him – his talisman ring, a signet ring that was the heirloom of his family and virtually priceless. Ludovic lost the bet – and the ring – to one of the other players. A few days later, Ludovic went to redeem the ring, since he promised that whoever won it would get the money he could not bet at the game as soon as he could arrange it.

Except the winner of the card game denied that Ludovic had said this and attempted to keep the ring for himself. Ludovic got drunk that night, then headed out to have a duel with the crass fellow and get the ring back. Shield stopped him, sent him home, and tried to meet the man in order to reason with him. However, he and Ludovic had barely parted ways before a shot rang out! (Cue suspenseful music!)

Shield doubled back and found the winner of the talisman ring dead in the woods, the ring nowhere on his person. When questioned, Ludovic said he had shot at an owl and missed. He did not encounter the man that night and did not have the ring on him the next day. Knowing that this defense would not hold up in court, Shield and Sylvester sent Ludovic overseas, where English law could not touch him. So Eustacie learns as much as anyone knows about Ludovic.

Somewhere in the next couple of days, Sylvester dies. With Sylvester’s death, Basil wants Shield to try and find Ludovic. In all the fuss, Basil was the only one who believed Ludovic’s claim of innocence; that he had in fact shot at an owl and, being drunk, managed to miss it – he who never missed a target in his life. Shield says no, but Basil quietly says, “I think you should.”

Meanwhile, Eustacie comes to the conclusion that Shield is very un-romantic. He does not think of, nor does he crave, adventure. Well, if he does not want any of that, then she does not want to marry him! So a few days after Sylvester’s death and funeral, she sneaks out to catch the midnight stage to London to escape Shield and boredom.

What she gets is caught. On her way to the stage station she is discovered by smugglers – or rather, rum runners. Their leader is a certain romantic fellow (*cough* Ludovic *cough*) who charms Eustacie at once. However, the law catches on to the runners’ presence and, to buy his men time to get away, Ludovic leads the lawmen on a merry chase – with Eustacie sitting before him in the saddle!

During the chase, Ludovic is shot. Eustacie takes him to a nearby inn (where Ludovic has stored his illegal wines on previous occasions, and they know him). There, Ludovic is patched up, and Eustacie meets Miss Sarah Thane, the sister of a Justice of the Peace. Sarah and her brother are staying at the inn because her brother has a cold – and he likes the wine too much to up and leave just yet. Eustacie explains her and Ludovic’s situation to Sarah, who has to hide her mirth at the youthful exuberance of the girl. Sarah Thane agrees to help Eustacie protect Ludovic and find the man who framed him for murder – and so partaking in the adventure she admitted she had always craved.

Well of course Ludovic was framed! Dear readers, I am shocked – shocked! – that you should disbelieve his story! Quite surely, Shield shot the man, blamed Ludovic for it, and stole the talisman ring! He even collects such trinkets. How could he not be the villain of this piece?

*Sigh.* Eventually Sarah and Eustacie later agree that Shield is not the perpetrator. But they agree to this only after Shield has arrived at the inn, had an argument with a recuperating Ludovic, and stood by listening to them try and fit him in to the villain’s mold. Sadly, he is not a square peg and he fits roundly in a nice circular hole, but he takes the savaging of his character with rare good humor. Though, since Shield is a bit cold to outward appearances, you have to pay attention to see that he is highly amused by all the wild theorizing.

So then who murdered the man, stole the talisman ring, and framed Ludovic for it all? You will have to read the book to find that out, readers! I highly recommend it. If you are not laughing by chapter – oh – four, then call me a Zaber Fang’s uncle!

Until next time!

The Mithril Guardian

The Hunger Games: Rue

The Hunger Games  Catching Fire  Mockingjay

I do not know how other readers feel about Rue, Katniss’ twelve year-old ally in The Hunger Games, but I liked her almost on the spot.   I am fairly sure that there are very few readers of the trilogy who could not like Rue.  Though tough, determined, and a competent survivor, Rue still possesses a measure of innocence throughout her part in The Hunger Games novel.  It was not fun for me to read about her death.

One of the interesting things about the character of Rue is her name.  Though “rue” is indeed the name of a plant species, I did not know that at the time I was reading The Hunger Games.  Instead, I thought of the other meaning for her name, which is:  “regret, sorrow,” or “to feel sorrow, remorse, or regret.” [Thank you, Merriam-Webster! 🙂 ]

And indeed the Capitol does come to “regret” Rue’s death in the Seventy-fourth and Seventy-fifth Hunger Games.  It is Rue’s death that is a turning point for Katniss because it infuriates her.  With her ally’s murder, Katniss realizes the fetters the Capitol has enchained her and all the other districts with:  In Panem, if the Capitol wishes you dead, then you die.  If they wish you life, you live, until you are no longer useful to them.  The people of Panem are slaves to a pitiless master who watches them kill each other for sport.

Katniss, however, defies the Capitol.  Not just in The Hunger Games, where she buries Rue in flowers.  Not simply where she saves Peeta’s life as well as her own.  She defied the Capitol prior to that.  She defied the Capitol by surviving her father’s death in the mines and her mother’s depression, ensuring the survival of her family.  By the Capitol’s thinking, as soon as Katniss’ mother became unable to care for them, Katniss and Prim should have been sent to the District 12 children’s home, a place where orphan children were brought up so that they could go to work in the mines.  It was of no consequence to the Capitol whether or not Katniss and her sister would have been happy and cared for at the children’s home, or whether they were treated as property that must be cleaned and fed, it should have happened.

And if it did not happen, then the girls and their mother should have starved, as other people in District 12 who could not care for themselves did.  There were more people where the Everdeen family came from, an idea which is stood on its head in Mockingjay, where District 3 victor Beetee mentions that the population of Panem is dying off.  This is primarily blamed on the war in the third book, but I am not inclined to believe that annually killing twenty-three youngsters (and, in the Second Quarter Quell, forty-seven youngsters) helped the population maintain a healthy balance, either.  Nor did the constant death in risky jobs such as, say, deep coal mining in District 12 and the harsh punishments meted out for infractions of Capitol law in all the districts help to sustain the population of Panem.

But as long as the Capitol retained control of the districts, that is, as long as everyone in Panem (even in the Capitol itself), lived and died according to the Capitol’s rules, then nothing was wrong.

But everything in such a system is wrong.  And that is what Rue’s death finally drove home to Katniss.

Though her part is as small as her stature, Rue is an unforgettable component of The Hunger Games.  She made sure, in her own small way, that the Capitol came to “rue” the day they Reaped both her and Primrose Everdeen for the Hunger Games.  From the day of her death onward the “odds” were no longer in the Capitol’s favor.

Later,

The Mithril Guardian