Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Review: Trials of Artemis by Sue London

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The Haberdashers Club was formed by young Jack, George and Sabre -- three young girls who grew up to be ladies with an unusual set of skills.

Jack is Jacqueline Walters, 19, and ready for spinsterhood. After two years on the marriage mart, Jack is ready to retire and serve as her younger sister, Sam's, companion. Unfortunately, as with all best-laid plans, Jack's dreams of quiet spinsterhood and the scholarly study of Greek texts go awry when a chance encounter with a man in a library threatens to ruin her.

In the dim library, Gideon Wolfe thought Jack was the person he was meeting for a romantic rendezvous. Just as they were discovering their mistake, the host of the party walks in on them and Gideon quickly steps in and does what he must as a gentleman: he offers her marriage.

Jack has no choice but to accept but both she and Gideon quietly plan to break off the engagement when the scandal dies down. In the meantime, they have no choice but to pretend to be smitten with each other to pacify wagging tongues. But, once again, fate intervenes and a blind item in the newspaper hinting at their encounter in the library leaves our hero and heroine no choice but to go on with the marriage.

I thought this was a very good debut novel. There's a lot to love about it:
For one, the members of the Haberdashers Club: Jack, George and Sabre are well-fleshed out and are fascinating. I love that the three ladies were able to pursue freely and become experts in their chosen field of interest.

This was, I think Sue London's strongest point: she has managed to make all of her characters -- from the hero and heroine, to the Duke of Beloin and the Bittlesworth siblings (Sabre's siblings) -- very interesting. I wanted to read more about them. I wanted to find out more about them.

Jack and Gideon are the central figures in this romance novel and theirs is an unconventional courtship. It was clear from the very first interaction in the library that there is a sexual chemistry there: they did not know each other and could not see each other's faces but their bodies responded to each other. It would have been easy for the author to resolve all of their problems with sex -- but the author takes on the challenge of withholding sex from her hero and heroine -- teasing them to the point of frustration to ensure that they find a way (a non-sexual way) to get along with each other.

Because, at the heart of their conflict is an irony: that which brought them together (the scene in the library) is the reason that's keeping them apart. Jack responded so willingly and openly to Gideon without knowing who he was -- would she behave the same way with a different man? Gideon was at the library to meet a woman, a different woman for a liaison -- would he seek out another woman's bed now that they are married?

"See?" he whispered to her. "Your body welcomes my attentions. I imagine that with very little effort I could have you out of that dress and begging me for more. Why should I trust a woman who can be seduced by a man she doesn't even like?"
- loc 737

It was exasperating to see the two, especially Gideon, act out his jealousy -- and it happens so quickly! Hot and then cold, instantly. There were moments when Gideon bordered on unlikable because of his pettiness:

"I haven't made it a habit to deflower virgins but my understanding is there can be a bit of blood." He paused, "That is provided, of course, that you are a virgin..."
- loc 1923

(He does redeem himself, though, with his kindness and perceptiveness towards the Hobbes family and his fair treatment of the Gladstones.)

Their problem is exacerbated because neither our hero nor heroine are good with words: they are both persons of action. There is an especially telling scene in chapter 13, when Gideon was worried that Jack might be sick. Instead of asking her directly how she was feeling, he waits to check on her when she's sleeping.

She looked wan and tired but not much worse for wear. He had been concerned that it might be a fever, but at least that hadn't been the case. Perhaps it had been something she ate the day before. This morning she seemed to be eating lightly, buttered toast and some clotted cream on her plate. Following an impulse to touch her and reassure himself that she was all right, he leaned down to kiss the top of her head.
- loc 1389

Their exchanges border on caustic -- as though they could melt away each other's boundaries with their arguments. But that is not the case: what our hero and heroine needed to learn was how to maintain their individuality and, at the same time, learn how to be a couple.

"You have to stop being a demanding tyrant. I won't do something simply because you're shouting at me about it."

"I'm the Earl of Harrington --"

"And I'm the Countess of Harrington," she interrupted. "And I insist that my judgment be respected. I've always insisted on it, you just haven't been paying attention."
- loc 3474

I thought our couple was already of their way to finding the Golden Mean in their relationship -- but a clash in politics (Quince's fault) pulls them apart once again, which leads me to my least favorite part of the plot:

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Gideon gets captured by smugglers!

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Instead of having them work out their differences sensibly, the author introduced this earth-shattering (but, completely plausible) plot twist in the story -- when Gideon is returned, it seems that all sins are forgiven. I wish the author hadn't taken this route to resolve their conflict -- I was unconvinced by Gideon's sudden change of heart (his best friend, Quince, could not convince him despite their many, many years of friendship -- and it takes his wife of less than a month, one argument and one cataclysmic disaster to do so?), but, to be fair, that episode does showcase Jack's considerable talents.

My one other complaint are the nicknames of our hero and heroine: Giddy and Jackie -- I know that Gideon's nickname is supposed to be a counterpoint: cute nickname/gruff personality and Jackie is the logical diminutive of Jacqueline -- but the prior sounded too cute and the latter too modern. It was a slight distraction but nothing too major to deter me from liking this book.

I will be following this series: Sue London has mentioned on her website that she has planned for twelve parts -- am especially curious about the three ladies but also look forward to reading about the other "honorary" members of the Haberdashers Club.

The second book in the series, Athena's Ordeal (Sabre and Quince's story) is out now. To find out more about Sue London and her books, click below:

Website for the Haberdashers Club



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