Books Read in 2016: ‘A Very Proper Monster’ by Elizabeth Hunter #amreading
Book Summary from Goodreads:
In A VERY PROPER MONSTER, Josephine Shaw spends long nights filling the pages of her Gothic stories with the fantastic and the macabre, unaware that the suitor her father has arranged is one of the dark creatures she’s always dreamed. For Tom Dargin, courting an ailing spinster was only one duty in a long life of service to his sire. But after he meets the curious Miss Shaw, will Tom become the seducer or the seduced? Can a love fated to end in tragedy survive a looming grave?
[Review may contain spoilers]
I picked up this duet of novellas by two indie authors with very high ratings on Goodreads because of the subtitle on the front cover: “A Duo of Gothic Romances.”
By the time I’d gotten to the end of the first (Kindle) page, I realized this wasn’t actually Gothic romance; rather, A Very Proper Monster is more accurately categorized as paranormal romance. Although the generalized definition of “Gothic fiction” includes horror classics such as Dracula and Frankenstein, the subgenre of Gothic Romance evolved to include certain, very specific tropes such as:
- Typically in first-person POV from the heroine’s viewpoint. If it’s in third person, it may be omniscient (events are narrated, never gets into the heads of the characters) and/or the heroine’s is still the only viewpoint the reader is given.
- One or more characters surrounding the heroine has/seems to have malevolent intentions toward the heroine. This includes the “hero” character.
- The reader is not privy to the thoughts, motivations, or intentions of the other characters surrounding the heroine. It’s similar to an unreliable narrator situation because the only POV character, the heroine, suspects everyone/anyone.
- The heroine’s life is in jeopardy—or seems to be—from someone close to her.
- There are, or seem to be, paranormal elements.
- Many times, there are two male characters vying for the affection of the heroine—one is dark, mysterious, and potentially dangerous, while the other seems to be bright, forthright, cheerful, and safe—in other words, they seem to be the exact opposite of each other.
- The setting plays a major role in the story—whether it’s an ancient estate on a misty moor, Mr. Rochester’s house with its strange sounds at night, a creepy castle in the far mountains of Transylvania in the 1800s (Deanna Raybourn’s The Dead Travel Fast), or a Gothic-style Victorian home in foggy Northern California filled with previously unknown relatives and a dying grandfather (White Jade by Willo Davis Roberts—my favorite Gothic Romance novel).
- There is a lot of focus on the psychological impact on the heroine of the fear driven by the setting, situation, and surrounding characters.
This novella, while a quick, interesting read, did not hit most of these tropes.
- Written in third person, not only do we get the hero’s POV, the story actually opens in his POV, so we know right from the beginning that he’s a “tame” vampire.
- The heroine, Josie’s, cousin could fill the “has malevolent intentions toward the heroine” role—except he didn’t have the agency or the power (or the intelligence) to actually do anything to her. There is a minor character who seems to be the Big Bad for the wider world of the series this novella fits into, but, again, aside from being told that he’s the Big Bad and runs the vampire community in Dublin, there was never truly any jeopardy from him for the heroine.
- There is no unreliable narrator situation created. Because we get Tom’s POV right from the start, we know that he’s a good guy and that he only wants to help Josie/her father.
- The heroine’s life was in jeopardy, yes—but only because she was consumptive and had been slowly dying for years from tuberculosis.
- There definitely were paranormal elements, given that most of the characters in it are vampires—and for a novella that fits into a wider storyworld, Hunter did a fabulous job of doing just enough world-building that I was never confused (for long) over a few made-up words or situations. It helps that she kept most of the standard rules for vampires (can’t go out in the sun, have the ability for mind control, have heightened sight and smell and hearing, etc.).
- There was no foil for Tom—and given that he never had, nor seemed to have, malevolent intentions toward her, combined with the shorter length of this story, it would have been hard to do that.
- The setting didn’t really play a role here. It could have been set in London or Edinburgh or New York and that wouldn’t have changed anything about the story. It was set in 1880s Dublin, so the actual world didn’t have to be built—only a few details given here and there to make it feel real . . . though not Gothic or fear-inducing.
- This was a very straight-forward romance. The only psychological focus was on her falling in love with him (and the potential that she wasn’t quite right in the head?) and his worry—then fear—of losing her when he was falling in love with her. She never feared him, or anyone else in the story.
I really did appreciate the fact that, because this obviously fits into a wider storyworld, I didn’t really have any trouble figuring out what was going on. Hunter gave just enough backstory for Tom and his “brothers” that I immediately was able to place each of them in my mind and keep them straight throughout. She also did a great job of contextualizing the paranormal elements so that I never had to wonder for more than a page or two what a certain (made up?) world-specific word or scenario meant.
As a romance writer myself, I’m always looking for the “big problem”—what’s the final big conflict that threatens to tear the couple apart seemingly forever (or which threatens their relationship but which they both must fight together, which brings them closer). In this story, because Josie is dying, which we know from the beginning, and because Tom is a vampire, I never truly felt their relationship was in any jeopardy. I knew right from the beginning that he would turn her (have her turned) rather than let her die—especially once they fell in love so quickly/easily.
And then Josie’s transition into being a vampire . . . yes, there was discomfort and a little disorientation, but again, there was never any jeopardy, despite Anne and Murphy’s worrying over whether nor not she’d become problematic after turning, or all of the “dire” warnings in the narrative about how dangerous newborn vampires are. Sure, it was dangerous for Neville, but that needed to happen anyway.
All-in-all a fun, quick read . . . just not the “Gothic Romance” I was prepared for. It was good enough that I may look at eventually reading other books in this series. And this author is going onto my “ones to watch” list!
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