Book Review: Frederica by Georgette Heyer

I picked up Frederica out of a desire to explore more of the author’s work—seeing that Georgette Heyer is one of the more important (if not the most important) Regency romance authors around. This is only the second book of Heyer’s that I’ve read, and I was hoping to enjoy it a bit more than I did The Grand Sophy—unfortunately, I think I liked it even less, as I was disappointed to notice that some of the same weaknesses of the one book were also in the first, leading me to suspect that they might be just common traits of the author’s books that, unfortunately, I will not enjoy particularly much.

Firstly, I don’t find that Heyer’s prose is easy to read or enjoyable—honestly, it gives me a headache. It’s very well-done, in the same style of the early 19th century, and I can’t deny that it’s authentic. However, it’s very dense and cumbersome, which, when contrasted with an admittedly silly romance plot, does not make for a good combination. I almost want to say that it feels like the author is trying too hard, but that’s not what it is, really. Regardless, I think that the very wordy, period-appropriate narration is, surprisingly, not a strength in Frederica.

Another problem that I had with both this book and The Grand Sophy was how infuriatingly silly and melodramatic all of the secondary characters were. It’s very much like Frederica and Lord Alverstoke are the only sane people in all of London—everyone is childish, self-absorbed, and moronic. I understand that it’s done to add a sense of humor to the proceedings, but I find it frustrating rather than amusing in most cases. (There were a few moments in Frederica that made me laugh, but only a few.)

Thirdly, and lastly, I did not enjoy the way the romance in this book resolved itself. It seemed to me to be a bit overwrought and contrived. I did, actually, like Frederica and Lord Alverstoke and their relationship quite a bit, but so theatrical a conclusion was off-putting. In romance novels, I like to be pleased and delighted with the eventual Happily Ever After, not annoyed.

Altogether, I’m not entirely sure that Georgette Heyer’s romances are quite the ones for me. I find her books a slog to get through, for one thing, though I don’t think she’s necessarily a bad writer. I also didn’t particularly like any of the characters or how they turned out in the end. Frederica was difficult to get through, and the few moments where I laughed didn’t really make up for the rest of it, unfortunately.


Book Review: Bitter Greens by Kate Forsyth

Having heard nothing but praise for this book and being a pretty huge fan of historical fiction, I hoped Bitter Greens would work its magic on me. But not to keep readers in suspense, that was certainly not the case. At times I saw the potential for an excellent novel shining through, but for the most part I was extremely underwhelmed by Kate Forsyth’s efforts.

The problem with fairytales is that they are stories being told—not stories being shown or experienced. Writers of fairytales don’t go into depth with characterization and don’t spend time in-scene; these are summaries of peoples’ lives. I had hoped that Forsyth would be able to take the Rapunzel fairytale and expand upon it, giving it its own unique flavor, and while in some ways she did, she didn’t manage to shake off the ever-present flavor of telling. So many chapters in Bitter Greens were mere summaries of events, a style of storytelling that doesn’t lend itself to in-depth characterization or establishment of setting. I never once lost sight of the fact that the narrator was telling me these things, and it made for a very different experience that a book that immerses its reader into the text, where the reader can invest in the characters and root for their success.

I was, by and large, not particularly invested in the characters presented in Bitter Greens. The Rapunzel character herself was stock and two-dimensional, as was the reformed wicked witch. Charlotte-Rose’s story was the only section I tended to find interested, but it was so often summarized that it lacked in quality, and, additionally, it recounted many of the same events that I’d learned about previously in Sandra Gulland’s excellent The Shadow Queen. I’d desperately hoped, however, Forsyth would find a way to subvert the traditional Rapunzel fairytale, but to my disappointment she stayed unerringly true to the original, and after having previously read a historical-set Rapunzel spinoff with decidedly feminist themes, set during Charlemagne’s conquest, I couldn’t help but make the comparison, and it was Bitter Greens that came up lacking. It seems to me that I’ve read better novels dealing with the reign of Louis XIV and better Rapunzel retellings, and I was constantly bemoaning the author’s amateurish, messy storytelling. The story-within-a-story-within-a-story format was often clunky, and with incomplete characterization, I never found myself engaged by the text.

Additionally, Kate Forsyth’s prose is not good. It’s juvenile and sloppy and just doesn’t sound goodwhen you really think about it. The dialogue was often clunky and inconsistent, and the numerous sex scenes were honestly too ridiculous to be borne. For instance:

…a moist thwacking sound as the bed rocked and squeaked. “You’re all wet and ready for me. Or is that the juices of your lover? Should I thank him for preparing the way for me?”Kate Forsyth, Bitter Greens (emphasis mine)

At some point I just had to stop attempting to take the author’s prose seriously, because it was beyond laughable. I’ve honestly not even read such terrible sex scenes in a romance novel, and I’ve read hundreds of those. (Aside: why is it that historical fiction authors struggle so much with sex scenes? I’ve found that it’s a problem in this genre more than any other.)

I managed to finish Bitter Greens, but in all honestly I should have set it aside after the first few chapters, when I was so completely underwhelmed. Though I had hopes this book would improve, it never did—in many ways actually growing worse. For though the story is often good, I’m afraid that Kate Forsyth’s mediocre prose and storytelling did not cast her creativity in a good light.