This Is All I Ask, by Lynn Kurland

>> Tuesday, May 17, 2005

In one of my Yahoo groups, we have started an "author of the month" read. We take turns choosing an author, and the one chosen this month was Lynn Kurland. I had her pegged as a time-travel author, which is one of the very few genres I don't like at all, so I'd never tried her before. However, one of my friends mentioned that she also has some regular Medievals and let me borrow one, This Is All I Ask.

Gillian of Warewick knows no other treatment than the terrible physical and mental abuse issued by her father. When he arranges a match for Gillian with Christopher of Blackmour, she is fearful: Blackmour is rumored to be an evil sorcerer. When Gillian meets him, he proves to be far more of a man than her father is, yet he is unwilling to be a lover to Gillian. She finds that Blackmour has as many psychological scars to heal as she has physical scars.
Unfortunately, my first experience with Kurland wasn't a good one at all. In fact, I thought this was so bad that it will probably also be my last experience. My grade: a D+.

Things started out pretty promising. Gillian has spent years as her father's punching bag, both physically and verbally. The story starts as she's sent to Christopher of Blackmour's estate, forced by her father to marry him. Christopher is reputed to dabble in the Black Arts and has a horrible reputation, even being known as "The Scourge of England", so Gillian is terrified. The truth is, however, that Christopher is hiding the fact that he's become blind behind this reputation, and Gillian soon starts discovering his real nature.

So far so good, right? I thought the story had potential. If only the characters had been better! Ok, after all those years with that beast of a father, of course Gillian is going to have some problems, so I was fine with her fear of everything, with her lack of self-esteem, at least at first. But what I couldn't stand was the way she crossed the line from innocent and pure to emotionally immature and dumb as a post, with many, many episodes of TSTL behaviour. Christopher kept refering to her as a "child-woman" and she definitely was that, even at the end of the book. Some parts of her character were better suited to a 12 year old girl, not a woman, and, though she did become a bit more self-assured, the growth she experienced was nowhere near enough.

Christopher was a bit better, but he shared with Gillian some traits that drove me nuts. They were both too determined not to be happy. I understood why circumstances in their past had made them believe they had little to offer to another person, but it was all too over-the-top and lasted much too long. They kept reaching conclusions that no one in their right mind would reach, building fantastical theories in their minds and believing them completely.

This made me almost toss the book out quite a few times. The only reason I didn't was that I wanted to give it a fair chance and read until the end (and that the book wasn't mine, too!). Just as an example, the first time was around page 100. Gillian has decided that, since she's ugly, useless, etc, Christopher has no reason to allow her to remain at Blackmour. So she decides she needs to get pregnant (I almost wrote "get with child". This is how much this book's affected my mind).

Christopher immediately finds out her intentions, when he hears she's gone to talk to the castle's whore to ask for advice on how "to please her lord". Ok, so far it's trite, but inoffensive. But the idiot man immediately flies into a rage, because it's obvious that the reason she's doing this is because her soul is black as hell, she's as evil as his first wife, who told him he was undesirable, and that the only thing a woman will ever want of him is "his seed".

He is 100% sure that Gillian wants to get pregnant only to then leave him and take refuge in another of his estates, because with his child, she'll be sure of funds forever. Never mind that all he knows about Gillian seems to contradict this. He's so sure, in fact, that instead of talking to her reasonably, he just screams at her to leave and go back to her father's, a place where he knows perfectly well she'll be abused. Stupid bastard.

And situations like this one were a dime a dozen in the book. I lost count of the times I flung the book down and went "Oh, please!" (or rather, I went more like "Ay, por favor" and "Libro de porquería, me tenés harta!"). And not only at the protagonists, none of the other characters worked for me. Especially Gillian's father, who did horrible things for no reason, just because he was mean and evil.

Oh, and there wasn't even decent sexual tension. No tension and pretty much no sex. Or rather, there is sex, but we just don't see it, which I detest. Hmm, actually, now that I think of it, I don't know if that wasn't a blessing in disguise, because with Gillian sounding so much like a 12-year-old, it might have been creepy.

In the comments below Wendy mentions she thought the book should have been 100 pages shorter. I'd say more like 200. I'm a big fan of romances which have little external action, but if the characters' internal issues aren't written well and aren't compelling enough, they can become boring, as this one did. 420 pages of nothing much happening just magnified the characters' flaws in my mind.

Also, I didn't like the language at all. It was very heavily faux medieval, all 'tis and 'twas and rend in twain. Very affected, very self-conscious. And if I'd read the words "serving wenches" one more time, I would have screamed!

I'd been having a very good reading month this May, but this has killed my winning streak.


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