The Spare, by Carolyn Jewel

>> Monday, December 06, 2004

My first Carolyn Jewel was Lord Ruin, which I found very disappointing. It had in it the potential to be a truly excellent book, but the execution ruined it (sorry, no pun intended!). Still, it had promise enough for me to keep an eye on her and look for her next, The Spare (excerpt), to see if she had been able to do a better job.

Captain Sebastian Alexander of His Majesty's Royal Navy is The Spare, a younger son who inherits more than a title after his brother's death. Pennhyll Castle, the family estate, comes with dark secrets, ancestral ghosts and a love that crosses the bounds of time. All Sebastian wants is to recover from a near-fatal wound and after that marry to beget an heir and rejoin the war. But first he must discover how, and why, his brother Andrew died and, along the way, learn that falling in love means completion, not sacrifice.
Unfortunately, there wasn't really much improvement... none, I dare say. My grade would be a D+.

The main characters were complicated for me to like. In the first half of the book, I really detested Sebastian, basically because of his treatment of Olivia. He was a judgemental idiot, and one who operated with horrible double standards. Sure, double standards might be historically accurate, but they diminished him in my eyes. First, the way he thought it was quite ok for his brother to be a womanizer, but condemned his wife for possibly taking a lover. And then he didn't offer any objections to his friend's determination to make Olivia his mistress, even when he thought she was an innocent and that her life would be ruined by such an episode. Very heroic, that. Her livelihood depends on her post at the school, but he makes it clear he doesn't approve of her appointment, because if she's still a virgin, which he doubts, she won't be for long because his friend is so determined to take her to bed. He owes it to the good women in town to look after their interests, he tells himself. Disgusting hypocrite.

And I hated the way he spoke to her, upbraiding her for being "insolent" and not showing him the proper respect. And he continued doing so even after finding out that all her woes had been caused by his own family. But the moment I hated him the most was when he accused her of stealing from him, stealing FOOD, which his servants gave her. The woman obviously was so poor she couldn't feed herself, thanks to his family, and here he was, refusing her something that cost him practically nothing! He did improve a bit in the second half of the book, but not enough, and I couldn't completely warm up to him. Even in the sole love scene, he makes Olivia call him "My Lord", and not playfully, either.

Olivia I liked a bit better. I especially liked her at the beginning, when she was employing her survival strategies, pretending to be a vapid maiden aunti-sh woman to disappear into the woodwork. I thought it was quite resourceful of her. However, I soon lost any warm feelings for her, basically because I simply didn't understand her... who she was, how she felt about things, why she did what she did, nothing! She's been through some pretty traumatic experiences, but I never got to understand how they had affected her.

Like in Lord Ruin, there was something about the author's writing style that made it difficult for me to both really understand her characters and even to follow what exactly was going on. Of course, it didn't help that, especially in the second half, the characters themselves weren't too sure of what was happening, either. They kept having dreams that felt very real, and by the time I was reading the fourth or fifth such episode, I had become confused as to what was what, too. Was that scene I read 10 pages ago, when they kissed in the library, reality or a dream? And when she hid in his room? I wasn't sure.

I don't know, maybe it's just me. There are a few other authors whose styles just don't click with me, authors who are well liked by other people with reading tastes which are usually similar to mine. It probably comes down to a kind of "chemistry".

Anyway, it's a shame that I couldn't enjoy this one, because the plot of The Spare was potentially very interesting, and the atmosphere was great, very gothicky, which I always like :-(


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