Dedication, by Janet Mullany

>> Friday, December 02, 2005

Dedication (excerpt), by Janet Mullany is a book that has got a great buzz online this year. The consensus seems to be that it's a very different kind of Trad Regency. My thanks to Jennifer for sending it!

French aristocrat Fabienne Argonac Craigmont escaped the Reign of Terror—only to lose her head over the rakish Adam Ashworth. As she remembers it, he seduced and abandoned her; Adam, however, still feels the sting of her rejection. When a surprise meeting brings them together years later, he is a widowed, respectable country gentleman, and the innocent convent schoolgirl has become a sophisticated patroness of the arts, living on the bohemian outskirts of the ton.

Despite the popularity of her salon, Fabienne is lonely, and she begins a correspondence with the reclusive Mrs. Ravenwood, whose gothic novels have taken London by storm. When Fabienne goes in search of the authoress at her country home, she finds a very evasive Adam Ashworth instead—and concludes that Mrs. Ravenwood must be his mistress. And as their letters grow more intimate, Fabienne finds herself recklessly divulging long-held secrets—while her encounters with Adam leave her torn between distrust and desire....
The consensus was absolutely right. Dedication had little to do with most of the Trads being published today. Unfortunately, while I loved the characters and the romance, this really would been much better if Mullany had lost all the extraneous subplots and concentrated on Fabienne and Adam. A B.

The romance here was truly remarkable, as were the characters, Fabienne especially. Her past is unlike that of any romance heroine I've ever read. An experienced widow, Adam was her first lover, but she very definitely did not spend the 20 years after he left her pining for him. Oh, no, the very young Adam was pretty much a mediocre lover, for all his pretentions to being an experienced rake, and Fabienne found sex with her second, much older husband much better. She's also had lovers since she was widowed (though this is just a passing mention), unlike Adam, who's been celibate in the 10 years since his wife died.

Their relationship during the story is interesting and enjoyable. For a Trad Regency, this is one hot book. There not only are some pretty explicit scenes, but both Adam and Fabienne are very sexual persons, and their thoughts and every interaction are charged and every scene sizzles. Mature characters -one of them even a grandfather- who are sexual beings, what a novel concept! And I loved the idea of Adam as a former revolutionary, free-love proponent all grown up, even if I did think he was a bit of a jerk as a young man.

Unfortunately, for all that I loved the characters and enjoyed what Mullany was trying to do with many of her plot twists, things sometimes just didn't work for me. Take those letters between Fabienne and Mrs. Ravenwood, for instance. I adored the way an attraction developed there, but the letters themselves just didn't ring true to me.

IMO, Fabienne opened up completely much too soon. What we'd seen up until then of her correspondence with Mrs. Ravenwood had been friendly enough, of the type new acquaintances might share. But then Fabienne suddenly starts blurting out things that I'd tell only a very close friend, actually writing down things that could have utterly and completely ruined both her and other people, and sending them to a person she only barely knows. The story really could have used 10 or 20 more letters, gradually increasing the degree of intimacy between them, before a letter as revealing as that one might have been written!

And there really was a bit too much going on here, what with Mrs. Ravenwood's real identity and Adam and Fabienne's tug-of-war over the letters, Fabienne's complicated relationship with Elaine (who I thought was an unpleasant twit), Adam's daughter's relationship with her abusive husband, the Sons of Prometheus, Elaine feelings that she's being followed and so on and so forth. Some of these are related to each other, but they still added to the feeling of too much going on and things not being given enough attention.

Nowhere did I feel this so much as when what exactly had happened to end Fabienne and Adam's relationship all those years ago was revealed. This, unlike the rest of the book, was a cliché of the worst kind, even if it did have a certain different twist to it, and I really hated the scene in which Fabienne confronted the person responsible (responsible not just of separating her and Adam, but of far worse things).

Furthermore, Adam disappointed me with his reaction when Fabienne finally told him about the events of 20 years before. He seemed to be much more worried about "betraying" his brothers at the Sons of Prometheus society (even if he was well aware of the fact that the society had degenerated into something that was a travesty of what it had once been) than about what Fabienne had just told him!

Also, the ending felt rushed and didn't make that much sense. I think the only thing I liked about those last few pages was Fabienne's outburst to her brother when he found her with Mrs. Culver's remedy. The rest just wasn't satisfying.

Still, with all these objections, this book was so original that I can't wait to see what Mullany comes up with next!

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