Saturday, February 7, 2015

The (Not Quite) Twelfth Disappointment

4. The Twelfth Enchantment by David Liss



I've been trying to figure out why this novel just didn't click for me. It's set in Victorian England, it's got magic, and it's written in a style reminiscent of Austen. Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell , which I would describe similarly, is one of my favorite books of all time. The Twelfth Enchantment is definitely the most boring book I've read this year (which is not saying much yet, but I imagine I'll say this in December too).

I was a big fan of David Liss' The Coffee Trader, and I really wanted to like The Whiskey Rebels, but maybe I'm just going to have to accept that, for me, he was a one-hit wonder. I most frequently complain about writing style, but it's not that. It is derivative of Austen, and that bothers me a little, but I've been known to appreciate homages, so it's not that. I had to re-read my review of The Whiskey Rebels (#54), and I realized--it's the characters.

They're awful.

Lucy Derrick, the protagonist, is so blah. She doesn't want to be forced into marriage-wah wah. There's something special about her that only certain special people notice. These special people, by the way, are Lord Byron (yes, THAT Lord Byron) and Mary Crawford (yes, THAT Mary Crawford). Then there's Jonas Morrison, who Lucy hates because he once convinced her naive young self to run off with him (but then he didn't marry her OR take her virtue, so--what? Yeah). And there's this servant called Mrs. Quince who utterly hates Lucy because they once tried to read tarot cards together--character motivations here make no sense, people.

There's a bald Wickham and Darcy bait-and-switch, an evil Mr. Collins and undead Lady Catherine, and every Austenesque/fantasy twist that can be randomly thrown in is (except-thank goodness-we don't go to Bath). I just didn't care about any of it, because the characters weren't real to me.

I don't know. Liss has a gift with words. He usually has a gift with plots; I think trying to steal from Austen here threw him off. But whatever this is, he is way off his groove. Or maybe I'm just in a cantankerous mood. Anyway, I wouldn't recommend it, but if you're less cantankerous than I am about Austenesque plots surrounding a non-Austen-worthy heroine, I won't stop you.

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