Saturday, June 01, 2013

Review - Royal Mistress

I suppose it is about time that I posted a negative review if only to prove that I am a real person and not a publishing company puppet. I received an advanced copy of this book, out now in paperback.

The Royal Mistress by Anne Easter Smith. 400 pages. Published by Touchstone in May 2013.

Thing is, I really wanted to like this book. It has a lot of elements of books I enjoy: English royalty, fascinating historical period, lots of descriptions of clothing, outsider perspective (you don't get much more outsider than a commoner mistress), but it never really coalesced for me.

Jane Shore is the "favorite mistress" of King Edward IV, he of the Wars of the Roses. She rose from being a commoner, daughter of a merchant (portrayed here as running a fabric shop) as she gained the attention and affection of a string of very important, very noble and sometimes royal men. It's a great historical story, portrayed often because of the scandal and romance.

I expected to really enjoy this book, at the least to find it a light and fun summer read (ala Philippa Gregory), but the writing was still and awkward. I'd find myself drawn out of the story by the choppy sentences, awkward dialog, and overly stilted narration.

Perhaps a greater crime was that ancient trespass of "telling not showing". Over and over again we are told a characters motivation, back story, experiences, etc., but only rarely are we shown those elements and allowed to draw our own conclusions.

For example, early on in the story, Jane Shore is being berated/punished by her father and wonders at her mother not intervening for her. As she storms off there is a throwaway line to the effect of Jane not having seen the myriad ways in which her mother has been beaten down so far that she will not help her children. That's a good backstory and motivation; it's an important part of her family dynamic and the main character's personality. And it could have been handled better/more subtly/more fully then one throwaway line that gives an easy answer with no work for the reader to do.
Between the writing and the showing not telling I just kept wondering away from this book. After 5 weeks, I am going to admit, that I am not going to finish this book. I made it halfway through and have no desire to finish it.

This might just be me. Since I didn't finish the book, you are free to take my entire review with a grain of salt. The reviews so far on Goodreads are positive, but Amazon has more mixed reviews. Libraries with large paperback collections and/or previous books by this author should probably pick this book up, but I will pass on recommending it to my friends and patrons.