Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Lo! A Holiday Miracle!

It came upon a midnight clear, reading by the light of lamp oil that lasted eight nights (which is about how long it took me to read this book), that a true holiday miracle occurred:   I liked a Judith Ivory novel.

Now, before you get all excited, you should know that I didn't *love* this book with the heat of a thousand suns.   But compared with the way I felt about the four other J.Ivo. books I've read (Sleeping Beauty: hated it but not so much; Beast: hated it; Black Silk: really hated it; and Bliss: you don't want to know how much), I positively adored Untie My Hands (sorry) Untie My Heart.

And there's a very simple reason.  Emma and Stuart are happy protagonists, which I can best demonstrate with a quote:
He laughed, looked down into her face, stroking her hair, his palm curved to her skull. "A natural-born tyrant rehearsed from birth to rule the world." He smiled and changed the subject. "You are remarkable," he said.
"Not so much." She laughed ruefully.
He contradicted. "You told me once. 'Clowns make you laugh.' But you make yourself laugh, Emma. You see the humor and fun in life. What man could possibly not be laughing beside you?"
And something deep inside her sighed, pleased to hear him speak thus, to know he meant it. Stuart, who laughed so seldom, laughed a lot with her, she realized.

Okay, if someone wants to show me where in Black Silk the characters are that happy in each other's company (particularly before the last ten pages), I'll apologize profusely for all the nasty things I've ever said about J.Ivo.  Untie Me Please (oh, darn) Untie My Heart has put the Happy back into the HEA.

At the same time, there are some familiar J.Ivo. tropes in this book:  Someone's entitlements have been stripped away through legal action, someone is struggling to survive on very little money, there's an evil villain, and so forth.   But where these things make for very gloomy stories elsewhere, in Untie Me Now! (oops) Untie My Heart, the characters get tired of the sort of J.Ivo. inner conflict and general testiness (intended in other books, I guess, to show How Much They Want Each Other, although I find myself thinking it just shows how cranky they are -- d'you think they need to eat more prunes?) and get on with a) solving their problems, and b) liking each other.

Yes, Virginia: There is a Judith Ivory novel where they like each other BEFORE they ride off into the sunset. Amazing, hunh?

Alas, that's pretty much all I have to say about Unbreak My Heart (nope, that's a song) Untie My Heart.   Well, about the good stuff.  There's a con job that's fun but no better or worse than what you see in the English television series, Hustle, and Leverage on TNT.   It's undoubtedly true that J.Ivo. did a lot of research into sheep farming, but this notion that it would have cost £50 (in 1892?!) to replace a tup?  Uh, no.  Inflation of the English currency didn't occur until after World War I, so £50 then would be thousands of pounds today.  (There's a wonderful parliamentary report on the relative value of pounds sterling for the period 1750-2001 here.  In example 1, £50 in 1850 was worth £3,840 in 2001, p.8.)

Sheep aren't exactly hard to come by in Yorkshire even today, so purchasing a male lamb wouldn't have been too hard to do.  I went online to see how much a sheep (of either gender) would cost today in the UK.  The answer, at 2009 values, is £40 ($70).  So I ask myself: J.Ivo. visited family in North Yorkshire when she was doing the research on the area and sheep farming in general, so why didn't she ask someone how much a tup was worth in present-day sterling, and then translate that to 1892 pounds?

And of course she gets the law wrong.  Again.  *sigh*  But it's okay, because here -- unlike in Black Silk -- she doesn't make it essential to the very character of the hero and heroine.  Stuart gets notified rather late that his father has died, so by the time he returns to England, his evil uncle has convinced some body of authority that Stuart is dead so the uncle is now the viscount.   The principal seat is returned to Stuart (after the uncle hauled away everything of value) but all ready funds are tied up in the courts.  The problems with this scenario are pretty easy to spot: Stuart regularly dined with the Tsar, so a) the British Embassy in St. Petersburg would have known of his existence in Russia, and b) the British Crown -- related to the Tsar -- would have had people to ask how recently Stuart was seen alive.  Plus, other Englishmen and women would have traveled back to England from Russia and could have said, "Sure, Stuart's still alive."  Until someone said, "Nope, I saw him die," they would have hesitated to declare him dead.

[My ex-husband should be writing these books!   He came up with a really clever way to have the precise situation J.Ivo. wanted: Stuart is living in what is Nepal now or the Hindu Kush for a decade or so at the time of his father's death.  (Long enough for the courts to be convinced he's missing and presumed dead.)  Because the father had served in the Army in India as a youth, his obituary in the Times of London has at the bottom, "Indian papers please copy," which tells the Indian newspapers to reprint the story in their editions.  One of those newspapers makes its way north to Stuart -- and that's how he learns of his father's death months later.  Henry, my ex, says he knows this would have worked because his grandfather was a magistrate in India in the 1920s and that system was still in effect then.]

Anyway, Stuart gets home and Uncle McGreedy has supposedly tried to claim the viscountcy in Stuart's absence.  The book includes some references to The College of Arms, but that would only have decided who was entitled to the coat of arms, not who was the viscount (the College of Arms would have waited for the High Court's decision).  The litigation may have been proceeding in the High Court as a result of Uncle McGreedy.  But interestingly, in the book Stuart is in possession of the estate (and thus its revenues) so he shouldn't have been nearly penniless.  Also, he'd taken his seat in the House of Lords, which is in essence a declaration that he really is the viscount, so what's left for the High Court to decide?

But, hey, who cares about some picayune legal matters when Stuart and Emma manage to be happy for nearly half the book?!  Whoo-hoo!  Smiles, laughter, happy sex -- oh, and J.Ivo. even allows someone to turn some lights on.

Have you noticed this?  It's often really really dark in J.Ivo. books.  Here are some examples from Uncross Your Legs (oh wait, that's Sharon Stone, isn't it?) Untie My Heart:
This face scanned the interior of the coach, seemingly unable to find Stuart inside -- it must have been too dark, he decided, with the window up and no lamp lit.

Mind you -- it's midday in that scene, and the door to the carriage is open, even if the other door is closed and its window curtained.  And then we have the library.  A library worthy of Jean Cocteau's La Belle & Le BĂȘte:
Even by the standards of England's grandest of houses, Stuart's library was vast.  Its length was the most unusual -- so long that at night the fireplace and desk light at one end didn't illuminate the far end.  The walls of books simply grew dim and disappeared; she couldn't calculate how long the library might be for not clearly seeing its farthest reaches.

In fairness, J.Ivo. needs the room to be a bit dim in a later scene that takes place in the wee hours.  But here, where the servants have lit various lamps at one end, it makes no sense they wouldn't have illuminated the whole room.  Nah, I think she just likes a nice, dark, gloomy atmosphere.

Okay, so yes, I've mocked the hapless title, which is very Grinchy of me, but really I'm mocking the key scene where they have sex on a chair while she's tied up.  Oh, I don't care if it was consensual or not.  I don't even care if it was physically possible.  I just think the title is super funny and ironic in light of that scene.  Wouldn't Emma have asked for the rest of her body to be untied before she got to her metaphysical heart?  So I tease even as I love.

There you have my holiday miracle.  How a miserable curmudgeon was visited by the Ghost of Romance Past, saw the error of her ways, and still wrote a snide blog post.  (They don't make holiday miracles like they used to, hunh?)

And to all a good night.


  1. The strikeouts cracked me up. This post is worth reading just for that!

  2. Moriah -- High praise indeed. Thanks!

  3. okay you need to keep going. Try The Proposition by Ivory--that's a happy hero.

  4. Kate -- LOL! There are a LOT of people who would really prefer I not read another J.Ivo. ever -- because they love her books that much! But sure, I'll read the Propostion someday.


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