Monday, March 14, 2011

Edith Layton Musings

Edith Layton was brought to my attention relatively recently courtesy of Dr Musacha. This, by the way, being one of the many ways in which Dr M proves himself an awesome life partner: thoughtfulness. When he's looking for a book for me he doesn't just cruise down to our local bookstore and grab an end cap feature or something from the top sellers' table. No, no! That's just not how he rolls. He fires up the old interwebs and starts doing some research. He's no reader of romance (and certainly not historicals) but he pays attention to what's on my shelves and starts looking for reviews. So Christmas morning saw me pulling out a lovingly used copy of a Signet Regency Romance, first printing February 1983. I was intrigued but the road has been hilly. I've tried two more and brief thoughts are included below.

Title: The Abandoned Bride
Author: Edith Layton
Publisher: Signet (1985)

Julia Hastings, not so very well off but from a loving family, elopes with her childhood sweetheart (who is naturally rich and titled). Said sweetheart has fetched the vicar and everything and then inexplicably cries off. A friend of his restores Julia to her family but failed elopements were not kindly looked upon in the early 19th Century and so she leaves her family to work as a governess/companion in towns where her past is not known. However, her past catches up with her in the form of her sweetheart's uncle. Only four years older than his nephew they grew up very close and the nephew has skipped to the Continent, supposedly heartbroken over Julia. Uncle Nicholas, under the impression Julia has been toying with his nephew the past three years, offers her money to help him fetch the nephew back to England. She refuses but with a very neat ploy he tricks her into taking a job on the Continent.

Like in The Duke's Wager I was quite impressed with the characterization (one major exception to this to be described) and dialogue. Unfortunately, the time spent in characters' heads was extended and I just don't need to be a part of every stinking thought a character might have as s/he weighs the pros and cons of a situation. Not only do I not care for it, it's unnecessary. Layton's dialogue is so good, and very well in keeping with the characters that she creates, that when you also have to delve into their heads it's overkill.

I liked Julie quite a bit. She's self-aware and thoughtful. When faced with a daunting situation she looks at every side of it and usually comes away from it making good decisions. No head-slapping moments while reading her. Nicholas, on the other hand, left a bit to be desired and on Layton's shoulders do I lay this problem. The problem arises from the major exception to good characterization mentioned above. Again as in The Duke's Wager, Layton really pushes the line with what a hero can do and still come back from. Well, in The Abandoned Bride she goes right over that line but it was so out of character that I pretty much ignored that it happened - but, technically, it did. Nicholas is a diligent man with the ability to plan and follow-through. Like Julia he comes from a loving family, his family being filled with women with whom he shares excellent relationships and respect. And yet, he loses his temper with Julia at one point and hits her. In sgwordy's book it's a major fucking party foul to hit a significant other or express yourself with violence when one individual is more physically or situationally powerful than the other. These two were not in a relationship but Nicholas had the upper hand in every way. It was ridiculous for him to express himself in this way and very out of character. So out of character that I simply couldn't accept it. I edited it out as too out of place to take seriously and tried to enjoy the story otherwise. The issue cropped up again at the end and the way it was handled was See Red offensive but I still wasn't able to take the initial event seriously as part of the book. It's that out of character. I can't imagine why it was included in the first place and how an editor didn't pick it up as a plot contrivance.

And kudos here for a neat resolution with the nephew. He wasn't on the scene often but when he was he was absolutely compelling. The best part? I wasn't subjected to his every teensy thought but was able to get to know him through his actions and dialogue. Very nice.

with physically violent behavior - 1 of 5 stars
without physically violent behavior - 3 of 5 stars

Title: The Disdainful Marquis
Author: Edith Layton
Publisher: Signet (1983)

The Disdainful Marquis has us back with St. John Basil of The Duke's Wager and I couldn't be happier. He was so close to being a good person that I really wanted to see him figure things out by the end of The Duke's Wager. Alas, he was a total wanker and got his just desserts but here he is again, older and wiser and trying to forget his youthful stupidity.

In the course of his work for the Crown he meets up with Catherine. A little snafu on Catherine's part has her in the employ of a duchess famous for keeping prostitutes as companions (I know these situations seem outrageous - and, ok, they are - but they end up working in the books) so our cynical marquis does not think so highly of Catherine.

What I liked best about this one was that the hero and heroine were not working out their inter-adversarial issues (bit fast and loose with the English language there but let's go with it) but were simply thrown together while trying to solve their own problems. Mistaken first impressions, politics, and untrustworthy traveling companions gum up the works for our h and h but they persevere. I also really enjoyed the companionship each had with their friends. The prostitute/companions could have been easily cast into the roles of spiteful and convenient plot points but, instead, readers are treated to two different types of people trying to find common ground. Likewise, Basil has a servant/friend with whom he works closely and who provides support and advice. Good companionship is a joy to read. I'm sure you're seeing the pattern here but I did not care for the lengthy mental discourses and so usually skipped them.

rating: 3 of 5 stars

All in all I'd say Layton will appeal to Romance readers but is probably not the author to bring in new fans of the genre. I will keep a lookout for her Signet titles because I love her dialogue and characterization.... most of the time. She seems to reserve the most interesting parts for her male characters and I'd like to run into a title that gives the females more compelling character growth. Any Layton readers have a suggestion for me?


  1. I love her stuff-- and she was a gracious, wonderful person, too.
    I hadn't noticed the fact that her males are more interesting and have a more interesting character arc.

    Huh. I think that's what editors want--or at least wanted a while back--the female is a stand-in for the reader. It's been years but I liked the series set in the USA and I remember the woman in that one was interesting.

  2. Brownie points for Dr. M!

  3. Kate - thanks for the heads up; I'll look for that one.

    Brooke - isn't he a dream? ;)