By K. Trian
I doubt it’s particularly strange or unusual that I, a young woman, am allergic to most literature aimed at women of my age, race and social standing. I can’t stand vampires unless they are made fun of. I may be ok with fairy tale bestiality (I love the Beauty and the Beast and the Little Mermaid), but necrophilia’s taking it a bit too far. Furthermore, I don’t want Christian Grey or Edward Cullen to invade my daydreams. I’d rather set them both on fire. And throw Sookie and her vampire hunks in the mix as well.
So chick lit and I don’t usually mix too well.
But then are are the Bodice Rippers. Shit. I’ve got a soft spot for that. For ONE particular bodice ripper bastard of the chick lit genre, Juliette Benzoni‘s Marianne series! I call them historical romances (or historical novels. Romance = novel = romance), though, but really, Marianne seems, on the surface, like any chick lit heroine. She’s depressingly beautiful, all the men love and protect her, she’s rich… oh she’s everything we women dream to be!
Or is she?
I love Marianne because that girl, despite all the surface similarities to a puky chick lit heroine, is strong, independent, yet flawed. She’s not that mousy, quiet girl the handsome vampire-business executive falls madly in love with! She’s stunning and she knows it and won’t apologize for it! (she’s black-haired and dark-skinned no less!) She keeps fucking up. Falls for the wrong guy. Kills the wrong guy. Gets preggies. Her pride gets her in trouble as well. And most fascinatingly, her adventures take place in 19th century Europe with swords and bodices galore!
Sometimes I just can’t help it, I raise my eyes from the novel and ask myself: how can I like this? It’s still chick lit fluff! It’s not guts and glory and hairy men stomping through battlefields with axes and morning stars. It’s not tough soldier types crawling in a jungle. It’s not space marines getting lost in the darkest pockets of space.
For one, the heroine doesn’t annoy me. Usually heroines can really get on my nerves, especially if they’re too perfect and then dare be apologetic about their perfection. And since I’m quite well acquainted with some rougher activities such as combat sports/self defense (BJJ, boxing, Krav Maga), shooting, climbing/bouldering, and even iron-lifting at the gym, I’ve learned about the physical limitations of my female body, so I can spot it in a novel aiming for realism when feminism (or fear of misogyny) has overridden said realism in an e.g. action scene. But not with Marianne. Marianne can fence with rapiers (no prob, nimble people can do that), but she can’t wrestle a bear-sized man successfully. Marianne can slap a guy, but they’ll shrug it off. Yeah, that’s what big soldier types can do. Shrug it off. So I really appreciate it that Benzoni has been realistic about this stuff — it’s not enough to be historically accurate in a historical romance, you know.
Secondly, some pretty awesome stuff happens in these books. Fencing, horseback riding, political scheming, ghosts, family secrets, mysterious barons, hunky yet socially dysfunctional privateers, and so on. All in a quite realistic historical setting (boinking on a haystack or cold prison floor aren’t as lovely activities as one might think — not even to Marianne).
So yeah, these seemingly fluffy novels cater to my picky taste, and I’m really happy I found these books. I’m reading Jason des quatre mers right now, the 3rd book in the series, and so far it’s been riveting. I’m even willing to look past the cheesy narration (the books were published in 1960s and ’70s) because the story and characters just happen to be so good.
Anyone else got guilty literary pleasures? 😉
– K. Trian
P.s. I also have a soft spot for Margit Sandemo, a Norwegian fantasy writer. Yeah, the raunchier books I read as a kid were very Marianne-like (Den svarta ängeln – The Black Angel, Tre gåtor – Three Riddles), but she’s also an accomplished fantasy writer. Not sure if she’s been translated to English, but there’s a degree of unexplainable magic (no pun intended) to her works.
What Romance means to me by Erica Dakin.