I haven’t been reading newly published books in like ever, but this year I started utilizing my Kindle app and seeing what the Regency England Romance genre is up to these days. Here’s what I found: The bar has been lowered for those wishing to become published authors. Extremely prolific authors are cranking out a new novel every month or so, and I suspect there’s a manuscript mill collecting free submissions from amateur authors and publishing them under a collective pseudonym – different fake author profiles for different content levels (Cobalt Fairy seems to be one such outfit). As such, it is increasingly difficult to find a Kindle book that is up to the quality I expect in a published book for sale. The romance e-pub field consists largely of amateur authors still perfecting the craft.
I wish these authors well and want them to keep writing. I myself have written lots of delightful nonsense, and still do. I know how the process works. However, when I BUY a book, I expect a certain level of maturity (I mean maturity as in complexity of language, sentence structure, depth of character, not sexual content). That quality is often lacking in newly-published romances.
It is one way for aspiring authors to get a higher quantity of reviews, but the majority of online reviews are largely feel-good fluff and not helpful for improvement (“Great characters, I really empathized, excitement at every turn, etc etc.”)
These stories would be fine to read for free on blogs and reading groups and fanfic libraries and what-have-you, and indeed are a necessary step on the way to becoming a great author, but in my opinion they are not ready for dissemination to the general public, pretending to be professional when they are not.
This is my review of one such amateur-masquerading-as-professional novel. I was asked to share my thoughts on an advance review copy. (Needless to say, I was not paid for this review.)
Lusting for the Broken Earl by Olivia Bennet – the Fakie Spaceman Review
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It’s the story of a Napoleonic War veteran, horribly scarred, afraid women will reject him (the usual “I’m a wealthy aristocrat with the body of a Greek god and one cosmetic imperfection; I’m a complete monster” complex). He’s thinking of looking up the nurse that cared for him after his war injuries, who may or may not have raped him while he was doped up on opium. I would maybe be wary of someone I suspected had taken advantage of me at a time of mental impairment, but that’s just me.
Then there’s the actual heroine, who volunteers at orphanages and doesn’t really have any defining character traits besides being obsessed with orphans. Oh, I almost forgot, she does have one other defining characteristic, and that is that she possesses buttocks and breasts, a fact that seems to (pleasantly) surprise the hero every time they meet.
Short story: Hero disproves the paternity claims of the nurse, then rescues an orphan girl for the heroine, and everyone’s happy. There are some side stories about jealous cousins and siblings getting married and whatnot.
To be blunt, the quality of writing is significantly below what I would expect in a book I paid money for. Simple sentence structure and basic vocabulary make me feel that all the characters are 12 years old. The groundwork of the story is quickly established in the first couple of chapters, and then the rest of the book is characters having boring conversations, endlessly repeating the same details and not leading to any new insight. Sometimes they even have conversations about conversations.
I’ve read others books by Olivia Bennet that were significantly better. This was either written by a different author or is from an earlier period in the author’s life.
There is undue attention on describing the relative heights of characters. Statements about x being shorter than y but taller than z start to read like a math problem. Perhaps consider some more passive adjectives like petite stature, Junoesque, etc.
Traditionally, men do the courtING and women are courtED. Several times in this book the woman is described as doing the courting. I’m not sure if this was intentional to make a statement that the woman is perhaps more invested in the relationship than the man, but that’s the connotation I read.
The lady’s maid Rose is announced upon entering the room, as if she is a guest. She’s a servant. They go where they are told because that’s the job.
At dinner, hero observes to heroine’s sister that toast is made from bread. This is the sort of absurd statement you inadvertently say in front of your crush and immediately realize is the stupidest thing anyone in the history of the world has ever said. So I would excuse it if it was hero to heroine, but this exchange isn’t cute, it’s just stupid.
The heroine hates veterans because she has observed that they are all lying cheating bastards who abandon their families. She never officially gives up this position. She assures hero that his physical scars do not bother her, but the implication is “but if mental health issues manifest down the road, you can go screw yourself.”
The sketchy nurse shows up and tells hero that he is the father of her child, and he immediately announces it to his family. Spreading the news that you have a newly-discovered bastard child before you have ANY evidence seems like an overreaction. You haven’t even seen that the girl exists, let alone proven that she’s yours. Sure, maybe bring your cousin into your confidence to help, but for crying out loud, make sure he knows not to tell his wife who is also the heroine’s sister.
Heroine is horrified at the news and wants nothing more to do with him. But bastard children weren’t unexpected or novel. If heroine is setting her bar that high, explain why. Is she more offended that he didn’t save himself for marriage, or that he left the mother/abandoned a child? What is her angle for despising him over this development?
Where there any particular reasons the hero immediately knew that the girl the nurse showed up with wasn’t his child, or was it just a feeling? Thank goodness cousin Edward had half a head and bothered to ask a few questions and is able to clear things up pretty quickly, because the hero was just going to roll with it.
Anyway, the nurse is dealt with, now it’s time to take on the orphan child prostitution ring (woah, that escalated quickly). Was there a reason the protagonists didn’t go to the authorities? Smith isn’t that bright; he doubled the asking price on the girl heroine has her heart set on, but then he took the original price without arguing. I don’t think it would take super detectives to get evidence against him. But honestly, I don’t know anything about the laws on such matters in this time and place. Maybe it’s a totally legit side business. But who is funding the orphanages? Wouldn’t they want to know? Or is the corruption that high up? Additionally, dukes and earls are running rampant in the story; can’t any of them do anything other than pay the guy off for one girl? (Edward’s like “hey bro imma need you act like a child molester for the next 20 minutes.” I feel like that’s a lot to spring on a guy all at once, but maybe that’s for the best.) They apparently have no immediate plans to save the rest of the orphans; their fate is not hinted at until the extended epilogue.
Anyway, now the hero has the orphan girl and he’s going to… hide her away to bring out as a fun surprise for his bride at some point in the future? Good grief. She is a 5-year-old child just saved from a very bad situation and your fiance has been WORRIED that the girl is with a child molester. The girl is not a gift-wrapped puppy. And the heroine’s been obsessed with the orphan girl the entire book, but doesn’t even recognize her when she is brought in the room? Ham up the reunion.
When hero approaches father of heroine to ask for her hand in marriage, he is sympathetic to his future in-laws’ difficult financial situation and… offers a generous loan repayment option on the dowry. Come on, you’re not in dire financial need. Give your future father-in-law a break and waive the marriage settlement.
One parting thought. Did the nurse actually have a daughter, or did she just go down to the local Mr Smith Orphan Slave Mart? Is the randomly-produced child and the orphan girl actually one and the same?