Friday, 4 April 2014

Blackmoore by Julianne Donaldson

ARC provided by Shadow Mountain through Netgalley

The book starts with Kate brimming with excitement over finally getting to visit Blackmoore. Her elation is interrupted by her sister's loud sobbing because the gentleman for whom she had a crush is leaving forever. But it serves to show the reader, right from the start, what sort of character Kate is:
"if you refuse to see reason, then I refuse to comfort you."
I don't care if it was a silly infatuation, if your sister is sad enough to be crying, how about you save the lecture for later and comfort her?
This isn't being a strong female character. Strong female characters are there for other women. This is being an asshole.

I mean:
"another sobbing wail came from the hall. I tipped my head back and yelled out over the noise, “Mozart is not meant to be played this way! It is an insult to his musical genius!”
I'm hating Kate already and I'm only 2% into this book...

Do you know how in some books we get those weird descriptions like, "His eyes were the colour of agates, and his burning passion made them sparkle and shimmer, like sizzling drops of ichor on an incandescently sharp blade."

I never thought it could get more ridiculous than this until I read Blackmoore, where what could have been a quick description of Kate's mother's eyes (they were brown) turns into a ~deep~ retelling of  a ~traumatic~ event in Kate's childhood, that serves absolutely no purpose whatsoever:
"I stared at her eyes. They were the same color as an old, rusted trap I had found in the woods when I was seven. A rabbit had been gripped in its iron teeth. The little thing was no longer struggling when I found it, but it still breathed, and it saw me. Its eyes moved when I bent over it. I tried frantically to free the animal, but the rusted old metal would not yield to my prying fingers.
In desperation, I had finally run to Delafield Manor and dragged Henry back through the woods. He looked at the rabbit. He shook his head. He picked up a large rock and told me to turn away and cover my ears. I cried, but I did as he said.
A few moments later, his hand was on my shoulder, and I opened my eyes and lowered my hands. He said that the rabbit was no longer suffering. He said that was the best we could do for the poor thing. I supposed Henry got rid of the trap later. I never saw it again, even though I spent nearly every day in the woods. But I could not forget the look of it. I could not forget the large teeth and the rusted color and the tenacity of its grip. In this moment, I saw the same cold tenacity in my mother’s eyes."

Despite berating her little sister for a lack of practicality when it comes to emotions, Kate is seriously unhinged. Everything, and I really do mean everything, is a drama for her.

We find out that Kate has been insisting that her friend Sylvia invite her to Blackmoore, even though every year Sylvia's mother refuses it. A normal person would have taken the hint after the first refusal, but Kate insists on interrogating her friend as to why, exactly, she is not welcome.

Kate seems seriously deranged regarding Blackmoore. To the point where even her friend Sylvia and her friend's brother Henry find her actions weird. 
“Kitty is longing to see Blackmoore. Again.” Sylvia spoke with an air of forced patience, which made me sit up straight and drop my hands.
“You do not understand. Neither of you,” I looked from her to Henry and back again. Both watched me as if I were slightly mad. “You have always been able to go there, and I never have.”

Can you imagine this conversation with one of your friends?

You: I'm sorry, no. I've asked mother several times and she always refuses.
You: ...listen, it's just a house...

I guess Kate is also some kind of proto-furry, a Victorian furry? Because she constantly refers to herself in avian terms.
Everything is a "cage" to her. She feels connected to wild birds. She needs to hear birds. Oh look, sea birds! She "felt like a bird who had wandered into some strange flock".  She stands vigil over a birdcage. Henry starts addressing her as "little bird".
She has an over-dramatic meltdown over a bird cage. I swear!
"I slid off the piano bench and walked numbly to the birdcage. Kneeling before the cage, I gazed at the dark, silent bird. I touched the gilded iron bars, softly, then ran my fingers up and down their length. My heart was breaking. There was no mending of this crack. It ran too deep.
My fingers curled around the iron bars of the cage, and I felt how this cage was as strong as it was decorative. And suddenly I hated it.
I hated everything about the cage, and everything about the cage of my own life. I rattled the bars, without thinking, my rage rising within me."
There was an actual frightened bird inside that birdcage, just so you know.
And no, I'm not missing the anvil-like metaphor between Kate's life and a birdcage. Especially since, even after that cited excerpt, the author feels the need for this:
“I feel caged. Always. I feel like I am this bird, trapped and stifled and caged, and I keep looking for a way to escape, but I am barred at every turn.”
Why all this?

This is just... talking down to your readers, aka insultingly bad writing.

Kate doesn't just obsess over birds, and delusions of possessing Blackmoore. There is also India. India where she can be free. India where she could go with her aunt Charlotte. ...India where colonialism is ravaging an entire country and stealing all its riches from the native inhabitants leaving deep post-colonial scars felt even today. You know... the stuff dreams are made of.

This is being shelved as "clean romance", personally, I find vilifying and slut shaming your own mother and sister to be more reprehensible than a more heated scene... I find portraying every female character that is not the protagonist as a scatter-brained, untrustworthy flirt, to be more damaging than a roll in the hay. But that's just me...

I also didn't find it helpful that we're given hints of past events throughout the book, to add mystery, I suppose. But given that in a Gothic novel the heroine is kept in the dark (and we along with her), but in this one she's in on the secrets all along - she's just not telling us... - it was frustrating!

This book just felt like someone grabbed a histrionic protagonist from a YA from the 21st century and dropped her in the nineteenth century - expecting us to sympathise with her.
I'll be the first to sympathise with the plight of women with so few choices as the ones in Kate's position, so how horrible a character was she that I couldn't care at all, and spent the whole book checking how long I still had to read before I reached the end?

Julianne Donaldson's official site

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