"It was so irritating I couldn't stop."
So says our heroine, Lady Olivia Bevelstoke, about the gothic novel Miss Butterworth and the Mad Baron.
I feel your pain, Lady Olivia, I really do. If Miss Butterworth's mother hadn't been pecked to death by pigeons, I'd wonder if her daughter was the heiress to a maple syrup fortune.
Lady Olivia is the beautiful and intelligent daughter of the Earl of Rudland, and the beginning of her story starts on a rather gothic note--rumors surround her new neighbor, Sir Harry Valentine. Did he kill his fiancee? In an effort to find out (for the good of all unmarried young ladies), she begins to spy on him as his office is visible from her bedroom window. Alas, she is far from stealthy as he is well aware of her spying and attempts to create mysteries for her to wonder about. Neither like each other from the beginning, but orders from the War Office throw him into her presence, and that of a Russian prince who wants Olivia for his own.
The usual Regency-era ingredients are there: intelligent young woman, man employed by the War Office, a mysterious foreigner, and plenty of balls and musicales. Oh, and quirky habits of the heroine. Olivia likes to make lists. Lots of them. Some of hers include Unmarried Lady Sorts of Things, Reasons Why I Might Be Crawling About on the Floor, and How I Would Like to Kill My Brother, Version 16. Like most of Quinn's books, her characters are more reminiscent of anachronistic reenactors who attempt to live like Jane Austen and fail miserably.
The use of a gothic novel within the book and the heroine's derision for the genre is ironic. "It was so irritating I could stop," reminded me so much of my own feelings for THIS book that I had to mark it. Then the use of Sir Harry saying "When a man writes a romance, the woman dies. When a woman writes one, it ends all tidy and sweet" had me thinking that I must have heard it before and reminded me of Quinn's use of the word truthiness in her previous book. I would love to be able to find that quote somewhere.
Lastly there was Harry calling Vladimir "Vlad the Impaler." This was too much for me. I saw none of the conventions that would have existed at that time, and I probably should just stick with Jane Austen.
C- for this fluffy, frothy confection. Too sweet, like Marzipan.
ETA 10/19/09: I found this on Julia Quinn's website.
Miss Butterworth and the Mad Baron first appeared in It's in His Kiss as one of the books Hyacinth was reading to Lady Danbury. I had no plans ever to use it again, but when I needed Harry to give Olivia an unusual gift, it just popped into my mind. I LOVED writing the passages in this book. It is seriously fun to write bad literature.