Deciding whether or not to review Poetic Justice by Alicia Rasley was a real dilemma because what I wanted to say was more about me and my reading tastes than it was about the book. Our reviews on this blog are very personalized and is, I believe, one of their strong points. But this time I’ve probably managed to cross the line and make it too personal; there’s way too much about me and not enough about the book. Nevertheless, I’m still going to call it a review, so just think of it as a badly written review of a good book.
When I was younger, I mostly read romances, with my favorite being Regency romances. This genre goes all the way back to Jane Austen, who wrote about ordinary people dealing with everyday life and relationships in the early 1800s in England. Although her books became classics, the genre was popularized by Georgette Heyer, who updated the style enough to appeal to a much broader audience. The main thing these two authors had in common, besides the setting and time period, was neither one wrote what I consider to be “regular romances.” Although there were “romantic” elements in their stories, there was always so much more to them. In fact, some of them, especially Georgette Heyer’s books, have so much plot going on that you could remove the romantic relationship entirely and still have a darn good story.
The publishing industry took note of this new popularity and jumped on the Regency bandwagon, unfortunately turning them into more traditional romances, with the main focus of the story being on the romantic relationship. Plot became almost inconsequential as the stories focused more and more on the attraction between the hero and heroine. For a while, I didn’t mind this because I was reading romances for the relationship story and for the “happily ever after” ending.
But now that’s not enough. I want a real story to follow with something actually happening and with the relationship story in a supporting role. So I hardly ever read romances any more. But even though I now primarily read nonfiction, I do still fall back on romances when I’m in the mood for light reading because I haven’t found a new fiction genre to replace them.
That finally brings me to Alicia Rasley’s book, the full title being Poetic Justice, a Traditional Regency Romance (Regency Escapades). It starts out, not in England, but in Greece where the hero (and I use that term loosely since he’s in the process of bilking a nun) is at a convent purchasing a valuable old religious book at a bargain price. What makes this acquisition an even bigger coup for him is that he just barely beats out his rival from the Vatican, who was also on his way to buy the book. My immediate reaction, after only a few pages, was this was definitely not a “traditional Regency romance” as the title claims. But upon reflection, I have to modify that opinion. It’s not like the Regency romances that I have become accustomed to reading. This book is far more similar to the stories that Georgette Heyer wrote. It has a plot.
My quibble is with calling it a romance. If that’s what you’re looking for, you’re liable to be disappointed. The flaws of both the hero and heroine in Poetic Justice go beyond the usual superficial pseudo-flaws, such as “steely eyes” or the ever popular “mouth that’s a little too wide for classical beauty.” Their flaws are deeply rooted in their motivations and behavior. And their strongest passions are reserved for books, of all things, not for each other. Sure, the story has a typical romance ending, but it’s one that makes sense. It’s completely believable that these two odd ducks, who don’t really fit in with the world they live in and who share a similar passion for old books, really will live happily ever after—in their own odd duck way.
Another aspect of Poetic Justice that sets it apart is the way Alicia Rasley used historical events and details in it. The complicated plot made it necessary for there to be a lot of information about old books, antiques, art, and the time period. I have a bad habit of skimming over those kinds of details and descriptions, retaining only enough to follow the plot. So it wasn’t until about halfway through this book when I became aware of how well she was using details to create a real feel for the time and place.
It happened when the hero and heroine were sneaking through the backstreets and alleys of London in the middle of the night. The hero stops because there is a very dead, decaying dog in their path. Instead of jumping over it as he probably would have done if he had been alone, he uses a stick to push it out of the way so that the heroine can pass by without brushing it, since it might be diseased. (If that isn’t true gallantry, I don’t what is.) The incident was so unexpected and vivid, it temporarily shook me out of the story and awakened the writer in me. I was suddenly aware that the details had been so well done that even with my tendency to skim I had still been skulking right along with the two of them, seeing, hearing, and smelling everything they encountered.
After that, I was more conscious of just how well historical information and details were slipped into the story to support the plot and to give the reader a real sense of place. Well, maybe not that conscious of it because I quickly got back into the story, but it was there in the back of my mind. And I was so impressed by it that after I finished the book, I emailed Alicia and asked her if she would write a guest post for us about writing historical fiction. I’m very happy to report that she agreed to do it. So look for her post on Wednesday, June 27.
P.S. I also recommend Gwen’s Ghost, a paranormal Regency, by Alicia Rasley and Lynn Kerstan, which not only has an interesting plot to follow but also does a great job of portraying character evolution in the hero. He gradually changes during the course of the story in a very logical and convincing way.