Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Vanquished, by Hope Tarr [2]

**/***** (2/5)

In the historical backdrop of Victorian London, VANQUISHED (2006) follows the women's suffrage movement in the late 19th century. I had high hopes and it began with some intriguing promise, but it quickly took a nosedive for the worse. VANQUISHED includes some graphic sexual brutality and some very audacious carnal scenes. None of this is the problem though. The writing and content was aggressive and brutal, and I didn't mind that either. My problem: for the majority of the book, VANQUISHED highlights a woman's insecurities with her appearance and it's overwhelmingly written for a female's sensibilities and a female's vision of the perfect hero. After the intriguing opening featuring Hadrian St. Claire's devil's bargain to ruin the heroine Callie, the book then focuses on Callie's insecurities at every turn. It got tiring. Old. And exhausting.

I found the Victorian backdrop solid, and the writing very strong. The historical details seemed to deftly supplement the story. I liked that Hadrian wasn't a duke, earl, viscount or baron. He hails from a poverty-stricken childhood, a prostitute's son, and tries pay off debts as a humble photographer. Regrettably, there's too many things to dislike about Hadrian's character too. Some romance novelists manage to realize believable heroes in love. These heroes' loves for their heroines is heartfelt, yet subtle. A bit gruff, yet empowering and very giving. By contrast, in the frequent times Hadrian thinks about his heroine Callie, his love for Callie can only be described by a very suffocating nature. I applaud Callie's sensuality, but c'mon, you have an insecure near-virgin armoring herself with make-believe spectacles, ugly hats and bundles of clothing transition to wanting anal sex? I didn't quite see it. I suppose all of Callie's insecurities and lewd desires somehow predicated her public expose in the book's finale, I'm not exactly sure. Some sort of disturbing redemption and fortification of her confidence. Even made it seem like Callie's character journey required the public expose.

The ending falls back on some sort of psychological redemption actually warranting Callie's public expose as a device to fortify her self-respect and confidence. So having her assets on full display to the world actually helps her emotionally? I know she ignores the ribald jeers during her speech at the very end, but c'mon that kind of thing doesn't go away. After she marries Hadrian, both would bear the brunt of a lot of obscene remarks. Especially considering how public Callie's life as a suffragist leader has been.

The ending seemed to imply Hadrian St. Claire's compromising pictures ultimately caused the defeat of the bill which would grant women the vote (because despite Dandridge blackmailing Hadrian, Hadrian is in the center of it). After meetings with Lord Stonevale and the PM and Foreign Secretary Lord Salisbury, it seemed Callie was on the verge of pushing the women's vote bill through Parliament. Yet true to the book's purpose, Hadrian vanquishes the bill and her efforts. It's Hadrian who develops the compromising photograph in the first place, it's Hadrian who leaves the developed photograph unattended for the villain to steal, it's Hadrian who fails to retrieve it, it's Hadrian who gets stupidly beat up.

Not only is Hadrian useless, but the thing with the photograph proves he's dumb. After taking the compromising photograph of Callie, he goes insofar as to develop the photograph and leave his shop unattended when he knows Dandridge hired someone to tail him! When he knows that Dandridge desperately desires a photograph ruining Callie! Hadrian-- nice show, sport, just brilliant.

So he takes the compromising photograph (when he fully understands the danger if it falls into the wrong hands), develops it before he leaves so the baddies can steal it, then goes after Dandridge to steal it back only to find himself beaten and bruised. Then all he can think of is throwing himself at Callie's feet and asking for forgiveness (which he had already after his confession). My gawd, that's a drowning love. Totally, completely, choking the life out of him. He pines endlessly. I really didn't want to hear it anymore.

VANQUISHED belabors on characters' appearances a bit too much for my tastes. With Hadrian and Callie, it's more about shallow appearances, and Callie's insecurities obfuscates any potential for chemistry or passion or love. You have a near-virgin, very insecure over her tall, unseemly appearance and very sensitive about how she walks, dances, etc. She commonly drapes herself behind bundles of ugly clothing. And of course you have your obligatory tall, dark and handsome hero. Then again, it's written with a female's sensitivities in mind so I can hardly judge too harshly here.

The insecurities and descriptions of appearances aren't nearly as repetitive as other novels but the book never manages to rise above them either. Never manages to rise above the common appearance hangover romance novels have with a heroine's insecurities and hero's Adonis good looks. It gets to be a bit too much at the charity ball and then later, in Hadrian's flat. Callie relentlessly drones on and on about her insecurities, too big in the bosom and bottom, too tall, can't dance, etc., etc., etc. Despite Hadrian (constantly) assuring her and lavishing her with compliments about her lovely face, soft skin, curvy figure, etc., Callie persists on latching on to her insecurities. Hope Tarr even uses Callie's insecurity to manipulate Hadrian into taking the compromising photograph, something he's reluctant to do at first. When Hadrian comments on her breast after their first time, she again retreats into her shell of insecurities. Enough already, you have the tall, dark, and handsome perfect-guy with a huge, turgid phallus lusting after you and pleasuring you!

I thought Hadrian doesn't do enough for a male character, and doesn't act. I don't mind him being a prostitute's son and hailing from the low, poor classes (in fact, I applaud Hope Tarr for that), but he doesn't do anything. He fails to act when he suspects that Josiah Dandridge has something more personal against Callie. He doesn't do anything when he suspects he's being trailed. Instead he mopes around feeling something strong for Callie and anguishes over the devil's bargain he's struck to ruin Callie and again feels sorry for himself. Anyone who obviously cares for the Callie like he does would at least try to figure out the connection between Callie and Dandridge actively. They would try to discover who's trailing him and subvert him. They would do something, anything, instead of moping around for Callie and waiting for her to come around so you can take her photographs. Hadrian has a barrister friend and if he's too prideful to ask for a loan from the barrister, he could at least enlist his barrister friend's aid in other capacities. Maybe Hadrian could get his friend Rourke to help with the person trailing him. Something anything, stop moping around and pining! We get it, you feel something strong for Callie unlike any of the other women you've bedded. Now get on with it!

The lovesick notions in this novel are too drowning instead of empowering or heartfelt (at least from a male point-of-view). The ending inundates its readers with endless words of love which didn't seem to ring true as a result. I sure wasn't convinced.

On the plus side--

"On the one hand you say women should choose for themselves who and how they should love and yet when that freedom leads them astray, you assume they must have been seduced against their wills." -Hadrian St. Claire from Hope Tarr's VANQUISHED

I enjoyed some of the stimulating conversation between Callie & Hadrian on the suffrage movement. They were actually witty and fun. Although Callie's cause is very worthy and noble, I liked how Hope Tarr allowed the hero to single out some failings in Callie's opinions and ideals. Thankfully the verbal sparring wasn't a one-way street as Hadrian questions Callie's ideals for women amongst the lower classes (they seem to only apply to "well-bred women") and her contradicting views on marriage (women should be free to choose the who and how on love, yet if they chose badly, it's society's fault since they were raised that way and didn't know any better). Shoulder some responsibility for your choices!

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