Kiss Me, Annabel (Essex Sisters, book 2)

Kiss Me, Annabel - Eloisa James Kiss Me, Annabel is a passably fun romance novel. Loosely basing her story on The Taming of the Shrew, James does delightfully twist Shakespeare's plot. Occasionally her choices do remove some of the tension for the story, for instance there's not quite as much tension when the hero and heroine can't keep their hands off each other because of their mutual attraction than when they can't keep their hands off each other because they loath each other, but in all, it can be a fun read. But this is not the reason for the low grade. The reason is that James hit one of my deal breakers. The trouble I had in this book involves Rosy. Rosy, a secondary character in the book, was promised in marriage to the hero, Ewan, several years before the main plot. When she is sent to his family, her carriage is waylaid by bandits and she is kidnapped. She is not recovered until a week later. Her captors have left her pregnant, a psychological mute, and with diminished cognitive abilities (it's not clear whether this last is from physical injury or is another symptom of the psychological trauma). Her birth family does not accept her back and so the hero accepts a new role as guardian, with the help of several Catholic monks from Rosy's maternal country, France. Because of the period, no one questions the idea of her carrying the child to term, but the birth only provides further psychological trauma, as she does not understand what is happening to her. Considering her experiences, it's natural that Rosy is terrified of men, especially strangers. The hero manages to win something of her trust over the years, but the mere sight of strange men sends her into fits of panic and violence. What bothers me about Rosy's role in the book is twofold. Firstly, she does not affect the plot, but neither does she have a substantial subplot of her own. Secondly, the subtleties of the text imply that Rosy has gained more from her trauma than she lost. In giving a character such a traumatic backstory, then neglecting to give her an influential role, James seems to dismiss the trauma. Yes, historically, rape was a common experience of women and far to many real versions of Rosy existed. But historical fiction is as much about the period in which is it written as the period in which is it set, and by neglecting to give Rosy a complete arc, the book neglects the autonomy of those Rosys who live in our present. Regarding my second issue: when the heroine meets Rosy, having heard her story, she naturally feels pity and empathy for this woman, but one of the monks does not feel this is right. ...Father Armailhac bent his head to the side, like a curious robin, and said to her, "There's no need to be sorry for Rosy, my dear." "I think there is. Why, she -- she --" Annabel wave her hand, and she meant it all, all the things that Rosy had lost: Ewan, Gregory, and the castle..."God's given her a wonderful gift in return," he said, and he didn't even sound preachy. "Joy." Annabel looked back and Rosy, and sure enough, her face was lit with laughter. After a moment she went over to take Gregory by the hand and began pulling him away.In truth, my disquiet is not from Father Armailhac's words themselves. He is, after all, both a man and a monk, his reality is miles removed from the one that women of the period faced. But I have issue with the subtleties of the heroine's reaction. By describing the words in a favourable light, "he didn't even sound preachy", the narrator, via Annabel, give a nod of agreement. The description of his body language "like a curious robin" imply a naturalness to his opinions which encourages the reader to accept his vision of Rosy. I would have much rather seen more ambiguity in Annabel's reaction, which would have called Armailhac's version into question without dismissing it outright. Another option would have been to give Rosy a moment of lucidity and let the words come from her. "But I have Gregory. Even a horrific experience can create something beautiful." It's unfortunate that such a small passage creates in me such a violent dislike of the book, but every reader has things they cannot stumble upon and still call the experience an escape. It's a credit to James's writing that I finished the book despite my reaction. It even may not have turned me off James, as I do enjoy her reworking of plots (I'm still somewhat interested in reading Much Ado About You), but after this, there will always be a bit of wariness as I open one of her volumes.