The Counterfeit Mistress, Madeline Hunter

Title: The Counterfeit Mistress

Author: Madeline Hunter

Series: Fairbourne’s #3

Tags: Regency Romance, French, spy!, ex-army

Rating: Super yay!

 

9 ways to tell you have a book crush:

  1. You don’t notice when you stay up too late reading, and when you do notice, you don’t care.
  2. You put a bookmark where you want to stop reading, and then accidentally read past it so you have to move the bookmark.
  3. 15 minutes or less is too little a space of time to dedicate to your book, since you won’t properly get into it in such a short space of time.
  4. However, you pick the book up at every moment, and pretend you can put it down at a moment’s notice…which, you can’t.
  5. Daydreams and fantasies consist of a blanket, a pet to cuddle, and the book.
  6. When the book is coming to the climax, you avoid reading it, in order to avoid the inevitable end of the book.
  7. Sometimes the conflict is just too much and you take off a day or two “to process.”
  8. Moments of the book pop into your head during the day.
  9. You are on first name basis with the characters in the book, and hold mental conversations with them, in which you scold them for their actions.

 

I have a book crush.

I admit that I didn’t finish it as soon as I could have. I just didn’t want it to end! Not only was this book good, but it was also the last book to read in that series. I didn’t want to say goodbye to the characters yet.

 

Have you ever read a book and then went, “oh yes, I forgot. That is good writing.”? “Show not tell” is something you hear in Fiction 101 ad nauseum, but how many times it is really used? As an avid reader of paperback novels, I am surprisingly lax on the show not tell principle when it comes to one particular plot point: emotional vulnerability. The end goal is vulnerability, and I’m pretty okay with getting there through any means necessary. They can “tell” as much as they want, though I draw the line at actually using the word “vulnerable.” Anyone who has a book published with the word “vulnerable” in it needs to donate 10% of all proceeds to a MFA grant fund.

But, oh, isn’t it great when they actually do show and not tell?

This book presents a limitation of perspective. The male character, the Viscount of Kendale, is a man with very limited vocabulary on women, emotions, and general social niceties. He is an ex-army, and continues to live his life as if he is still in the military. He is described as always sitting stiffly straight, as if he was riding his horse through a parade. If he has something to say that’s not nice, he doesn’t hold back. He’d rather stay silent than lie or gloss over something.

It would be very easy to write a character like that and then let the narration put together all his flowery feelings to say everything the character himself could not. However, Hunter stays true to the character by allowing the third person narrative to stay in his voice while it is his scene. This leads to a lot of fun layers to the story. For instance, Kendale is asking his friend about a girl he thinks is a spy. His friend, who is a bit of a sly devil, answers in a roundabout way that suggests he is making fun of Kendale, but neither Kendale nor the narration seem to pick it up.

 

Kendale: “It is my intention to unmask Marielle de Lyon. Have you heard of her?”

His friend, the Duke of Penhurst: “Yes, I am told she is very pretty. Is that true?”

Narration: Kendale did not honor such an irrelevant question with an answer.

 

The Duke knows that Kendale is a little smitten. The reader knows. The narrator knows. But Kendale doesn’t know so the narration only hints at it through omission.

His opposite, Marielle, is similarly limited. She is an outsider, being French, and is not part of the little group that has been developed in the first two novels. She sees Kendale in a completely different light than his friends, who see him as somewhat of a social dunce. She gets a little angry at his friends who treat him cavalierly because of who he is. Her narration is another easy opportunity for her to, say, look into his eyes and see the wealth of emotion brimming with love and flowers and poetry or whatever. But she is a no-nonsense person, so she instead the narration goes, “he got out of the carriage looking serious, which for Kendale is nothing new.”

Marielle is a openly mysterious. She claims to be a French aristocrat refugee during the Napoleonic wars, but no one believes her. The question on everyone’s mind is not whether she is an aristocrat, but what she is hiding behind that lie. Kendale guesses Spy for France, and (perhaps out of boredom) decides to investigate her on his own time. He follows her around for months, tailing while she is out doing errands, and she makes a game of it. She calls him “Handsome Stupid Man” or “Annoying Stupid Man” in her head.

 

I geek out a bit about POV (point of view). It’s one of the reasons why I love Jane Austen. Open one her books and point to a random spot, and you could (or at least I could) write a ten page essay on who’s POV it is in the narration, and why. She wields POV like a weapon, sometimes making fools of the characters, sometimes making fools of the readers. It’s something they never talk about in high school English.

 

You have your first person: I do this…

The much hated second person: You do this…

And then third person: They do, he does, she does…

But WHICH third person??

 

To say that third person is just the omnipotent view, not belonging to any of the characters, is doing a disservice to novel writing and skimming over half of the meat of the novel. Just because it is in third person doesn’t mean that is it not coming from the perspective of a particular character. In fact, most of the time it is coming from a particular perspective, it’s just less noticeable. Even something as simple as which name the narration chooses it use for the character can show POV. Think about it: what does a stranger call you? Your mother? An old friend? Someone that is mad at you? People have different names for different situations, and the name used denotes who is speaking that name.

By the way, you can thank Jane Austen for bringing free indirect speech to the English novel. That was her contribution to the English novel. Basically, she’s the reason why the passage above did not say in the narration: “Kendale thought to himself, ‘that is an irrelevant question so I will not answer it.'”

You’re welcome.

 

Authors that use free indirect speech poorly drive me BONKERS. I hate it when they go too far into the character, explaining every tiny little thing after one sentence of dialogue, only to jump out another character and explain every tiny little motivation after they speak. I kind of see it visually in my head as a ghost possessing and hopping into each character. Too many jumps, and I start to feel sea sick. I much prefer the trend to stay in one character the whole scene, and only to jump into the other character when there is a visual break or new chapter. You can even rehash a previous scene from the second character’s point of view. I don’t care. As long as you know where your POV is, I’m happy.

 

I’ve read some quoteunquote best sellers that are quoteunquote really good, and I’m sure they see themselves as the Next Best American Novel. And yet, their POV is all over the fucking place. Those are the times when I stop myself and I ask, “why is this better than some of the novels I read?” Flat characters, poor motivations, POV all over the place, awkward word choice, plot holes, and this is best just because it doesn’t have a woman in a period dress on the front?

#Patriachy.

Just kidding. (Not kidding).

 

There are times when the writing is so bad, there is another type of third person narrative going on. I ask myself, who’s perspective is this, and the answer is, oh, the stuck-up self-important douche bag that is writing this. No woman would think like this. No man would think like this. This is just the author patting themselves on the back for doing such a bang up job on putting words together into sentences.

 

ANYWAY.

The way that this book plays with perspective between straightforward Kendale, his sly friends, and no-nonsense mysterious Marielle is a great time all around. Remember that show not tell thing? The way you find out about Kendale’s feelings is almost completely without narration explaining it. Kendale says nothing, Marielle expects nothing, so it is only by his actions that you get to know how Kendale really feels about her, despite his best attempts to ignore it.

There are lots of great moments in this book, and some of them are that Kendale has a ragtag team of army buddies that keeps as a sort of private army. They live in a barracks under his country house, and do odd jobs for him, including going on missions as a sort of vigilante service to the crown. The English government is a little afraid of him, because, uh, private army. Kendale is an odd guy, and Marielle accepts that about him without reservation. When she accepts his marriage proposal she says, “yes, and I will even let you keep your weird barracks of private army guys.” Awwwww. Twue Wove…

 

All of this is not to say that I would particularly recommend this book to everyone, or that it is good, better, or best compared to other books.

 

I wonder how I would feel about this book, or all these books, if I had read the quadrilogy in order. Probably about the same, though I might have liked #4 a little bit better after seeing the Duke do some good deeds for Kendale. Also, I might have been riding the high of this one, while reading the the fourth one, so that might have added a bump as well. Ah, well.

Farewell, Fairbourne series. Onto another Madeline Hunter!

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