Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Slightly Wicked by Mary Balogh

This book is a romance novel. Before I discuss the book in particular, I want to say some words in defense of romance novels.

A good romance novel is like a good cake. Both are created from some specific components that cannot be omitted (two lovers; flour and sugar). Both also may contain other ingredients that are optional (a villain; or some raisins!). Both require that their ingredients be combined in a certain manner, with some, but not too much variation in procedure. When done well, both result in reader or diner satisfaction.

Many cakes are not very high quality. While my children may enjoy Little Debbies, I do not. Many romance novels are the literary equivalent of Little Debbies: overly sweet, packed with filler, and mass produced. But would you refuse to eat a wonderful homemade cake because some cakes are like Little Debbies? Why does one negate the other? Yet some people apply this logic to romance novels and label them all mass-produced trash. Those people are wrong, and I am not interested in debating them. Some romance novels are extremely well written with memorable characters and compelling situations, and what can make them really interesting is the way a good author can work within the constraints of the form and still produce a book that is both high quality and fun to read.

When you want cake, you want cake. You don't want chili con carne. A person reads a romance novel when she wants a specific experience, something sweet, comforting, and delicious. She wants no surprises; that is, she does not want to bite into a piece of cake and find an olive, for example. It's the predictability, the cakeness that is part of the appeal. You may spend 90% of your time exploring the innovative, the creative, the bold. But sometimes you just need to step back from the edge and go with something that you know will be good.

That said, Slightly Wicked is part of a series by the usually reliable Mary Balogh, and it doesn't disappoint. The cover is innocuous, and will not cause embarrassment if read on a bus. The hero is nice, the heroine smart and sensible. Their conflict is believable; the resolution follows logically. The love scenes, while pleasant, are not the focus and can be skimmed, if that is your preference. There is a bit of a distraction near the end that kind of drags out the action a bit, but otherwise I have no complaints. I would say that if you are new to romance, there are better books to start with. But I read this in two nights, after a bad week, and it was just the thing. Burp.

Mary Balogh has a web site. A really comprehensive guide to romance fiction can be found here.
(Book 9, 2006)


cmft said...

I refrained from comment when I felt I was at least possibly the target of comments about friends who are "courageous" enough to read romance novels on planes. Now, however, I feel compelled to point out that the only romance novels I have EVER read on planes are in this very same Mary Balogh series which even you agree has "innocuous" covers! Moreover, the comment I originally composed but didn't submit after reading your "airplane reading" post was primarily going to note that once I'm actually on a plane any concerns I might previously have entertained about how my choice of reading material might be perceived by others are entirely obliterated by my overwhelming fear of flying. My decision rule for in-flight reading therefore requires that the book be completely safe. Isn't that pretty much the same thing as your "predictability"? Mostly, though, I'm just appalled that, with a trip already planned, you wasted a perfect airplane book!

On another note, I too realized recently that I rarely do more than skim the "scenes". Badly written scenes can put me off a book entirely, but if they're ok I don't even bother to really read them. Which made me wonder if I would still read the well-written book if the scenes weren't there at all? I can't quite decide.

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