Perfectly Proper Press, $2.99, ISBN 978-0-9990364-6-4
Historical Romance, 2018
Sophie Appersett has been courted by Edward Sharpe for a few months now when Mimi Matthews’s A Holiday by Gaslight opens. She decides to end whatever it is they have, because he basically behaves like a silent, scowling fellow while they are together, and she’s certain that they will never fit. He replies by looking at his watch and saying that he has to be somewhere else. Of course, if the story ends there, there will a flurry of demands for refund, so as you can probably guess, Sophie’s family needs the pounds and pence that Edward has in abundance, so there is still some way to go before the story ends in a happily ever after.
This one is a well-written, if predictable, story that hits all the bullet points in the formula list just fine. However, all it takes is me thinking about it even a little and the whole story collapses like a Jenga tower being barreled over by a bunch of babies.
A Holiday by Gaslight has traditional historical romance sensibilities – all about manners, conversations, and unfortunately, purity tests for the heroine. Heaven forbid the heroine ever step out of bounds, after all, or else we romance readers will have to reach for our smelling salts. Hence, the story essentially devolves into a tale of how the heroine really doesn’t want the hero’s money, and the author will bloody well make sure the reader knows it. Conversations after conversations will take place about how the heroine doesn’t want her family to use the hero’s money after they marry. Why? Is he going to order his coffin stuffed with all his unused cash when he croaks? Is the heroine willing to live in darkness and survive on plain water? I suppose if the heroine experiences even a little degree of selfishness or personal wants (same thing when it comes to romance heroines), we should all throw her into the river and see if she floats or something.
There is also the predictable scene of the hero being a condescending jackass about how her family needs his money, as if it’s perfectly different that he wants to marry into a family with a nice pedigree because… he’s the hero?
And yet, despite the author’s constant emphasis that a woman who even admits to wanting money to make her life more comfortable is someone that should be tarred and feathered before being set on fire, the story doesn’t have Ned being some penniless fisherman or something. No, he’s loaded. Why? I suppose deep in her heart of hearts, the author still believes that love isn’t worth anything if it doesn’t come with bags and bags of money. No matter how much she has her heroine protest that love is all that matters, while money is for prostitutes and women of ill-repute, Sophie still must marry a rich dude. Hmm, is it because romance isn’t so unless the guy is loaded? If that is the case, then all the constant “No, no, she loves him for him and not his money!” protests on the author’s part are quite disingenuous.
Also, Sophie is a selfish twit. She is. Her parents are stretched, financially, and they still laid down the cash and brought her out to town to snag a rich husband. How does she respond? Oh, she only wants love, money is for ho bags only, blah blah blah. Can I blame her sister – the designated selfish, heartless one who, shudder, exhibits pure harlotry of the worst degree by wanting to marry only rich men (which is somehow different from and worse than what Sophie ends up doing just because) – for being resentful? If I were denied my pleasures for the sake of a sister who didn’t appreciate what she got and instead spent all the time calling me an immoral ho for resenting her, you bet I would be as bitter and disagreeable as the poor dear.
And then there’s Ned. Some guys are introverted, some guys may be socially awkward, but Ned is so boorish, rude, patronizing, and just plain weird for so long that I have no idea why I’m supposed to be rooting for him. The only reasons that I can see is that he is hot and he is rich. Oh, and Sophie’s family needs his money. So in the end of the day… money is everything, right? And it’s okay that the guy is being a boor so long as he’s a loaded looker, despite Sophie’s constant assertions that she is looking for depths that come attached to a man’s pee-pee? Come to think of it, if she is so into character and mutual affection, why does she hang on to Ned for so long then? Oh yeah, she finds him hot, and her family needs the money. But wait, she’s not totally a prostitute like those other women, people, because she… uh… she keeps protesting that she wants one thing, even if she acts like she wants the same superficial things – hot guy, fat crotch, fat wallet, flat stomach – like the rest of us mere mortals?
Seriously, A Holiday by Gaslight is a hot mess when it comes to any semblance of consistence in its enforcement of the purity test on the heroine. This is like those erotic stories where I’m supposed to get all excited over scenes of the main characters doing all kinds of naughty things, but this is okay and I can sleep easy with my conscience clear, because the author kills everyone in the end and says that these people are harlots who deserve what they get. Look, Mom, my stories have characters who repeatedly claim to be good people, so I’m a better person for reading these things!
Is all this purity test nonsense really necessary though? Just… tell a story already.