Signet, $6.99, ISBN 0-451-21028-X
Historical Romance, 2004
Schizophrenic writing style, purple prose, inconsistent and stupid characters, Disney-fication of medieval life and animal behavior, and worst of all, dialogues that are so bad that I don’t know whether to laugh in horrified bewilderment or to just cringe in embarrassment – Sasha Lord’s debut Under a Wild Sky is a list of authorial do-not-do-this items that should be used as a cautionary textbook material in writing classes. How did the editor allow this book to get published in its current form? The story isn’t bad, mind you – I’ve read worse – but from a technical standpoint, this book is atrocious.
Ronin McTaver is a laird that is on the run since his family was massacred by the men led by the evil Lothian, also known as the Serpent. Lothian wants a fabled tapestry he believes to be in the possession of the McTavers. This tapestry is half of a treasure map that will lead the owner (the Serpent has the other piece) to a great treasure. He stumbles into a forest kingdom where Kalial, the princess, tries to drive the interloper away. But despite the author insisting that Kalial is a smart and courageous young girl with feistiness steaming out of her wazoos, Kal ends up being taken hostage by Ronin and a road trip adventure ensues.
There is a good idea here for a story, but Ms Lord’s treatment of the story is pure Walt Disney. Here, jaguars are the heroine’s best friends, although I’m sure that the part where Kal calls her jaguar friend “McCat” must be an inside joke that must have slipped past the copyeditors. I mean, seriously, McCat? In other parts of the story, Kal calls her feline friend dhu Cait, so I’m sure that “McCat” is a joke or a typo. I hope.
Kal is a typical tomboy heroine that exists only in bad romance novels: not only is she able to pass herself off as a boy without much effort while retaining her luscious beauty and what not, she is also prone to foolish idiotic antics typical of these imbecilic tomboy stereotypes. Ronin is a one-dimensional character who’s either horny or getting his muscles all rippled up for his action scenes. The author seems unaware of the inconsistent actions of her characters. For example, some of the things Ronin forces Kal to do on his ship to force Kal to admit to him that she is really a woman borders on being cruel and masochistic punishment, but Kal, the idiot, takes everything in stride because she loves him so much. Which brings me to the “love”: it’s not romance as much as plenty of horribly turgid purple prose where the characters wax about each other’s physical beauty before indulging in long love scenes filled with inspiring prose like this little gem:
“Here,” he whispered, “is the secret. I have found the treasure yet to be made. Your body receives me even if your heart has not yet done so completely. I want to give you something, something warm and alive, that will always remind you of me. I want to plant my seed deep within you.”
And I love this romantic declaration. I swear, Ms Lord can curdle milk with her wordsmith.
“I remember the image of your dark, sweaty back moving through my forest and the sound of your horse’s labored breathing the day you fled into the Loch Nidean to escape Lothian’s men.”
Ronin nodded. “I see the agonized look on my baby sister’s face as she was tied and molested. I recall the agony that sent me into your forest for I feared the legends less than I feared my failure.”
Kalial’s soft, exotic voice answered, “Let go of the bad thoughts, Ronin. They will swallow you. Try to think of wonderful moments, moments that changed your life for the better. Instead of thinking of the forest fire, I remember feeling your hands lifting me to safety.”
Ronin smiled. “Yes, that was a special moment.”
The writing of this book is so awful, readers will either weep or laugh. The villain doesn’t just threaten, he cackles. He snorts. He screams. In fact, every time a character opens his or her mouth in this book, I burst into hysterical laughter. The writing is truly horrible because Ms Lord tries very hard to be flowery but her vocabulary seems hopelessly limited to insipid descriptions like “pale”, “exotic”, and every word listed under the thesaurus entry for “throbbing”. The villains, at their worst, are described as “ugly”. Not “malevolent”, not even “evil”, but “ugly”.
Because Ms Lord writes like a ten-year old girl trying so hard to sound adult, her story comes off like a bedtime story for children, only this bedtime story is incongruously littered with hilariously purple and explicit love scenes, including a truly darling scene on horseback where “his cock immediately sprang free, almost purple with passion, the veins along the shaft pulsing… he shoved his massive member into the delicate, pinkening center… his harsh sound and clenched thighs angered the horse and he again rose up in a tremendous rear.” This scene is really impressive because not only can I not determine which animal, human or horse, Ronin is “shoving his massive member” into, but delicate, pinkening center? What on earth is that?
For bad or for worse, the one thing this book has going for itself is that it is definitely memorable, albeit for all the wrong reasons. Never in a long time has a book made me laugh so hard at it. Even if you feel that this book is not for you, do browse through a few pages if you encounter this book in the bookstore. It will bring a smile to your face, although not in the ways Ms Lord will appreciate.
Seriously, Ms Lord really need to work on her writing techniques. For heaven’s sake, at least don’t write in flowery turgid prose if the best she can come up with are “ugly” and “bad” in the way of evocative descriptions. Under a Wild Sky gets a big no from me – no, really, just no.