I'm not coming down until someone apologies

Further Deconstructing “For Such a Time”: An Angry Book Nerd Manifesto

NOTE: I had all this written and formatted and was doing a final proofread when this popped up in my Twitter feed:

NO, A GRANDDAUGHTER OF HOLOCAUST SURVIVORS DOES NOT WANT TO HELP PROMOTE A BOOK COSMO CALLS "THE REAL HOUSEWIVES OF NAZI GERMANY."

Bloody hell. Un.Effing.Believable.

The previous posts:

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Oh. You thought we were all in the “Over It” phase of the Outrage Cycle? I want to be “over it.” But I’m not.

I'm not coming down until someone apologies

This epic manifesto is an attempt to render my tangle of thoughts into a coherent analysis. By “epic,” I mean long (you are not surprised). By “manifesto,” I mean pseudo-intellectual ranting with fake academic subheadings and loads of pretentious “-ism” words and footnotes. I think “manifesto” implies “long” as well, so I’m already being redundant but I really like the word “manifesto” because it makes me feel very…powerful…in a “didn’t-even-have-to-get-off-the-couch-woohoo!” kind of way. I’m keeping “epic” too because people look for “epic” stuff and that will totally boost my SEO and I might even go viral.

I really like run-on sentences.

This post is the first of…several? I keep finding new stuff and then I have to rewrite everything and I have no idea how you author types ever actually get anything done.

If you’re sticking around for this, get yourself a snack and settle in.

*girds loins*

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*AHEM*

The obligatory #NotAllChristians intro to prove how enlightened I am about my recognizing and acknowledging my privilege and no that’s not hypocritical at all shut up and let me finish I’m just getting started here

As with my previous posts, I am thinking and researching and writing about For Such a Time1 because I am part of the target market. I’m writing this to (1) justify how much time I’ve spent obsessing over this book; (2) validate my righteous indignation; and (3) process why this has become some kind of personal mission for me.

I know the author and publishers have their fingers in their ears. They clearly don’t care.

The truth doesn't change just because you don't want to hear it

Bethany House’s Statement and Our Response

I do care. I care a lot. I’m learning a lot. I hope my voice will help escalate the discussion from a different kind of “Christian worldview” – one that not only cringes at but thoroughly disavows self-righteous revisionism and supersessionism.

I can’t write about it from anyone else’s point of view. I can only read what others have written2 and internalize their stories to reinterpret what I’ve read and inspire me (see what I did there?) to learn more.

I think I will request “Learn More” as the epitaph on my gravestone. When I die in a book avalanche.

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Abstract

In which I use the word “deconstruct” unironically.

I know. I had to. It’s the only way some high-minded people will take this manifesto seriously. Which is completely understandable what with all the gay werewolf orgies and whatnot around here.

Are you ready? Here we go:

*straightens bra straps*

The purpose of this post is to deconstruct why the novel For Such a Time by Kate Bresline fails its intended audience and its sub-genre of religious fiction.

Whether we call label it “Christian fiction” or “inspirational fiction,” whether it’s marketed as an “allegory” or a “retelling” or a “reframing” or even a mere “inspired by,” this book is a full-on hot mess of plug-n-play Bible verses presented with all the subtlety of a Looney Tunes anvil dropping.

Looney Anvil Dropping, featuring Road Runner and Wile E. CoyoteIf you mess with — or ignore — the basic elements of the original story, you change the outcome. Unless you’re specifically calling it a fairy tale or alternate history, not acceptable in an allegory/retelling.

If you mess with — or ignore — the basic elements of the original story, you change the meaning and the impact. Never acceptable in a retelling of a Bible story.

By (1) ignoring reader expectations; (2) cherry-picking superficial bits of the source material; (3) conflating the story with scriptural themes unrelated to the source material; (4) relying on deus ex machina and proof-texted divine interventions to drive the plot; and (5) deliberately choosing a setting solely for shock value, this so-called “inspirational” novel ignores and subverts the themes and messages of the Book of Esther so badly as to be nearly unrecognizable.

Instead of “reframing” the characters and themes of the Book of Esther to support the message God wants us to hear, Breslin uses whatever Bible verses she can find to support the story she wants to tell.

DISCLAIMERS:

  • I am not a Bible scholar; all opinions and observations and conclusions are my own. If you don’t agree, please – in all sincerity – call me out. I’m here to learn.
  • I’m using the terms “Bible” and “Biblical” for simplicity and my own familiarity.
  • I’m trying very hard to avoid snark and profanity and all-caps ranting. Wish me luck.

Also, please note I used a Looney Tunes analogy before the disclaimer. If all abstracts had Wile E. Coyote shout-outs and kicked off with a Ritual Straightening of the Bra Straps, I would have stayed in grad school.

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Methodology

I started out with a detailed plot summary to make sure I captured all of the key scenes and characterizations in For Such a Time.

After a lengthy brain-bleach, I began a “side-by-side” analysis of the key verses and themes in the Book of Esther and the counterparts in FSAT, using the New International Version of the Holy Bible, cited on the copyright page of the novel as the primary source of scripture quotes.

Side by Side: The Book of Esther and For Such a Time [Google doc3]

I gave up. Beyond the character names, the parallels were hollow and uncomfortable at best, frequently eye-rolling, and all too often utterly disgraceful.

Oh, fudge. I’m not supposed to opinionate in the methodology, am I? Oops.

That was sarcasm, not snark.

Also, my overuse of adjectives and adverbs is completely intentional because I too have access to a thesaurus and I’m not afraid to beat people over the head with it for dramatic effect.

That was sarcasm as well. Still with me?

I then delved into Bible studies and commentaries on the Book of Esther published by Bethany House and other leading Christian publishers. For this post, my expert advisory panel includes:

I also read numerous commentaries and articles from Jewish authors and bloggers5; I am purposefully not referencing these here to keep with my “intended audience/target market” perspective. Also, because it’s painfully obvious the author actively avoided anything actually, you know, <whisper>Jewish</whisper>. Because of…you know…*looks around suspiciously*…<whisper>Jew cooties</whisper>.

That was snark. See the difference? It’s a fine line sometimes.

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A “Hey! I researched stuff! Lookit lookit lookit!” sidebar

Megillat Esther, Italy, 1616 - The National Library of Israel Collections

Megillat Esther, Italy, 1616 – The National Library of Israel Collections | View larger image >>

How can you look at something that stunningly beautiful and glowingly spiritual and not want to learn where it came from and who created it and where they lived and how they used it and…everything? What is the point of being a novelist if you don’t geek out over stuff like this???

I DO NOT UNDERSTAND.

Rats. There goes my “no all-caps ranting.”

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Ignoring reader expectations

See, I can get to an actual point. Eventually.

To steal the words of a Twitter friend, Bethany House broke a contract with me as a reader.

I championed the publisher as a great source of non-preachy inspirational romances with great non-Regency historical settings.

“Trust me!” I said. Because I trusted them.

Now, my rallying cry is “I am not affiliated with them! They do not represent me!”6

As an inspie reader, I trust7 that authors and editors and publishers of “Christian fiction” know their Bible. I trust inspie authors to do their research, both historical and Biblical. I trust editors at religious publishing houses to do their due diligence to ensure their fiction titles are theologically sound.

I just invented a name for this: my Default Reader Trust Mode. It works for any and all genres.

Yes, “theologically sound” is impossible to define; the translations and interpretations and commentaries are endless. But the whole point of fictionalizing Bible messages and Bible stories is that there are universal truths and guiding principles that still apply to our everyday lives.

Biblical characters experienced God in complex situations, and so do we. By portraying those situations realistically, we learn how to apply the Bible to our own lives.

~ A Walk Thru the Book of Esther

Emphasis mine on the “realistically.” Nearly every inspie I’ve read – including those from Bethany House – focuses on one of those universal truths. There’s a single Bible verse as an epigraph, and the story is built around characters struggling with understanding and living out that seemingly simple but ever-elusive faith message.

Why the author, editors and publisher of For Such a Time ignored this construct is completely beyond me.

What the **** am I reading?

Instead of a story of people struggling with faith and hope in a real-life version of hell on earth, we’re force-fed a “romance” built on Stockholm syndrome surrounded by Hollywood melodrama and stuffed with Dial-A-Scripture platitudes.

*sits on hands* <muffle>nosnarknosnarknosnark</muffle>

After three close reads, I still don’t know what the central faith message of this book is supposed to be, much less how it applies to my own spiritual life. And that’s because it’s trying to tell too many stories at once – and not telling the whole story.

To be continued…. How’s that for a cliffhanger, eh?

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Footnotes

1 I am purposefully using the full title and author’s name, because at this point in the Outrage Cycle, euphemisms like “That Book” only serve to diminish and ignore the issues we still need to talk about.

2 Here are just a few of the voices I’ve been listening to:

I “met” all of these people online only because of the controversy, and they’re doing an excellent job at poking holes in my white privilege. They’re probably getting tired of me favoriting and retweeting everything they post.

3 The Google doc is open for commenting – have at it.

4 Yes, “Thru.” I’m not kidding.

5 My starting points:

Don’t ask where those starting points led me. I haven’t really come back yet.

6 I use that same rallying cry whenever anyone mentions Rep. Steve King (R(abid Bigot)-Iowa).

7 I debated for quite a while whether to use “trust” or “trusted.” I reserve the right to change my mind. Again.

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Required reading

Most of these aren’t new, but they’re too powerful to let slip into the cracks.

Recommended reading

Recommended viewing

Fuck It. I’m Going Full Snark.

In case you missed it, here are the related posts:

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Me to myself yesterday:

There’s a lot of confusion about what exactly does and doesn’t occur in That Book. I think it would be worthwhile to lay out the critical plot points and character backstories.

Today on Twitter:Writing an FAQTwo hours later:

Full SnarkYou’ve been warned.

If you’re looking for smart people saying smart things, go here:

Otherwise, GFTO, I’m going in.

The main characters

Stella Muller/Hadassah Benjamin. Our heroine. She’s Jewish, but had false papers claiming she’s Aryan. It’s easy to believe because thanks to her Dutch grandmother, she has hair the color of gold and eyes as blue as the Judean sky. Hadassah is her Hebrew name and Stella is her Aryan alter ago; this mirrors the holy texts, except the ancient Hadassah becomes Esther when she’s made Queen of Persia. In the book, she’s known as Stella until she proclaims her Jewishness.

Colonel Aric von Schmidt. Our hero. He’s the SS officer newly assigned the command of Theresienstadt. But he’s not really SS – he was invalided out of the Wehrmacht (the field army) after ten years and many battles. He calls his new SS colleagues “mangy curs” and “uniformed thugs” which proves that he’s not a True Nazi. Aric is  Austrian; his father was a baron and a self-described “gentleman farmer.” His name is spelled with an “A” because he’s the modernized version of Ahasuerus, King of Persia. I have no idea how to pronounce “Ahasuerus.” It keeps coming out as “Asuharious.”

Uncle Morty, full name Mordecai Benjamin. He’s Stella’s uncle, but has raised her as a daughter after she was orphaned. Morty is the conscience on Stella’s shoulder, whispering to her to keep the faith.

Captain Hermann. He’s second in command at the camp, a career SS man, and a brutal bully. He’s kinda pissy that he didn’t get promoted to commandant. Hermann = Haman, chief toady to the Persian king and Mordecai’s archenemy.

Hardly any snark! Except for that one bit about the True Nazis. If you can’t handle that, GTFO because there’s more.

Chapters 1-4

Stella wakes up in a strange room and meets Colonel Aric. We learn she was at Dachau, but she was there by mistake and he’s the kind of officer that doesn’t tolerate mistakes made against women with blond hair and blue eyes. Stella has exactly the secretarial skills he needs, because of course she does, so he’s taking her with him to his new post as commandant of Theresienstadt.

“…as easily as I netted you from that cesspool Dachau, I can toss you back.”

Stella’s blond hair is shorn, so as they’re getting in the SS car to head out to Czechoslovakia, Aric reaches into his pocket and pulls out a red wig.

No, really.

For Such a Time - The Red WigThere’s a bit of anxiety when they’re questioned at the border.

“This is the not the Jew you’re looking for.”

When they arrive at the camp, they meet Captain Hermann. Just picture Hogan’s Heroes and you’ll have a good mental picture of Hermann the Horrible.

Stella is to live at Aric’s house outside the walls of the ghetto. She meets Joseph and Helen, the palace eunuchs. Oh, wait, sorry – Joseph the one-eared Jewish houseboy and Helen the mute Catholic housekeeper.

At dinner, Stella ponders Aric’s handsomeness and is forced to eat pork.

When she returns to her room, the Magic Bible appears! She knows about the Christian Bible from her friend Marta. The Bible magically falls open to Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Because of course it does. Continue reading

One-Quote Review: Bound to Be a Bride by Megan Mulry

Bound to Be a Bride by Megan Mulry

  • Title: Bound to Be a Bride
  • Author: Megan Mulry
  • Genre(s): Historical
  • Publisher: Sourcebooks, April 2013
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Length: 87 pages
  • Trope(s): Runaway Bride, In Disguise, Kidnapped, Bondage, Mistorical, TSTL
  • Quick blurb: Runaway bride kidnapped by fiancé she’s never met.
  • Quick review: Not painful, but more than a little ridiculous.
  • Grade: D+

She had proved quite amenable, showing admirable equestrian and culinary skills and generally not making a nuisance of herself.

This story was all over the place, especially the wildly inconsistent, nearly-TSTL heroine and her education at the Convent of Handy Outdoor Survival Techniques.

Somewhere to Call Home by Janet Lee Barton

Somewhere to Call Home by Janet Lee Barton

  • Title: Somewhere to Call Home
  • Author: Janet Lee Barton
  • Series/Category: Love Inspired Historical
  • Genre(s): Historical (1890s US), Inspirational
  • Publisher: Harlequin, October 2012
  • Source: Amazon ($3.82 ebook)
  • Length: 288 pages
  • Trope(s): Small-Town Girl, Private Detective, Mean Girl, Evil Banker
  • Quick blurb: Miss Mary Sue McGoodytwoshoes in the big city.
  • Quick review: I am restraining myself from unleashing the snark — but only because I couldn’t even finish it.
  • Grade: DNF

I made it to about 40%, and nothing had happened. Zero tension, zero drama, and zero indication of what the actual conflict might be. There was, however, plenty to make fun of.

I’m only going Half-Snark on this because (a) I didn’t finish it; and (b) it’s an inspirational. But all the ingredients of a “This Is Why People Make Fun of Harlequins” are there. Trust me.

Continue reading

The Rake’s Redemption by Regina Scott

The Rake's Redemption by Regina Scott

  • Title: The Rake’s Redemption
  • Author: Regina Scott
  • Series/Category: Everard Legacy, Book 3 (Love Inspired Historical)
  • Genre(s): Historical (Regency), Inspirational, Suspense
  • Publisher: Harlequin, November 2012
  • Source: NetGalley ($3.82 ebook)
  • Length: 288 pages
  • Trope(s): Annoyingly Perky Heroine, Angsty Emo Hero, Insta-Love, Mistorical, Purple Prose
  • Quick blurb: Marquess’s daughter decides a dueling poet is the perfect man to acquire her father’s title.
  • Quick review: This wasn’t working for me as a historical, as a suspense, as an inspirational OR as a romance.
  • Grade: DNF

It started with the Regency heroine asking an uknown man to dance at a ball. Then we get this:

…she’d wondered whether she’d finally found the suitor she’d been praying for — someone who could help her protect the family name, as her father’s only living child.

And then, during an actual prayer, it got worse.

“Show me the man You mean to help me gain approval to carry on the title of Marquess of Widmore!”

So, yeah. It was like that.

Loving Lady Marcia by Kieran Kramer

Let’s be honest: It’s obvious this book was written and published JUST SO I COULD MAKE FUN OF IT.

  • Loving Lady Marcia by Kieran KramerTitle: Loving Lady Marcia
  • Author: Kieran Kramer
  • Series: House of Brady, Book 1
  • Genre(s): Historical (Regency – in theory, anyway)
  • Publisher: St. Martin’s Press, August 2012
  • Source: Provided by the publisher via NetGalley ($7.99 ebook)
  • Length: 368 pages
  • Trope(s): Instalove, Ruined by a Rake, Reunited, Mistorical
  • Quick blurb: “Overnight, I went from debutante to bluestocking.”
  • Quick review: It’s pretty much what you’d expect from the title and blurb.
  • Grade: DNF

Being in love, she decided, was not for the fainthearted.

I made it to about 30 percent. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be (e.g., Lady Alexandra Bad), but it wasn’t good.

All the cover quotes for Kieran Kramer’s recent debut series featured a LOT of synonyms for fluff: Delectable. Frothy. Confection. Better than dessert. All those same words can easily be applied to this first installment in the House of Brady series.

Yeah, yeah, yeah – I KNOW it’s supposed to be goofy and irreverent.  But even a “confection” has to have some substance – the whipped cream is supposed to be a topping, not the main ingredient. The Tudor era offers an even better analogy — Henry VIII and his minions were extremely fond of intricate marzipan sculptures called “subtleties.”

Think of it this way:

Jersey Shore marshmallow peeps vs. Downton Abbey marshmallow peeps

Too many parodies and spoofs and homages and “inspired bys” rely on “SEE WHAT I DID THERE? HAHAHA!” neon signs and abandon the need for good storytelling. With Loving Lady Marcia, whatever attempt the author made at plotting and characterization is completely stifled by the painfully placed and phrased pop culture references.

And sometimes they’re even info-dumped with gratuitous Regency name-dropping for extra impressiveness!

A servant brought in a lovely tea tray, and her mother began the old, comforting ritual of pouring tea – Daddy’s favorite Irish blend – chatting all the while about Marcia’s siblings. Gregory enjoyed being a man-about-town but also worked with Daddy several days a week on house designs. Peter fancied himself a Corinthian and loitered around Tattersall’s and Gentleman Jackson’s with his friends. Janice had made her debut and presentation at Court several weeks before, and the whole household was at sixes and sevens attempting to keep up with all her gentleman callers; Robert was at home because he was between halves at Eton, and Cynthia was mad for Greek mythology and had asked Mama to call her Andromeda.

Yes, Lady Marcia calls her father “Daddy.” But it’s OK, because “she pronounced it the Gaelic way, Doddy.” But it’s NOT OK, because it’s distracting and extremely annoying. Just because you CAN doesn’t mean you SHOULD.

Daddy told them how lovely his three girls were – almost as lovely as their mother….

ALSO: The family name of the House of Brady is Sherwood.

So you’ve obviously been waiting ever so patiently to learn if there’s a “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!” in there somewhere, right? Almost, but not quite:

Marcia’s cheeks burned. “No one was in awe of me.”

“Really? Everyone was ‘Marcia, this. Marcia, that.’ And you didn’t discourage them.”

The exchange wasn’t even with Jan/Janice – it was dialogue between our heroine and her jealous former schoolmate.

Ready for a final bite of saccharine sweetness before the closing credits? No? Too bad, so sad. Suck it up, because here it comes:

But they shared a love for their family and a zest for life that bonded them through thick and thin.

Oh, BARF. And for crying out loud, don’t TELL me. SHOW me. Ugh.

Veil of Pearls by MaryLu Tyndall

Veil of Pearls by MaryLu Tyndall

  • Title: Veil of Pearls
  • Author: MaryLu Tyndall
  • Series: N/A
  • Genre(s): Inspirational, Historical (American)
  • Publisher: Barbour Books, July 2012
  • Source: Provided by the publisher via NetGalley ($9.26 ebook)
  • Length: 312 pages
  • Trope(s): In Disguise, Angst, Star-Crossed Lovers, Revenge, Mistorical
  • Quick blurb: Light-skinned former slave finds love with plantation playboy in 1811 Charleston.
  • Quick review: Great title, gorgeous cover, promising setting, very disappointing story.
  • Grade: DNF

Each step she took toward freedom loosened the fetters enslaving her soul until they began to slip away, one by one.

Oh, fudge. I really really really wanted to love this – an intriguing premise, a pre-Civil War Southern setting and scads of five-star reviews. Unfortunately, I only made it about a third of the way through. The anachronisms and the logic issues and the sermonizing and the awkward mix of purple prose and clichés were just too distracting to ignore.

As usual, I feel guilty for DNFing an inspirational, because the Road to Hell is paved with Bricks of Sarcasm.

And…now I feel guilty for snarking about going to Hell. And now I’m freaking out because the irony of the guilt doubling in on itself might spawn a ginormous spiritual wormhole or something. Which I really hope doesn’t happen, because wormholes usually have some sort of space/time continuum weirdness, and time travel stuff really confuses me. I need to stop watching Doctor Who. This is the way my brain works, in case you were wondering whether I really need that Zoloft prescription.

Speaking of time travel….

The Mistoricals

Let’s get this big one out of the way first. Nearly every review of Tyndall’s 14 books mentions her attention to historical accuracy, so I wasn’t expecting to find this in Chapter 2:

Morgan circled one of the Victorian stuffed chairs in front of the hearth….

Yes, VICTORIAN. In 1811 South Carolina. I lost my trust in the author right there.  I was reading an ARC, so I downloaded the Kindle sample of the published book to double-check, but the sample wasn’t quite long enough to include this scene. I really hope that someone noticed and fixed it, but that kind of error should NEVER have even made it that far.

We later meet a minor character named Lord Demming. No, he’s not a British peer taking a vacation from the House of Lords.

“He is the speaker of the General Assembly and a descendant of the Earl of Demming.” Though Morgan had heard he was the younger son of the late earl and therefore had no right to the title “lord.” But such things were tolerated in America.”

Wait just a gosh-darn minute (please note I’m restraining myself because this is an inspirational). Fake British titles were tolerated in early American political leaders? I’m no historian, but I seriously doubt…. Oh, never mind. It’s not worth the effort because there was really no reason to include that bit of irrelevant characterization.

But maybe Charleston was the last bastion of Loyalist sympathy, because there’s this:

Had she even had a coming out? Being a commoner, most likely not.

Yes, COMMONER. In 1811 South Carolina. Again, not necessary at all.

There were several other jarring words and phrases that irked me: Don Juan, city council, landlubber, hair the color of alabaster, besotted (as a synonym for drunk), pampered urchins and coddled urchins (to describe the idle rich), witch doctor…. And that was just the first third of the book.

Authors: PLEASE remember Kelly’s Golden Rule of Writing (And Also Life In General Because It’s An All-Purpose Sort of Rule):

Just because you CAN doesn’t mean you SHOULD.

It might be historically plausible, but that doesn’t mean it’s not awkward and distracting.

Also: Readers do not need to be reminded 27 times that your heroine has ebony curls. Disguising the luxuriant tresses as “trickles of obsidian” isn’t fooling anyone.

Leaps of Logic and Very Convenient Coincidences

We meet our enslaved heroine Althea as she escapes a brutal Barbados plantation. She walks hours – still in leg shackles – through a jungle to the nearest port. Because she’s only one-quarter Negro, she’s light-skinned enough to pass for white. She instantly finds a Charleston-bound ship, conveniently captained by an abolitionist, paying for her passage with money she somehow earned during her years of slavery.

The captain informs her he’ll waive his “women on board are bad luck” rule but he won’t feed her. We are given no indication of how she survives the week-long journey without food. We aren’t shown – or even told – how a beautiful young woman traveling alone is able to reach her destination completely unmolested.

You might think this was a Harlequin Intrigue. But you’d be wrong.

One month later, our heroine – now known as Adalia – is safely ensconced in a Catholic church in Charleston, sleeping on a spare cot in exchange for volunteering her healing skills to treat slaves. She worries that her luck is about to run out:

She’d not eaten since yesterday when the last of her money had run out. Of course, she still had her mother’s pearls, but she’d rather die than sell the last remnant of her family – a symbol of the love she’d known before slavery.

She was somehow able to hide a pearl necklace from her ABUSIVE SLAVE OWNER for SEVEN YEARS. And I still can’t figure out how she managed to save the necklace in the first place.

…the hurricane swept them out to sea, leaving Adalia and Delphia orphans. Two days later, Sir Walter visited their farm on the pretense of checking on his neighbors. With soft words and promises of care, he stole them, frightened and hungry, from their beds.

Where could she have possibly hidden the necklace as she was being stolen from her bed?

I almost quit reading right there. I probably should have.

OH! ALMOST FORGOT! The necklace is made of black pearls. I’m not kidding. Check the cover. Subtle, huh?

Where were we?

Ah yes – the starving waif clutching her pearls. But never fear! A local doctor appears at the church (it’s A Miracle because she had just prayed for it!) and offers our heroine a position as his assistant, with free room and board at his home.

Other penniless orphaned beauties might be concerned at such an offer, but our heroine is the trusting sort:

Relief loosened the tight coils in her chest. A man who read his Bible was surely a good man.

Because everyone who reads the Bible is a saint. (That was sarcasm, a literary technique used by bona fide saints. For realz. I looked it up.)

Historical world-building gone wrong

On her very first foray to a plantation, Althea/Adalia literally knocks our hero off a bridge into a creek. But first she calls him a “swaggering, vainglorious despot.”

You might be wondering how a slave acquired such erudition. You’ll recall she wasn’t born a slave; we’re told that although her parents were poor farmers, they educated their daughters in mathematics, literature, history, science, Latin, and religion. Althea/Adalia must have been a been child prodigy to learn all that by age 12.

“You do not own me, sir, as you do the poor souls who work your land. Therefore, you cannot insist I do anything.” She couldn’t believe how wonderful the defiant words felt on her lips. How glorious! How empowering!

Yes, EMPOWERING. I fully expected to see “synergy” and “leverage” and “calendarize” in the next chapter.

But wait – there’s more! A few pages later, our heroine observes our charming hero thusly:

His face no longer held that look of abject boredom so often found on the spawn of the tediously affluent.

Here’s another one:

“You overbearing, self-gratifying” – she growled, attempting to control her tongue. Her attempt failed – “presumptuous vain, pampered milksop.”

Not done yet….

“I don’t hate you sir. I merely know your kind.”

“And what kind is that?”

She stopped and eyed him. The social season had begun in Charleston, and much like the season in London, it was a time when the affluent and powerful forsook their plantations to converge on the city for balls, plays, concerts, and general frivolous amusements. That was all she was to him – an amusement.

“The kind who have more wealth than they can ever spend, who fritter away their time in idle and often immoral amusements, and who think they are better than everyone else simply by nature of their birth and fortune.”

The heroine was raised on a small farm in Barbados. She was forced into slavery at age 12.

I keep repeating these important points, but it seems like I’m the only one standing up and yelling “How in the HECK (this is an inspie, so no h-e-double-hockey-sticks allowed) would she know what the London social season is like? SHE WAS A SLAVE, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD.”

But then, just a page or two later, she turns into a simpering idiot:

With wide eyes and open mouth, she was like a child seeing the world for the first time.

So is she a worldly sophisticate or is she a childlike simpleton? I cannot get invested in any character – much less the main character – whose thoughts, words and actions are so completely at odds with the given backstory. That kind of inconsistency ruins the world-building for me every time.

The heavy-handed preachifying

As a general rule, I prefer subtlety and understatement in my casual reading. I don’t need to be beaten over the head with THEMES and MESSAGES and LESSONS. For example:

Morgan glanced at the slaves, their bare backs leveled to the sun. Lud, this woman challenged him like no other! Why had he not considered the right or wrong of forcing others to work against their will, of keeping them imprisoned on the plantation like animals?

When I read passages like that, I get the feeling that the author thinks (a) readers are stupid OR (b) doesn’t trust her own writing to get the message across. Sometimes both.

Too many inspie authors fall into the trap of telling instead of showing – but pulpit-pounding is never a good storytelling technique.

Perhaps that was why God had brought them together – the most ill-suited, unlikely couple in Charleston! For Adalia to open Morgan’s eyes to the horrors of slavery and perhaps change the opinions of the next generation. Or maybe even to bring Morgan closer to God. He certainly needed a relationship with the Almighty. If she could achieve the latter, God would certainly convince him of the former.

I don’t need to be told this. I had already figured out all on my own that Adalia is the Perfect Christian who is Licensed to Judge because God Is Her BFF. I avoid people like that in real life, and I don’t find those traits are inspiring in any way.