At Daggers Drawn

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Random House Publishing Group, Mar 28, 1989 - Fiction - 234 pages
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I have to admit, when I first read this book, I thought it would be a lot worse than it was. The writing was halfway decent and the plot was not outrageously ridiculous. This book needs some help, but I think with a decent editor, it would not have been too difficult to turn this rather ho-hum Regency romance into a decent, pretty-good-for-what-it-is romance novel. It still needs a fair amount of work, but the basics are here.
First of all, if you're a Jane Austen fan, Menzel has done research - you can see Jane Austen peeping out of her prose, and there are really only a couple of places where her style deviates too noticeably from the style one might reasonably expect from an early 19th century British novel. As far as I, average British novel reading layperson can tell, there were no glaring historical inaccuracies, and after years of seeing Americans not understanding how the peerage works, it was nice to see someone write with a little more certainty (although, given the fact that there were only several hundred peers in the early 1800s, the novel does seem to have miraculously stumbled on a surprisingly large amount of them). One late 18th/early 19th century story aspect that might have helped would have been a little more lush description of settings and places - toward the end of the book they can become a little sparse, and of what is there, a little blandly beautiful and uninteresting.
No, the real work necessary is in the redevelopment the characters and a little plot revision. For instance, the heroine, Caroline Hargrave, is a rather headstrong, independent young woman who first and foremost wants to marry for love, rather than societal expectations. This may not be hardly a new idea to us, purveyors of romance novels, but it still an interesting idea to play with given Caroline's position in British society, and how she came to develop such views. Unfortunately, Menzel does not dwell on how Caroline came hold such an opinion - I cannot imagine anyone from that time telling her so, unless she learned from an experience we never see - instead expecting such an opinion to be obvious and natural. It may be so to us, 21st century people in the land of (forgive me) rom coms and chick flicks, but such a view would have been very radical for the time. The problem is not that Caroline thinks that way, but rather we never understand why she has come to think that way.
The romantic hero Lord Brooke is painted rather imperiously in Caroline's mind, but the omnipresent narration (which does not stay in Caroline's perspective) hurts this impression of him a bit because we see from the beginning who Lord Brooke really is, not necessarily a bad person, but rather normal, trying to do the best he can - heavy-handed, perhaps, but not unjust. That we see all this from the beginning - because the story does not stay purely in Caroline's perspective, as I think it ought - rather spoils the whole Pride & Prejudice/First Impressions vibe that is often so essential in love stories where initial dislike turns to love. Thus, because we see Caroline's foolishness before she does herself, it makes her rather unsympathetic because we don't really understand why she feels the way she does because we've seen the entire picture already.
I only picked two prominent examples of where the story really needed work. There were a few plot inconsistencies and mistakes a good editor should have caught, as well as a few typos, but nothing major. Like I said, the basics are here, and this book has the potential to be much better. The only real disappointment is that it feels rather forced and in a hurry, as if Menzel had only a month to plan, write, edit, and revise her book. If she had really wanted to turn a true Regency romance in the style of Jane Austen, as I feel that the book wants to, she ought to have taken a little more time to edit and expand.


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