23 November, 2011

Review: The Other Guy's Bride by Connie Brockway

I'm not sure why both iterations of this cover have a dark haired heroine when she's clearly described as blonde. She's blonde enough to turn her hair red with henna, so the double brunette action doesn't really work. I'm willing to give them her height on the second cover (she's tall, with a big nose) since the dress is pretty sweet. Anyway, on to the content. The Other Guy's Bride just misses epic status. It's a good, possibly great, but it's not a book of the year and it should be. It could have been. It's annoying that it isn't. (Ok, it probably will be for some readers.) You should buy it, it's decently priced and a great Indiana Jones-esque adventure tale. Except when it isn't. Let's jump the big hurdles first, ok?

 Haji gave me great hope. A non white character who isn't following someone around out of servile gratitude, a character that others acknowledge faces racism, a character presented in exactly the same manner as a white character... until the end. In a move that absolutely killed me there is a last chapter push for Haji to give up the race card. Yes folks, the problem isn't xenophobic colonialist white folk operating from a place of privilege, it's Haji being oversensitive. Just no. No, no, no. No. I will give Haji being unable to accept his place in the heroine's family, I will give Haji making mistakes as a child from his own assumptions, I will NOT give Haji needing only to stop looking for racial slights where none exist. Just no. Not today and especially not 100 years ago. Mildred can be racist, it's okay. Mildred is marrying a racist, therefore she is unlikely to be socially progressive.

My next stumbling block involves our power couple, Gin and Jim. I don't know about you, but if I have been kidnapped by slavers and trudged through the desert for four days while facing the continual threat of rape, all I can think about is losing my virginity to the first white man that shows up. And really, if I have been tracking my kidnapped love interest waiting for a chance to save her I am absolutely not going to wait one second more for sex. No need to put getting away above getting it on! No villain ever escaped binding ropes nor had their compatriots unexpectedly return! Baby, it's nookie time. We can run afterward. (This threw me completely out of the story. We went from epic read to wtf read in a few pages.)

The final stumbling block is a lack of clarity for events. Jim lays his history out as such - his mother died when he was four and his father remarried. That wife died in childbirth. His father died when he was fourteen and his grandmother brought him to meet his ten year old brother who was the only bright spot in his subsequent life. Later in the book his brother (Jock) talks about how Jim acted around Jock's mother. Wait, isn't Jock's mother dead? Did she die in childbirth after Jim's father died? Did she remarry? How did  Jim have time to meet her if it was his father's child? If she did remarry, why did she still live with Jock? Where is Jock's stepfather? (I think that Brockway forgot she'd killed off the stepmother.)

There's also a completely unneeded secondary villain who seems to serve no purpose other than beating Jim up. He comes and goes but seems like an abandoned subplot or a shoe that never really drops. He's set in place to cause mayhem, but the mayhem doesn't materialize. It's a shame, he might have been a more interesting foil for drama than the slavers but it's a minor thing. Let's get back to the big things. Gin, our heroine, is completely believable. She's a trouble magnet, the accident prone girl in a family of adventurers, the romantic in the midst of scholars. Having been sent away for her own protection she's spent her life trying to live her parent's dream in a quest to prove herself worthy of her last name. Gin is a woman so busy trying to please others that she's forgotten how to please herself. She's also not small, dainty or delicate of feature. Gin is a powerful woman chasing the wrong dreams.

Jim isn't chasing any dreams at all. He starts the book as a complete wimp. He's run away from his inheritance, he's run away from his disapproving family, he's run away from romantic rejection, he is due for a complete reinvention of himself. The man he becomes is an opportunistic mercenary who goes where the highest bidder beckons. He's devoid of dreams, devoid of ties and content enough with his martyrdom to passively accept the hand his grandmother played when he was young and stupid. He's cut from the "better off without me" cloth. He's floating through life waiting for it to end, while fighting to stay alive. Like Gin, he has no idea what he really wants. This is a great dynamic. There are strong secondary characters. The book largely dodges many colonialist pitfalls (although there are also lazy Nigerians who take advantage of situations) and spreads it's character flaws to all colors. The racist white Colonel is mostly overworked and understaffed, the frightened troops are burnt out and ready for home. Everyone in this book is operating from a place of real conflict and realistic motivations. If Gin and Jim were just a bit older, a bit wiser, this would have been an epic read. As they stand, it's a very good one.

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