31 December, 2011

Review: A Lady Awakened by Cecilia Grant

Dude, I totally hated this book. I know everyone and their mother loved it. I struggled to finish it for a month and only brought it home as an end of 2011 resolution, complete with live tweets. Grant and I, we're just going to quietly settle the bill and agree not to share a Taxi. To explain why is going to require spoilers. Lots and lots of them. Don't read this review unless you have already finished A Lady Awakened or have sworn off reading books. Maybe both. I am thinking of you here.

Grant can write, her talent isn't in question. I can see Grant writing a book I would rave over as people are raving over this one. The problem is after finishing A Lady Awakened I don't think I'd pick up a second title. I hate books where I spend a lot of time wondering why. Why doesn't Martha want to live with her family? Why is Martha willing to have sex with a stranger for a month when she clearly despises it? Why is Theo ready to have sex every possible moment? Why does he return to sleep with a women so disinterested that her contempt causes him impotence? There are so many WTF moments in A Lady Awakened and the answers shift about like sand. Martha doesn't want to live at home because she just doesn't want to. Then she doesn't because she earned her home in her 11 months of marriage. Then she doesn't because the heir is a creepy rapist and her school will close. Then she totally wants to give the house up because the creepy rapist has sons. Creepy rapist is going to sign an agreement (oh, well then!) that will give his wife and kids rights to the house and he (after an intervention by the neighbors explaining that they don't like him) will abandon that family. In what year?? How is that binding on him, rational of him, or even slightly likely? Plus, Martha is claiming her child is the rightful heir, obviously (if she is willing to give up the property) it is not - so why wouldn't he seize on that tidbit? It is a bucket of WTF. Things happen because they have to happen for the story to happen not because the people (as brilliantly drawn as they are) would be likely to do these things.

Take Theo. Some chick he doesn't know approaches him and offers a small fortune for sex (which he never claims) so he says hey, why not? I will give him that. I will even give him being willing to cheat a neighboring landowner simply on the say so of a widow. When Theo shows up, it's as close to rape as consensual sex can be. She not only dislikes sex she ruminates to herself on how disgusting the male body is when compared to a female one. (Gaydar! Our heroine is either asexual or lesbian. Oh wait, all this falls away later when we discover she does like the male figure and secretly self pleasures thinking about it. WTF?) Ok, so long story short, Martha had a year of bad sex and her answer to that is to deny herself any physical responses so she can maintain power and control in her life. Because of course the rational choice of a woman embarking on a month of sex is to make it as unpleasant for herself as possible. Anyway, she says awesome things to Theo like "Are you done yet?" and he discovers a new world in impotence. But hey, his word is his bond, so back in the saddle he comes. WTF? He's attractive, 26 and not exactly destitute. There have to be options that don't involve fraud and pseudo rape!  (I asked others their view of Theo's actions. The response was "Is it science fiction? Because that's not happening in this world.")

Through unsatisfying sex they discover social crusades, invent collective farming and fall in love. (No, they pretty much do.) Martha resolves to make him a better man through the careful nudging of female approval, as though this poor simple minded man needs only her warm regard to change. In her defense, apparently she is right. Suddenly Theo is roofing homes and building economic safety nets. Also, he vomits when someone implies he'd rape a disabled teen - seems a bit extreme, but maybe he has a sensitive stomach. The disabled teen has a perpetually pregnant mother. On one occasion Theo slips and calls Martha by her first name in front of the woman. Martha is distressed and shocked so naturally she turns to the woman and says hey, I heard my brother in law raped you. (Martha, WTF?) For most of the book this woman is portrayed as stressed beyond her ability to cope, her children neglected by her fatigue and her home in utter disarray. Suddenly we discover she has a loyal and caring husband, a childhood sweetheart who lets her take the lead in life and who puts her cares above his own. So why are his kids neglected? Why is his wife overburdened? She grew up in the community so why does she lack support? If it is because of a rape 16 years ago why does that same community suddenly rally for the aforementioned intervention with the brother in law? See all the Why we've got going on?

Martha, who considered offering this woman cash for her unborn child, never puts anything together. A woman who keeps a mentally disabled child arising from rape is going to sell you her son so he can be lord of the manor? How do you think that's going to happen? How is her husband going to be down with that? Martha's rationale is that obviously the woman has too many children to handle already and will be glad to lighten her load. Martha goes from unsympathetic to evil in one musing. Class issues, she has them. Luckily Martha changes her mind because Theo finally teaches her to like sex! All it takes is him asking her to tie him up and they're off to the races. Is this a new convention? From I-can't-stand-you-touching-me to let-me-blow-you-baby all with one carefully placed stocking? Now we have the inevitable failure to communicate as estate-free Martha finds Theo has fled from her lack of love. Because telling him you've decided to marry him would have made too much sense. Obviously Martha's control issues have overridden her planning personality. Faced with no estate and a return to her family, Martha is saved by Theo's determined return.

I gotta wish him luck. God only knows what Martha's going to come up with next. That chick has crazy eyes.


  1. Congrats on finishing it, although I feel saying congrats is a double-edged sword considering what you had to read to finish it. YIKES! I don't know where to start...maybe it would just be easier to state 'Not for me'.

  2. In her defense I am pretty much the ONLY reviewer not to passionately love this book. It might be the best thing you ever read?

  3. It might be, but...somehow I think not :)

  4. I liked it more than you did, and I found Martha's motives and responses more plausible at the start, but agree the ending went off the rails and absolutely see how someone could respond as you did.

  5. To me a more logical ending would be that Martha's plan is either discovered or fails. After which she offers employment in her home or dairy to those who wish to flee the new owner. The needlessly complex & unenforceable circular logic of the inheritance solution killed any momentum she had going. Plus, the fallacy of the good rapist annoys me. You know the easily controlled rapist who just needs social shaming or to be relocated to a distant island where only non white woman will be raped. Rape is not so simple.

  6. You're not the only one, though my review hasn't gone up yet. It was pretty much interested characters crammed into a plot that didn't suit them. I gave it a C, because the author's style is very good, and I had to give her props for historical accuracy (except for the agreement at the end which was totally nuts).
    I found it (gasp) boring in parts, and I did want to love this book.