by Colette Gale, historical (2008)
Signet, $14.00, ISBN 978-0-451-22412-5
Master is a sexed-up retelling of the most popular portion of Alexandre Dumas' The Count Of Monte Cristo, one of the very few stories by that man that I could actually finish reading in its unabridged form without falling asleep halfway through. That's because I'm fascinated by the character of Edmond Dantès. The whole melodramatic emo boy bent on revenge really appeals to me even if the story itself is ridiculous and over-the-top nonsensical.
I'm sure you know the story, but if not, here's a quick run down of the plot of Master. Edmond loves Mercédès Harrera, and if you read his memories of the time they had together in better days, you'll know why. That young lady probably inspired the creation of vacuum cleaners, if you know what I mean. Alas, before they can live happily ever after, Edmond is framed as a traitor to the country. Due to a snowballing of unhappy circumstances, poor Edmond cannot find any ally or means to defend himself. He is sentenced to life imprisonment in the Chateau d'If prison island.
Cut to years later, when Edmond is no longer Number 24601 - oops, wrong story - anyway, he has freed himself and even found a great treasure in the process. Having reinvented himself as the wealthy Count of Monte Cristo, he now descends upon Marseille with full intention to destroy the lives of all those bastards who sent him to the Chateau d'If. He soon comes upon his first real challenge. His beloved, Mercédès, is now the wife of Fernand Mondego, his enemy. On her part, Mercédès is the heroine who has never stopped loving Edmond. She is also not aware at that point of her husband's role in Edmond's incarceration. When Edmond decides to become Sinbad the Sailor - hey, don't laugh, that part about Edmond being Sinbad the Sailor is in the original novel although omitted in various subsequent terrible movie adaptations - and kidnaps Mercédès to seduce her in order to enact some classical angry romance hero revenge on her, can she convince him that she's not a slut who conspired against him? Can she demonstrate that she still loves him? Oh, you bet.
Like Unmasqued, Master sees the author taking the opportunity to insert sex scenes into the story at every available opportunity.
Mercédès is more well-developed here than in the original story, which is not too surprising given that the character has the personality of a plank in the original story while she gets the lion's share of the point of view here. I like the heroine - she can put two and two together despite sometimes being on the naïve side and she also knows how to surprise Edmond - and me - now and then when it comes to the game they play. Edmond is appropriately sinister and menacing as he does his "I'll punish you, slut... oh wait, maybe you're not a slut... oh, my (big) head..." routine. But for so long he is this menacing and rather one-dimensional sex-avenger type seen from Mercédès' point of view that he comes off pretty flat.
As a result, their relationship is more sexual than anything else. Yes, what they have is moody, sometimes violent, sometimes tender, but with the emphasis seeming to be more on the sex scenes, which range from elements of BDSM to more-than-two fun to peek-a-boo stuff, than on character development, Master as a result isn't a satisfying read for me. There is an occasional good scene here and there, with Ms Gale displaying an unexpected touch of poetry when she is describing her characters' emotions or the small things they do, such as the way Edmond tilts his head to kiss Mercédès, but these scenes are overshadowed by too many sex scenes that feel more mechanical than erotic. I suspect that there are a couple of scenes here that will push some readers' hot buttons, but then again, this book is packaged clearly to be what it is.
Personally, I feel that Master is better than Unmasqued. This one also has the advantage in that The Count Of Monte Cristo is not exactly the overexposed The Phantom Of The Opera and therefore there is a high chance that a reader reading this one will not have read or seen a movie adaptation of the original. Therefore, this one allows the reader to still be surprised by things. Even if I have read the original story, this version has more significant changes made to ensure a happy ending that this one as a result manages to be less predictable than Unmasqued. For me, this book is better because there are a few well-written or unexpectedly exquisite scenes here and there that catch my attention and surprise me while Unmasqued just bores me with how predictable and familiar it is.
So you can imagine my frustration, I'm sure, when these scenes serve to merely tease and tantalize me about how good this book could have been. Instead, what I get in Master is still a rather unmemorable attempt to sex-up a familiar classic. I have to admit, the author's Mercédès does go a considerable distance in making this story her own, but nothing here really grabs my attention. Everything about it feels distant and mechanical.
Mind you, I don't feel that Master is a bad book by any means, it's just a rather half-baked one that could have been so much better than it actually is. As I've said, though, this one does show some considerable improvements over Unmasqued so we're definitely getting somewhere and as a result, I'm more than happy to check out the author's next one.
Speaking of which, if Ms Gale is strong enough to weather the uproar that will result, may I suggest that she uses her flogger on Pride And Prejudice next? The fireworks that result when genteel readers set up and set fire to Ms Gale's effigy in her front lawn for daring to even suggest that Elizabeth Bennet takes it up the behind would be most entertaining.
This book at Amazon.com
This book at Amazon UK
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