by Virginia Henley, historical (2006)
Signet, $7.99, ISBN 0-451-21911-2
It shows what a twisted kind of romance reader that I am, I suppose, that I love the heroine of Infamous for the same reasons many reviewers and readers dislike her. Infamous features a heroine, Marjory de Warenne, that appeared in the author's previous book A Year And A Day. However, Jory in this book is very different from the Jory in A Year And A Day - this Jory is a different character altogether. The Jory in A Year And A Day is a typical sweet and selfless romance heroine pining away for her man, yucks, while this Jory is glorious in that she is her own person rather than merely half an equation in a relationship. Many readers dislike this heroine. Me, I love her. She's a much needed antidote to all those endlessly selfless martyrs-on-the-cross heroines of historical romances today.
This story also differs significantly to A Year And A Day because Jory's beau in the previous book is different from her beau in this book. For the sake of those who haven't read A Year And A Day but want to read this book, let me keep the identity of the beau in A Year And A Day to myself since this man and our heroine still have an affair in Infamous with a consequence that could really rock the already-strained relationship between Scotland and England.
Yes, you read that right - Jory had affairs in this story. Infamous isn't a typical romance novel, it's a story of a woman in medieval England and the men that enter and leave her life. In this story, Jory's first lover is Guy de Beauchamp, the Earl of Warwick who is infamous for losing two wives under sinister circumstances. Guy and Jory aren't meant to be, however, since her brother and uncle deem that Guy, being fifteen years older than eighteen-year old Jory, is too old for her. Here I am thinking that she's probably too old for him given the mindset of those days but never mind. Jory eventually cares for her husband even if his plane keeps taking off too soon, if you know what I mean, and she will have one more affair of the heart before she finds love again with Guy de Beauchamp.
Ms Henley sets this story against a rich backdrop of history with events in 13th century England leading towards the ascension of Robert the Bruce in Scotland and she manages to weave the plots in her story into actual history pretty well. Don't expect historical accuracy though - Ms Henley may know her historical events, but very little about her characters and dialogs are historically accurate. For example, Jory talks about contagious diseases, a concept that won't exist in that time. Also, Jory and Guy fall in love so quickly that it's laughable.
But still, I have to adore Jory who is her own woman. She is still a little naive when it comes to men, in the sense that she falls too easily with the men she chooses to have affairs with, but I like how Jory always makes the best of her situations. I love how she will not only lie in the bed she has made, she makes herself comfortable in that bed. For example, when she is married off to Humphrey de Bohun, she tries her best to care for that man because she is, after all, his wife now. Isn't this a wonderful change from all those idiot heroines who keep pining after the man that got away while treating their husbands unfairly in name of true love? When Humphrey dies, she actually cries for him and, to my pleasant surprise, she admits that she has come to at least care for him if not love even if he's very terrible in bed. As she thinks to herself: "I felt guilty because I survived him, not because I didn't love him."
Speaking of which, I love how Jory tries her best to slow her husband down, let's just say, using all kinds of bedroom tricks instead of moaning that Sex Is Ruined For Her Forever. She is a wonderful wife to Humphrey while he is alive and if you ask me, that makes me adore Jory more. She doesn't pine away for could-have-been's, she's fair, and she tries to make the best of a situation. Oh Jory, oh joy.
I even love a scene where, in A Year And A Day she's selflessly letting her love free for some Greater Good, here she's actually hoping that the man she is having an affair with will choose her even as she tells him that she's setting him free. I suppose some people call her selfish for wanting him to pick her over his ambitions, but I find her desire to be valued first and foremost by the man she is in a relationship with once again most refreshing. Jory is no doormat begging for one last sex so that she will remember his touch as she happily rots away, thank heavens. And even after the relationship goes nowhere and she finds herself with child, I love how she views her situation. She refuses to blame her lover and she admits to herself that it is she who didn't enter the relationship with both eyes fully open as to how he will always put his ambitions over her. And then she sets about thinking out what she could do to keep her child and still give him a respectable life (in this case, finding a husband). Some readers call her cold because she studies all options open to her, I call her a smart woman who can take care of herself.
Just when I can't think I can get into raptures after encountering a heroine like Jory, she pulls off some adept diplomatic negotiations on behalf of her friend Joanna Plantagenet while using her physical assets (without getting skanky, of course) as well as some sweet talking to her advantage in the negotiation. Ultimately, Jory is a splendid heroine - she is a woman of her time where men make all the rules, but dang it, she will subversively do things her own way and come out on top in the end.
Guy is a nonentity in this story until the last quarter of the story when he finally reunites with Jory. Interestingly enough, while Jory is still a woman of her time, Guy is almost anachronistically gentlemanly. He is even willing to accept the child Jory is carrying as his, after all. Even when he becomes insanely jealous after realizing the identity of the child's father, he takes it out on him, Jory's ex-lover, never her. But ultimately, he chooses to make a decision regarding his jealousy that sees him choosing Jory and love over stubborn male pride in a scene that is surprisingly poignant for a barely-concealed scene of figurative male castration.
Not that I am recommending this book to anyone who hasn't read a Virginia Henley story before, let me make this clear. Virginia Henley isn't an author for everyone. She writes in old-school style, although she's much better than Bertrice Small when it comes to actually having a plot instead of just non-stop silly sex all over the place and her characters are also better written than Ms Small's. But the similarity is there in terms of writing style as well as moments of history overdose delivered in a dry textbook manner. Always read a few chapters at the bookstore to check and see, that's what I always say.
But when people ask me why I read Ms Henley's books, here's the answer I always give: I love how Ms Henley often makes her heroines do what they have to do in order to survive in a world where the men make all the rules even if they have to lie, deceive, and use their body to do so... and the heroes love these women more for being so strong and passionate. There is a sense of careless abandon in the way these heroines throw themselves into the passion of the moment with virile and powerful men while always retaining some control over the relationship. In a good Virginia Henley book, the heroine is always in control, even partly if not fully. In a good book by this author, that is. Fortunately for me, I find Infamous one of the author's better books in a while.
So yes, after those tedious "I won't marry the hero even after he's done everything but the back door stuff with me and the whole Ton saw us in the act because he doesn't say out specifically that he loves me - I'd rather die in shame!" melodrama of birdbrained heroines from authors deemed more respectable and credible than Ms Henley, I find myself thinking after finishing Infamous, "If this is what having no respectability and credibility means, thank heavens Ms Henley is still writing the way she does." So yes, after too many psychotic martyrs from Jo Beverley and Mary Balogh and too many birdbrained "I wanna shag in the name of idiotic adventures but when I get caught I won't marry him without hearing the L word first even if this means my family will be ruined, my daddy that I supposedly love will never pay off his debts, and my supposedly adored sisters will never get their coming-outs now because this is ALL ABOUT ME and IF I WANT TO LIVE IN SHAME THEY ALL MUST GO DOWN WITH ME... yes, I said I didn't care about love in Chapter 3 but I am the heroine so no one can hold that against me so all of you have better shut up or I will cry" morons from the Avon historical romance stable, I need heroines like Jory. So yes, I need books like Infamous.
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