The Bartered Bride
by Mary Jo Putney, historical (2004)
Berkley, $6.99, ISBN 0-449-00316-7


This book rubs me off the wrong way from the first chapter and it never succeeds in winning me over. I mean, come on, we have the 19th century American trader Gavin Elliott mouthing off to Sultan Kasan of some imaginary Indonesian island that it is not the American Way to have slaves and in America everyone is Free and... excuse me while I go gag. The fact that Gavin goes on about the evil of slavery only because the slave in question is a Caucasian woman, Alexandra Warren, only sets off my cynicism.

Who is Mary Jo Putney to conveniently forget America's slave trade and other not-so-pretty history to have her nineteenth-century hero mouthing modern concepts of freedom and equality under the American Way banner? Since when does America have a monopoly on the Down With Slavery thing when its own history... you know what, never mind. I don't have patience for authors who uses revisionist history to push forward some British or Americans Are Good agenda and I'm surprised that Mary Jo Putney would do such a thing in her book.

Gavin, as I've mentioned, saves Alexandra from a life of white slavery. Despite going on about the horrors of slavery, he seems content to save only one Caucasian slave and relegating hundreds more of local slaves to their fate, he instead engages in a tortuous negotiation process with Sultan Kasan to save Alexandra. I admire his tenacity, but I do wonder about whether his action is akin to using a bandaid to stop a leaking dam. Maybe Ms Putney forgot to add "white" in a certain spot in the America Disapproves Of Slavery slogan she has Gavin championing, because it makes more sense to me that way.

Alexandra is of course Virtuous and so Noble that she has no human feelings, only a supernatural acceptance to the abuse she's suffered (she even insists that life is good aside from some pesky "nightmares") and an even more supernatural threshold for martyrhood. She and Gavin are supremely noble, self-sacrificing, and so wonderful people, all that's missing is a soapbox under their feet and a presidential campaign banner for 2008 behind them.

Ms Putney gets some things mixed up though, such as having her characters turning out to be Secret Noble Brits even as she has her characters pooh-pooh the Brits. This, the lack of character development as opposed to a ton of cartoonish pitfalls and pratfalls instigated by horrifically stupid villains, and the whole America is Good thing have me convinced that this book is just some confused attempt at the America Is Beautiful soapbox masquerading as a romance novel. Sheesh, I have Fox, CNN, and what-else trumpeting the whole America Is Good thing in a really overwrought manner even at this corner of my world for three years now. What makes Ms Putney think that I need one more slogan after so many?

Rating: 54


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