Of course, that's a
Just an oddity....
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I picked up this collection after seeing mention of the author’s novel Mask of the Highwaywoman, and seeing that it had the original shorter version of the same story (since the novel isn’t yet available for iBooks). I’m always looking for lesbian historical fiction that reaches farther back than the 20th century. Magic and Romance doesn’t have a focused theme (other than lesbian protagonists) and only four of the eight stories fall in my historical/fantasy target interest. The other four (In Rhythm: A ballroom dancing romance, Is She?: An on-campus student rom-com, Reason to Stay: A teen romance, and Delicious: A New Year’s Eve tale of food and infatuation -- and, yes, the genre-descriptive subtitles are part of the story titles) are contemporary romance and I’ll confess that I skimmed them lightly.
Enthralled: A dark vampire hunter story follows the usual conventions of the modern erotic vampire vs. vampire hunter story, with the protagonist infiltrating the lair of a vampire queen to rescue the object of her affection. The story veers away from being a rescue-the-damsel adventure at the climax when the protagonist’s understanding of what’s going on is turned inside out. A dark and violent story for those who enjoy charging single-handedly into danger.
The Lady Edris and the Kingdom in a Cave: A tale inspired by Arthurian legends also turns the protagonist’s initial understanding upside down, but is more of a traditional quest-and-rescue-the-damsel scenario. Edris is on a quest to seek assistance against the plague in her homeland from the sorceress-queen of Northgales, their traditional enemy. But the queen has other ideas for the female knight who has penetrated her enchanted realm--ideas that involve the queen’s bed. A deep familiarity with the themes and tropes of Arthurian legend shines through, though the plot feels like the summary of a role-playing game, where the character passes through a sequence of tests and challenges to emerge victorious with the McGuffin and the girl.
Mask of the Highwaywoman: The short-story that became a novel is the story that led me to pick this up in the first place. The plot itself follows the usual formula for highwaywoman romance stories: our heroine’s coach is stopped by a masked highwayman (with or without accomplices) who betrays a brief sympathy or erotic interest in the heroine, but takes a piece of sentimental jewelry from her. The highwaywoman uses returning the jewelry as an excuse for another meeting in which sparks fly, and... Well, presumably what happens next is in the expanded version of the story.
The Black Hound: A romantic gothic horror distills down the platonic ideal of a gothic novel. Our impoverished heroine has come to a lonely, sinister mansion to be the companion of a tyrannical distant relative. On being warned not to wander the woods as night, of course she does so, and barely escapes an encounter with The Black Hound. Curses, nightmares, and supernatural events come to a head as our heroine takes comfort in the arms of her employer’s lady’s maid. A forced separation, another flight through the haunted woods with the hound in pursuit, and a bloody denouement that...well, that would be giving away whether this turns our to be gothic horror or gothic romance.
I liked the story premises and how they dodged around some of the usual formulas, but the writing style was often choppy and too reliant on short declarative sentences and long passages of dialogue. I’m always hoping for something a bit more lyrical. The impression of a choppy style also comes from the stories being broken up into short chapters (as short as 300-400 words), sometimes breaking in the middle of a scene. Murphy has the potential to turn out some very enjoyable historical and fantastic fiction with a bit more work on the technical side and I will probably try out the expanded version of Mask of the Highwaywoman to see if it’s addressed some of these weak spots.
...By 2015, Bertsch was ready to ship excess prisoners to a private facility in Colorado. In Norway, though, she learned that the farther a prisoner is removed from his home community, the less likely he is to have visitors. And that’s a problem, because multiple studies suggest that inmates who have regular visitors are less likely to reoffend later...