Friday, May 13, 2016

Watch the Wall, My Darling

Watch the Wall, My Darling
by Jane Aiken Hodge

The carriage that was rolling swiftly along the rainy English marsh on the road from London suddenly stopped. A barricade blocked the way. Dark figures surrounded them. Christina had no time to cry out as strong arms caught her from behind. A hand covered her mouth. She bit it as hard as she could. 
She looked up at the tall, masked stranger, and a mysterious, frightening sensation swept over her. Those fiery brown eyes gazed at her in a way she had never known before...

My Reaction:
(The last bit of the blurb is embarrassing!  And inaccurate, really... But whatever...)

I believe this is my first experience with Joan Aiken Hodge.  Based on this novel, I'd possibly try more of her work, but I'd manage my expectations.  Watch the Wall, My Darling is passable.  Elements of it are predictable, but I could have overlooked that if the romance had been more satisfying.  As it was, the hero irritated me, sometimes coming across as a fickle fool, and the heroine was a little too good to be true (wise, clever, attractive, infinitely capable, etc.).  The action sequence near the end of the book was entertaining, but the romance-- the meat of the novel-- left me chilly and unimpressed.

Specifics (with SPOILERS):
--I didn't realize the title was a reference to a poem about smugglers, so I finished the book wondering what on earth that was all about.  I mean, the hero never told Christina to "watch the wall"-- what wall?  But now that all makes sense, at least...

--The fact that the heroine is American was an interesting twist-- all the more so once I read the brief author bio at the back of the book, where we learn that she was born in America, moved to the UK as a young child, and eventually renounced her American citizenship.

--The scene in which Christina assists Ross in the secret care of a wounded man is reminiscent of Jane Eyre.  Too bad the romance wasn't also a bit more on par with that classic...

--I've just finished watching the first season of the latest remake of Poldark, so the fact that, early on, two characters named Ross and Verity are introduced was a little jarring.

--I guess that at least all those readers who complain about books with romances between first cousins will be relieved that Christina and Ross aren't actually related. (g)  And Christina's own father would agree: "'I know it's not forbidden'-- she thought she could hear him now-- 'but marriage between cousins is a mistake, Chris my love.  Don't do it.' Well, Ross was no kin of hers.  The electric shock that had run through her when they first met, when his firm hands held her captive, had had nothing to do with blood relationship."  ...Ugh.  Now I'm feeling more squeamish about all those other (mostly British) books with "cousinly love".  (Blurgh.)

--We hear about Christina's height so often that I wonder how tall she's supposed to be.  Her being tall is fine, of course.  What did annoy me was that someone so sensitive about her own height (because it was more fashionable to be petite) would so frequently comment on/think about the fact that her cousin Richard is a short man.

"'I am so angry, I could...' She saw him flinch. 'Don't worry, Cousin, I would never hit someone smaller than myself.'"

"Exert her full strength, laugh at him, half a head below her there, as she longed to do-- and he would hate her."

--Though it was never going to be a favorite of mine, the place the novel loses major points with me is when Ross brings Christina's mother and sister back from France-- and is completely infatuated with the younger sister, even after the kinda-sorta flirtation with Christina and their understanding / engagement.  Yuck.  Does that sort of thing happen?  Sure, but need it happen in a romance novel, between the hero and heroine?  You never really have much of a chance to get to know Ross or understand why Christina instantly loves him, but this efficiently kills most of my interest in that romance...

--I don't know if we're supposed to actively dislike Sophie (Christina's sister), but I do.  Want an example of why?  They're about to go exploring the grange, and Ross comments that her slippers are unsuitable for the mud.  "She put a tiny foot on the bottom stair and looked down at it reflectively. 'They're pretty, are they not? I brought you a pair, Tina, from Paris.  I bought them three sizes larger than mine.  I do hope they will be right.'" ...Wow.  What a sweet, lovely girl!

--It seems extremely odd that Christina's family would've just split up like that-- especially back in those days.  Anything's possible, but that wouldn't have been a common occurrence.

--Ross' habit of calling Sophie a child and "infant"-- while he was still romantically interested in her, too-- is just creepy.

--As annoying as Sophie is, it's still a little shocking that Ross would've slapped her.  Of course, he also (jokingly?) promises to "beat" Christina if she fakes a case of hysterics for the benefit of the military men.

--"I've worked for it, and that's what makes you love something."

--"It's been shill-I, shall-I long enough."  Huh!  I never knew that "shilly-shally" came from "shill-I, shall-I"!  I'd never heard/seen that version of it before this.

--As if his wishy-washiness and temporary infatuation with Sophie weren't bad enough, Ross decides to up the ante by telling Christina that he has to help the smugglers who were just about to murder her!  ...I mean, really!  "They're fools, and murderous ones, but they're marshmen, for all that.  And-- Chris-- I got them into this-- it's my duty to get them out."  Yeah, ok, whatever... The fact that they're marshmen makes it totally okay that they were moments from killing the woman you supposedly finally realized you can't live without-- just because she might have realized that they'd been smuggling, even though apparently everybody and his horse would already have known they were smugglers, since it seems like almost everyone in that awful place was a smuggler or was related to one, somehow.  *eyeroll*  What a great romantic hero.

--I don't quite "get" the punchline at the very end.  Christina's deus ex machina American iron-mine fortune saves the day.  She'll pay off all debts and buy back all the family land-- on one condition: "...we save the Grange... for the heir."  Ross is angry (?) at first. "'Well, I'll be damned,' said Ross.  For a moment his eyes met hers, angry and challenging."  But then he smiles and laughs-- "You ought to be ashamed of yourself."  ...Huh?  Why?  For circumventing him in the line of ownership of the Grange?  For referring to children and implying that... what?... they'd get married and have kids?  What a hussy!  Meh.  Anyway, that "joke" fell flat for me, and I'm still not sure I'm not missing something...

--I've seen a couple of reviewers say that this is the author's best, which is not encouraging, since I wasn't enthralled.  I might try another of her books, someday, but I'm not in a big rush.