Book Review: Moth and Spark, by Anne Leonard

Moth and Spark.hi res coverMoth and Spark is a epic fantasy that manages to tell a more or less complete story in one volume.  It’s clearly sequel-ready, but it’s also self-contained, which I vastly appreciate.  The language is simple but eloquent – a nice departure from some of the more florid language you sometimes find in fantasy.  It involves politics, war, magic, and dragons, but at its core is a war-time romance.  I’m going to focus on why that romance works, using Jennifer Crusie’s list of the steps of romance:

1.  Assumption:  Is this person desirable?

2.  Attraction:   Is this person a possible suitable mate?

3. Infatuation:  Cues of joy and pain lead to the “giddiness of immature love”

4.  Attachment:  Mature, unconditional love.

In Moth and Spark, Prince Corin and commoner Tam cross paths at a party and are instantly, painfully attracted to each other.  Assumption happens right off the bat – they are both gorgeous.  Right away we move into Attraction, and here is the first roadblock.  Yes, they’re both very pretty, but Tam is disappointed to learn that Corin is a prince and not a soldier, and Corin is disappointed to learn that Tam is the daughter of a doctor and someone he cannot possibly marry due to her respectable but low-level social status.

But there’s another thing that happens during the assumption phase – Corin refuses to condescend to Tam, and Tam refuses to give Corin any deference.  Respect as a another person, sure.  Obiesence, no.  This link between them, this recognition of their true selves, causes them to propel into the infatuation stage, marked by secret meeting, a flower in Tam’s hair, and her thinking to herself, “He likes me! and laughing at herself for basically being a giddy schoolgirl about the guy.

By the time Corin and Tam are split up, they’ve had a very short time to grow into Attachment.  I thought a lot about why this works.  There’s nothing to say that they are madly in love except that they say they are manly in love.  One day they are trading “copulatory glances” at a party and the next they are soul mates.  how did that happen?  Why do I believe it even though I think I shouldn’t?

I think the key here is that Corin and Tam’s story is about love during wartime.  In war, everything happens at fast forward.  Upon  first reading, I though Corin and Tam skipped from assumption to attachment, but then I realize that the author takes great care to show them moving through all the steps – just very, very quickly.  And this works because of the context – in war, people have no time to waste, and Corin and Tam have to step up fast or drop the whole relationship.  They can’t casually date during a dragon attack.

Ultimately, one of the thing romance is about is recognition – seeing and accepting the other for who they are.  Corin and Tam start out with recognition and this is the foundation of their relationship.  It doesn’t matter whether they snore or whether they have different taste in desserts or whether she likes rock climbing while he prefers quiet walks on the beach.  Recognition is what matters and that’s why Tam and Corin need each other and are able to not only sustain a relationship but deepen their commitment despite being completely separated for large parts of the book.  Kudos to the author for pulling off a challenging situation and turning it into a gripping, satisfying love story!

Also, there are dragons.  Wonderful, wonderful dragons.  Can I have one for a pet, please?

Gateway Drugs: The Romance Edition

door opening onto poppiesMy greatest joy in life (well, one of the greatest) is when someone says, “Oh, I haven’t read much romance.  What should I read?”  This is because, like any other shameless drug pusher, I have a stash of gateway drugs all ready for you – books to show you how diverse, smart, funny, and moving romance can be.

So, you want to try out the romance novel genre?  Try these out:

Contemporary:  Bet Me, by Jennifer Crusie

Bet Me is moving and hilarious and sexy and wonderful.  Interestingly, however, I’ve loaned this book to many friends, all of whom liked it enough to read another book by the same author, but one called me later to say, “Bet Me was good, but I just finished Faking It, and it was even better!” and another person said the same thing about Fast Women.

Romance is all about emotion, and different books hit different people’s emotional buttons very differently.  Bet Me deals a lot with body size acceptance and trust.  Faking It is perfect for anyone who feels they have to pretend to be something they are not in order to make other people happy.  Fast Women deals with the aftermath of divorce.  The books have solid emotional heft to them, but they feel light because they are so funny and joyful.  Crusie’s books are notable for featuring a variety of happy ever afters (marriage, dating, contented single life, babies, no babies), heroines of various sizes and ages, and fast, witty dialogue.

Science Fiction:  A Civil Campaign, by Lois McMaster Bujold

A Regency romance and crazy comedy set in space.  Features the greatest dinner party ever written (Jennifer Crusie tends to feature insane dinners in her books, too).  Part of a series, but you can jump right into this book – I did.  Then you’ll want to read every thing Bujold has ever written – and she’s written quite a bit.  Do not miss this!

Steampunk:  Riveted, by Meljean Brook

Steampunk is something of an esoteric genre, and yet I can’t imagine anyone not liking Riveted, regardless of their interest in steampunk, or, for that matter, romance.  This book has wonderful world-building, beautiful use of language, and tons of action.  Riveted is part of the Iron Seas series, and you can jump right into it.  The first book in the series, The Iron Duke, is also excellent, but features a brooding, domineering hero who I, personally, can’t stand even though I think his character is well-written and developed.  The hero in Riveted is a kind, brilliant scientist who is thoughtful, respectful, good at communicating, and also quite the action guy.  Love him, love the heroine, love the setting, LOVE this book.

Historical:  anything by Courtney Milan

Really.  Anything.  She’s wonderful.  Look out for some serious angst, but also humor and humanity.   My second choice would be the hilarious Regency novel What Happens In London, by Julia Quinn, which features some of the best, and funniest, dialogue I’ve ever had the immense pleasure of reading.

And the runners-up:  

For crazy old school cheesy adventure:  The Windflower, by Tom and Sharon Curtis.  This insane and delightful book features the convoluted adventures of a group of pirates.  They have a pet pig named Dennis.  Either that sells you on the book (which is a historical, sort of) or it doesn’t.

For seriously well-done angst that will make you cry:  Flowers From the Storm, by Laura Kinsale.  I sobbed over this book.  I also cackled hysterically when I discovered that the original cover of this serious, delicately written historical features Fabio.  Fabio!  Try to forgive it.

I’m planning to run several posts along these lines, so if you have suggestions for gateway drug books in the genres of mystery, science fiction, YA, and science writing, let us know!