Moth 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?