Today is the eighth anniversary of Redeeming Qualities. I’m not doing anything particularly special for the occasion, but it seemed like a good time to wrap up the Williamsons kick I’ve been on. Also — obviously — I want to thank everyone who reads the blog for sticking around. I started this blog figuring writing into the void about the books I was reading was better than talking about them to people who didn’t care, but that doesn’t mean I ever wanted there to actually be a void, and I really enjoy interacting with you guys.
Anyway. Brian said Vision House was his favorite Williamson book, so it seemed like a good one to read next. And…well, I can see why this would be someone’s favorite. It’s not mine. But it’s crazy.
American actress Marise Sorel has a chance to marry an English earl — one with “a miniature moustache like two inked finger-prints” and “immense eyes of unfathomable blackness,” even — but he’s deeply in debt, and the only way out is for him to marry his cousin, a wealthy invalid. So he — his name is Tony Severance — has cooked up a plot where he marries the cousin, Oenone, and Marise marries some random guy who they’ll bribe with a million dollars of Oenone’s money, and then they just hang out together a lot until Oenone dies, at which point Marise’s husband gives her grounds for divorce and she and Tony get married.
It’s super gross, and somewhat unnecessary. Tony could always just ask Marise to wait for him — it’s not like marrying Oenone for her money and then using it to marry Marise when Oenone is dead wouldn’t also be sleazy — but Tony Severance is human garbage and the Williamsons want us to be really clear on that.
I’m consistently fascinated by the things authors do to make plots work, which is part of the reason I tend to enjoy romance and adventure: genre plots have to function, but these two genres, more than most, require that the protagonists be honorable, good people, so there’s this tension between creating drama and maintaining the integrity of the characters. Tony has to be awful; he’s the villain. But Marise has to enter into his plot or there’s no book. She has to dislike the plan, but she has to go along with it. She can’t be mercenary. She has to think she’s in love with Tony, but we can’t think she’s in love with him.
The Williamsons get us halfway there by having Marise’s social-climbing mother badger her into agreeing to Tony’s plan. For the other half, Marise spites Tony by marrying someone else right away, and by having it be his least favorite person, inventor and Victoria Cross recipient John Garth. Garth wants to marry Marise enough that he doesn’t really care how it happens, and he doesn’t feel the need to stick too closely to Tony’s plan, either.
I love a good marriage of convenience plot — I mean, who doesn’t, right? — and this one is fun and weird. My biggest complaint would be the same one I had with Winnie Childs — the leads don’t spend enough time interacting. I believe there’s chemistry there, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to want to see more of it. And it’s not a question of whether the Williamsons are capable of writing it — I know they are, and it irritates me when they choose not to.
Also, Alice Williamson, I guess I can see how your only reference for a vastly wealthy Greek businessman might have been Alexander or Constantine Ionides, but that doesn’t mean your fictional wealthy Greek businessman also has to be called Constantine Ionides.