I was a devoted Rennie for many years – and would be still if I could manage it. I loved my home faire (being the one I’d been to most often) more than anything else or anywhere else on earth. Coming home from one of the first visits, I surprised my companions by saying how much I’d love to live there – and I was surprised that they didn’t feel the same way. There was nothing I didn’t adore. My first kiss came from Suleiman the Magnificent (and no, I didn’t care he was from the wrong time period. You wouldn’t have either.) I went to my Faire – in New York – just a few days after 9/11, and it was one of the most moving experiences of my life. You know those security questions some websites ask you, the ones that ask you to name your favorite place? Mine is Faire. There is one specific memory that would probably be what I’d use to cast a proper full patronus. That’s what Faire is to me.
And so there are days when I want to emulate Charlie Brown in his Christmas special and stand on the edge of a stage and yell, “Isn’t there anyone out there who can write a book about what RenFaire is all about?!” Because every one of the novels I’ve sampled has failed miserably to capture any part of that wonder and joy – and at their worst they turn to mockery.
This one comes closer than most to getting it. It’s not quite there – this isn’t the type of Faire I know, in its details – is this how they do it in Australia? But for moments at a time it’s a lot closer. I wish that had been carried through to the rest of the book.
I could be wrong, but I think the only blatant sign of where this book was set was a note on the Netgalley page of how much it is set to list in Australian dollars. Otherwise, as far as I remember, there was never a named city, no one ever talks about where anyone comes from, currency is never mentioned … I kind of understand an effort to make it a sort of a universal story, and to highlight the reality of the alternative world of the Faire – but I found it a huge distraction to keep coming across obviously not-from-around-here (in the US) phrases without any kind of grounding in the real world. The first, and worst, example of this is the thing that almost plows main character Connie down, from which she is saved by the gallant Sir Justin: a runaway horse float. My first, slightly startled, interpretation was that this was part of some kind of parade that would be taking place in the course of the Faire. Something like this:
Or this (probably without Joan Rivers – it would have been terrible to be run over by Joan Rivers):
My second, sillier thought had to do with ice cream and soda – obviously that couldn’t be.
I didn’t even think of a third possibility, which would have made even less sense as a deadly projectile:
What I did not think of for quite some time was this:
– Because I’ve never heard of that thing called by that name. And I’ve read a lot of horsey novels in my day. But I’ve never read a horse book written by an Australian or New Zealander – and therein lay a problem. There were a number of moments that resulted in cartoon question marks floating over my head. And … well, it was just odd that throughout the book I never caught one reference to anything at all that would have pointed up for me that this was indeed set in the Antipodes, and this led to frequent disorientation, which was very distracting. If there was anything there – from mention of a town or city nearby to any indication of accent to even a note as to what month the Faire was taking place in (summer in what I consider winter months?) I missed it. And after a certain point, I was looking for something. The author doesn’t have much of a an author page on Goodreads; all I’m getting is an .au suffix in the publisher’s website.
Anyway. I loved the love of the Faire. But there were some things that just either didn’t ring quite true or which bothered me. The details of the jousting were among the latter; I don’t know, the jousts I’ve seen were largely choreographed, and I was startled that this Faire featured a genuine competition. But both my eyebrows went up when “Justin” declared he wasn’t going to let a little rain stop him from jousting. Um. That’s the only thing that ever did stop a joust, in my experience – because rain + grass = slippery, and rain + dirt = mud and mud = slippery, and horses’ legs = fragile. If there was even the least chance of injury to horses or riders, the show most definitely did not go on. (Hell, one rainy day the living chess match, which usually featured characters battling it out for the squares, turned into a living chess insult match. It was magnificent. And no one landed on their armored butt in the mud.) Connie’s familiarity with things like proper curtsies and what I usually see called BFA (“Basic Faire Accent”) is iffy. She seems to trip on her gowns an awful lot – as if she was unused to wearing them. She has short hair – which is just weird to me in someone who spends untold hours constructing detailed garb. (Good lord, I almost wrote “costumes”. Help – I’m becoming a muggle.) My hair was three feet long, and that was the one place it was utterly normal.
The main reason I never much warmed to her, though, was one of the main props of the plot: she was ashamed of her passion for the Faire. She kept her Faire friends at the Faire, never allowing them into her mundane life, and she never let any part of her mundane life know about what she did on weekends. “Connie would sooner drop dead than tell her sophisticated clients what she really did on her weekends.” “‘It’d be great if you maybe didn’t mention to too many people at the Faire where I work? At all? I hate to ask, it’s just, my customers wouldn’t understand things like the faire,’ Connie asked, wincing at the thought of a stream of weird and wonderful people from the faire looking her up at her store.” I talked about the Renaissance Faire to everyone and anyone, because I was so passionate about it. Maybe it’s because I never encountered the derision some idio – I mean some people express toward Renaissance Faires until after I’d stopped going; maybe it’s because I’m older now and, at least in this, wiser … but I find this disgusting. And pathetic. And stupid, really. I mean, the friends she loves spending time with on the weekend aren’t good enough for workaday people to know about? She has so little self-esteem and/or confidence that she never considers that negative reactions to Faire might be sparked by her attitude? (Has she had negative reactions? I don’t think so, actually – she is just stated as considering the Faire a guilty pleasure, with no reason for it given.) I think it’s quite stupid because she could probably make a small fortune sewing for Rennies – or at least a few bucks on the side. But no. It was especially sad when at one point she defensively said she wasn’t embarrassed by her hobby, and then, explaining what she did feel, gives the very definition of embarrassment. I mean, I understand being afraid to, as friends used to say, “let your geek flag fly” … but I found it repellent to watch this character work so very hard at repressing a huge part of her personality and life, when embracing it is bound to make everything better, not worse. This is the part of the book that lingers with me, and still bothers me. She refers to the Faire as her “other home” – but not to most of the people she knows.
TL;DR: If you’re spending time with people who will mock you for something you love, you’re spending time with the wrong people.
Actually, it’s not just Connie; none of the characters seem to have a grasp on the whole authenticish Faire language thing. Thee and thou are tossed about willy nilly, and incorrectly as often as not, and – well, speaking of embarrassment, there were moments that should have been deeply humiliating for both characters and writer. I won’t even mention some of what was said in a chat session – let this suffice: “Let me know how thou liketh the tea”. My comment on this Kindle highlight was unprintable in polite company. “‘As dost wilt remember, my lords and ladies”. “How fares thee?” Even writing that now makes me want to slap someone.
Also less than authentic: Connie’s complaints about the difficulty of running through the grounds in a heavy velvet dress and a wig. Nuh uh. I ran down a hill at my Faire in garb. Once. Never did it again. I wasn’t wearing velvet, but I did have on layers (and of course I wasn’t wearing a wig) (honestly, I don’t believe I ever saw anyone in a wig) – but I was wearing a bodice. One does not run in a bodice. (At least not mine.)
And come on. Someone says “Was he hot?” in referring to a knight. I mean … duh. It’s a little like asking if a jet pilot was hot. Even if he’s not a specimen of beauty, the simple aura of being what he is adds magnitudes of hot. I would have been cheerfully … er, rescued by any of the knights my Faire ever featured. (Especially the Justins. *sigh*)
And … well, on the whole I just didn’t much like the main character. She frequently complains – often when people compliment her – about her name being long and unwieldy . “It … takes up far too much room on my business cards” … but “Constance” is nine letters. There are lots of women’s names that are nine letters – take “Elizabeth”. I kind of have a feeling that if her name was “Mia” or “Zoe” she’d be sad about it being so short.
There were a few missteps in language. Redolent: I don’t think it means what you think it means. “How’s life faring?” isn’t a thing. Unbidden: see “redolent”.
And there were some rather bigger missteps elsewhere. The string of events that lets Dominic pretend to be Justin is idiotic; it doesn’t say much for Dominic’s skill as an armorer that a shall we say “wardrobe malfunction” in armor he made for himself is the reason Connie never saw “Sir Justin’s” face. And the fact that not one of the other competitors knew Dominic or Sir Justin or any other name he might want to call himself was absurd. I mean, seriously – I sincerely doubt that in the US there are so many jousters that someone at a top level could appear out of nowhere; it might have escaped notice, but Australia’s smaller than the US. The fact that Dominic continues to pretend to be Justin begins to be as pathetic as Connie’s fevered attempts to keep Faire and Mundane separate. Connie has to control her jealousy at one point when, instant messaging with “Justin”, she oh-so-casually asks who that lady is in a photo of his – and he doesn’t immediately say “My sister”, and thus ensues a feeble but happily brief misunderstanding. (Of course he would say “My sister”. One does. But he doesn’t.) Over and over she talks about how her biggest customer’s rocky marriage pays her rent singlehandedly (which is used incorrectly, but by now that’s just a quibble) – and over and over she ponders how she feels kind of guilty about it, and usually someone has to reassure her that it’s not her fault and so on.
Worst of all was the fact that it wasn’t very long before I knew without a doubt that that “personal flair” Connie needed for her collection, that “something that really screams you”, would be Faire. The only reason I didn’t see the rest of it coming was that it tried very hard to be madcap and frothy, and just wound up a bit mad and silly. I did, however, twig to the fact that the other half of the rocky marriage was that one guy – which means that the author did a terrible job of covering up the breadcrumbs, because I am generally terrible at figuring these things out.
Well, no. Worst of all was the moment when Connie has cause to put on Justin’s armour – and it just fits. I … don’t think so.
The usual disclaimer: I received this book via Netgalley for review.