A guilty pleasure

I’m back in the U.S.A. Got back to Up North very late on Wednesday evening and spent most of the last two days screwing around. Need to get myself back on track for the drive south, probably Wednesday. Can’t believe the term starts on August 25th! Uch. Will be catching up with comments soon and am looking forward to reading everything y’all wrote during my absence.

You may remember from a previous obsession update that I purchased The Tempest: A Guy of Gisborne Story by Charlotte Hawkins some time ago in anticipation of reading it in motels during the long drive south. (I bought the paperback.) Fortunately or unfortunately, I found I couldn’t wait. Scarfed it down on Friday morning. Re-read it on Friday afternoon. My mom (who has never seen a single episode of the BBC Robin Hood, and basically has no idea who Richard Armitage is except for knowing that I am crazy about his work) read it in one long gulp this afternoon. I thought that was interesting because although I agree with previous reviewers that the Guy in The Tempest is completely consonant with Mr. Armitage’s portrayal of that character, my mother was attracted to the character in the novel without knowing either Armitage or much about the Robin Hood canons. I won’t summarize the not-very-complicated plot here, in case you haven’t read it yet. It’s a hurt/comfort story with a delightful ending.

So I guess you could say we liked it (grin). Even if my mom told me after she finished it that we should read three or four classic works of literature now to keep our brains from rotting (grin again).

Now I have to qualify that statement. This is not great literature. I do not like it in the way I like my favorite works of U.S. literature (The Great Gatsby, The Corrections) or of German literature (Die Buddenbrooks, Der Stechlin) or even of romance literature (like my beloved Georgette Heyer). It’s fan fiction; it has different standards of quality and generic conventions than even mainstream romance literature. Maria Grazia’s review points out some of the problems in the work from the perspective of mainstream romance literature and novels– that the transformations in the characters are not especially credible, and that they are so transformed by love as to become almost unrecognizable. (I’d argue that this tendency is not so much a problem from the stance of fanfiction, mostly because the author relies for characterization on the willingness of the reader to associate the character as drawn in the fanfic with his/her perception of that character from the original canon medium. We see Mr. Armitage’s Guy transformed in the BBC Robin Hood, so we believe that Hawkins’s Guy is capable of the kind of transformation he undergoes here.) I’d add to potential critiques from this standpoint that the way the story is written obscures exactly what the conflict is that drives the second half of the narrative: is the Sheriff (Briwere in this telling) simply angry at Guy for falling in love? It’s not clear. Yet the Sheriff’s eventual turn on his loyal subordinate is the crucial plot element that drives the whole last section of the book.

However, I also stated that one reason I bought it was exactly due to the con Natalie listed in her review of it: the promise of abundant sex scenes. In other words: for me a major purpose of purchasing the work was wish fulfillment. And on this score, the work succeeds admirably, at least for me.

First, Cassia is a really strong Mary Sue, and by that I mean that she has clear features but her perceptions don’t take over the story. She is a fairly conventional heroine and not especially complex — much less so than this depiction of Guy — so the author has plenty of time to tell us about Guy’s reactions, which is what we care about reading anyway. (Because we know so little about her, we aren’t faced with the problem of the credibility of the transformation in her values and commitments during the narrative — she’s strong, caring, and helpful, but her main function is to be the anti-Marian, so as readers we are always adding that comparison to our readings of her.) I also identified with her strongly — Cassia has many personality traits that Servetus would have if she lived up to her ideals more regularly.

Second, I thought that Hawkins provided a really strong and credible account of a particular reading of Armitage’s Guy that I happen to like a lot: Guy in his dangerous guise. (I’d argue that this is not the only possible reading of Armitage’s Guy, although I know there is some disagreement about this point and that some fan fic authors are troubled by any sort of anachronistically emo Guy, for example.) This is the ruthless Guy who wants what he wants — and will do what he has to do to get it without concern for the welfare of others — but also the Guy who is sensitive to social convention and recognizes the need to play by the rules. And although Maria Grazia is certainly correct that the Guy of the second half of the novel reflects a strong transformation over the character in the first half, there’s still more than enough ruthless, self-serving behavior in the second half to keep him recognizable.

Third, fan fiction relies heavily on a certain sort of convention in wish fulfillment that speaks deeply to my heart, even if I know the conventions are stereotypical. This story offers a lot of those tropes: the Guy who can’t believe anyone would be kind to him without hope of profit, for example, or the selfless heroine who acts with generosity even when it is not returned. In a mainstream romance novel these moments would probably be groaners, unless they were addressed either quite differently or ironically, but here we expect to find them and do. For me, although I acknowledge that the tempo change in the second half of the novel was noticeable, the need to address these wish fulfillment conventions meant that I wasn’t at all disturbed by it. For instance: one of these tropes is the need for Guy to reveal himself as suitable father material — as another trope requires him to be tamed by love and domesticated into a nuclear family. Guy as potential father is shown up a mischievous nephew who’s thrust into the story at the end. A professional romance novelist would probably have interspersed this story earlier on and added more humor to it. Hawkins sets the story up in two brief scenes, and in both of them Guy is full in earnest. There’s a certain charm to having an author fulfill our wishes without resorting to artifice. I’m guessing that these conventions are part of what kept my mom reading — particular the damaged Guy / damaged hero seeking redemption convention, which is all over every chapter and keeps my heart bursting as I read through the book.

And last but not least: the sex. We’ve had some discussion on this blog about the relative attractiveness of cliched sex scenes. Natalie did not like the sex, and I should add that my mom didn’t really like it either. I, however, loved the sex, even though it included some of the usual conventions: the unbelievable staying power of the hero, the repeated simultaneous orgasms, the calling out of the lover’s name at the point of climax, and so on. But what convinced me most in the end is that the scenes are so powerfully written that I was completely convinced of the role that oral sex finally played in the narrative as the sort of ultimate act of love. (As opposed to the way that it’s now usually integrated into medieval fanfic sex narratives, as anachronistic foreplay.) Not everything about the sex is so compelling — Hawkins is not as good at writing tender sex, and these scenes are often summarized in a sentence or two, whereas the heavily passionate, uncontrollable sex scenes go on for pages. But all in all I thought this novel executed this important convention of wish fulfillment effectively — enough to get me breathing heavily for sure!

Hawkins is writing a sequel, which you can read some initial chapters of at her blog (linked above). There are also some noticeable problems with syntax and mechanics in the book — but not enough to keep me from reading. I definitely feel like I got my money’s worth from this purchase.

[This is an unsolicited review. I purchased my own copy of the work from amazon.com. The opinions expressed in it are solely my own and –in paraphrase– my mom’s.]

~ by Servetus on August 15, 2010.

46 Responses to “A guilty pleasure”

  1. First of all, welcome back to the USA. Servetus. Second–The Corrections is one of my all-time favorite books.

    And third–thanks for your review of this novel length fanfic. I keep trying to stop spending so much of my rather meager salary on books but I may have to add this to my pile. I think you already know I have no problem with sex scenes, having written quite a few in my time, so that certainly wouldn’t put ME off.

    I am also quite fond of guilty pleasures in general. And of course, I love Guy as portrayed by Richard, have no trouble imagining him as transformed, so–it sounds like a winner to me.

    Maybe you’ll be reviewing my own Richard Armitage-inspired novel one day, who knows? *grin*

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    • If you have a Kindle (which is starting to be cheap enough that I might buy one this fall), I’d buy it on that. The download of the book is really cheap.

      I agree that given what I know about your taste in fanfiction this book would be a winner for you. And I definitely look forward to reviewing your own novel. 🙂

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      • I have been thinking of buying a Kindle with part of my Christmas bonus this year–they have dropped in price considerably, and in the long run, I would save money and increasingly precious space in my house. And maybe my husband would be less likely to do away with me.

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        • Did you know you can download Kindle Books to your PC? I just figured that out a few weeks ago, and it saved me from having to spend the money on an actual Kindle.

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          • I hadn’t even thought of that, Charlotte. Thanks for the heads up!! And congrats on your book, too.

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            • No problem. I didn’t have the money to buy a Kindle (I still don’t) and there were a lot of EBooks I wanted, so I’m glad I discovered the PC feature.

              I try to tell people about it so they can save money, because paperbacks can be expensive. I wish I had control over the price of the paperback version, but I don’t, so if people are going to buy my book, I try encourage them to buy the kindle version. It’s so much cheaper.

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              • Sorry for the threadnap, by the way. Sometimes I talk too much. 🙂

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                • Sometimes I do, too, hon, so no need to apologize (threadnap and talk too much).

                  You’re generous to recommend to people going for the cheaper version, but I am sure as a fellow writer, you are also eager for as many folks as possible to read your work.

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                • You are both always welcome to threadnap.

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      • kindle also has an app for iphone and ipod touch. This is the first i bought and its on my list to read this week at the beach. I promised Charlotte a review as well so in all fairness I started but didn’t quite finish yours. Kindle doesn’t have every e-book out there. I was looking for The Sunne in Splendour. Since, I discovered the Barnes & Noble e-reader which has an app as well. But i am fascinated by their nook which has a lending feature between nook users. Once you have a nook you can read your materials on where you have the app. How many decades before we lend ebooks from the library?

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        • Actually, some scholarly libraries already have an ebook lending feature — at my university if the library owns a copy and there is an available electronic copy you can “borrow” the ecopy for up to two hours at a time. It seems a little silly — why only two hours? But it occasionally comes in handy, especially in the middle of the night.

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  2. It’s been a treat to occupy the same time zone as you during your time in Europe, but I’m glad that you’ve reached home safe and sound.

    Forgive my naughtiness in this context, servetus, because I do actually understand your meaning. When you write that you have spent most of the last few days “screwing around”, that has only a sexual connotation in British English, so it seems to somehow fit with your covering erotic conventions in fan fic in your review of The Tempest! 😉

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  3. But so apt!

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  4. Thank you, Servetus, for your lovely review. 🙂
    This is exactly the kind of review I appreciate…completely genuine, both with praise and criticism. I hope for these kinds of reviews because they help me grow as a writer. On that note, if anyone reads the sequel as I’m writing it, I would love to have opinions on it. Good, bad, or anywhere in between is fine with me!

    Happy reading!

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    • Welcome, Charlotte, and thanks. I’m sure you’ll have lots of readers for teh sequel!

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    • I ended up speed reading this, Charlotte, and will go back and read more slowly at my leisure. Very enjoyable! Guy is my favorite RA character, the one that introduced me to this wonderful actor.

      I really like your heroine, Cassia–feisty, well-grounded, able to stand up to our commanding, demanding knight. And, of course, totally enamored of and drawn to this passionate, dangerous, beautiful and damaged man. Unlike Marian, thank heavens, she can and does appreciate the good things about him as well as wanting to help him become a better man.

      And I was intrigued watching Guy go from the imperious, proud, angry, sneering nobleman when first in Cassia’s home to a more tame (but not tamed) individual who has reconnected with his humanity.

      I also thought the scene involving Guy and the guards trying to track down Robin (don’t want to give too much away) was well-written and quite harrowing.

      I did think the sheriff character was a little thinly drawn–he was a bit of an enigma to me. Why would he be so dead-set against Guy having anything to do with a commoner to the point where he would threaten their very lives? I guess I needed clarification there.
      Oh, and I loved Stuart and the very sweet ending. I admit I am a sucker for happy endings. Well done, you! Will look forward to the sequel and also promote this on my private site.

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  5. It can have a sexual connotation in U.S. English, too, but at least where I grew up the term is so derogatory that one would never apply it to oneself in that sense — only to people one wanted to criticize (“they broke up because he was screwing around on her”). But I saw that, too, after I published it.

    Fortunately, no screwing around associated with Servetus going on in Servetus’s hometown. My parents would be horrified. 🙂

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  6. Welcome back to the good ol’ US of A! Your review has peaked my interest, I now want to read this book. I love your mom’s response, wanting to follow it up with classics! I like being able to enjoy it all … the beach reads, mixed with the classics.

    As for Heyer, I just finished Fredrica this morning. If anyone at Nexos reads this blog, that book should be the next audio book read by Mr. Armitage. It is now one of my favs and it would be a hoot to listen to him read it.

    I am sure your parents are happy to have you there. I know first hand how those doc appts can go having sat through many of them with my parents.

    Still waiting on that post and will be here to remind you. 🙂

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  7. Hey Servetus,
    I just read the post you made on my blog. If you want to be my beta, I would love it. If not, I’m sure I can find one somewhere. I really want the dialouge in my work to be authentic. Let me know if you’re interested!

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    • Charlotte, I am sorry, I just can’t right now — I can barely get my own writing done and keep up with my students. Maybe ask me again in about a year. (That is a terrible thing to say, I know.) I will definitely follow your blog and offer comments when I can.

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  8. On Amazon you can download Kindle for PC for free so I just bought the download of the book.
    As a whole I liked it, it is a novel length RA’s Guy/OC fanfic, no wonder you mom liked it, what woman can resist him? 😉
    I found Cassia anti-Marian because she let herself see through Guy and at the same time alike her in being strong minded and wouldn’t let him have his way all the time.

    Sometimes you feel the twists are too nice or a little convenient, on the other hand I thought their evolvement through the story is credible, mostly Guy’s. Maybe it has to do with how you see him and how you think he would have behaved if Marian loved him back…

    One of the ‘scenes’ I liked the most was Guy and his nephew although I thought the little boy gave in too easily *evil grin*

    OML 🙂

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    • I thought $2.99 was very reasonable for a download from Amazon, so glad you folks here suggested it. *thumbs up with a grin*

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      • yeah, the book is definitely worth $3. I actually think it was worth what you’d pay for a “normal” romance novel — but the self pub format determines the costs.

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    • In general the issue with fanfic is that you already have your own notion of how that character will behave. It saves the author a fair amount of time in terms of characterization, but also to some extent traps the author into certain character aspects.

      I liked Stuart, too. 🙂

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      • That trap you refer to, Servetus, is one reason I want to eventually craft my own characters, one of whom will bear a certain resemblance to a tall, dark, toothsome bloke we all know and love . . . Stuart was a cutie.

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        • I think that writing is a process. One starts writing one thing and moves on to another. What I’m writing now academically is different from what I started writing, and so on.

          One provocative possibility about fanfic is that it’s a great gateway to beginning writers. It’s like a paint by numbers painting. It gives you an opportunity to develop one skill and still get a good result while not concentrating on others. You’re not going to be Rembrandt if that’s all you ever do, but it seems to me that eventually you get sick of that and want to do your own compositions and think about how pictures are put together, and so on. So fanfic really democratizes the process of writing fiction in a creative way. I really enjoy watching what people produce just for that reason.

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          • Trying to post responses in between thunderstorms (we are catching up on our rain deficit pretty quickly down here).

            I really like the analog of fanfic being akin to paint-by-numbers art . . . it’s certainly a good introduction to wielding a paintbrush without the concern for your, say, drawing technique or composition. And hey, presto, you get a pretty picture out of it!

            But, yes, eventually, you’d surely want to move on to something more challenging. At least I would.

            I had long toyed with the idea of writing fiction, because I really wanted to write something beyond the limits of the newspaper. We also produce several magazines and used to have a regular Lifestyles section in the paper before the recession took that away, so I discovered how much I enjoy feature writing and the creative license I have there that the typical stripped-down 5 W story doesn’t allow me.

            Some of my co-workers over the years have hated writing features and I could never understand that. To me, they are fun . . . creative . . . a way to indulge my flights of fantasy.

            And so the fanfic has brought me the opportunity to really flex those creative writing muscles. It really does give people a chance to try their hand at fic with the support of using tried-and-true characters and a built-in audience. And hopefully, if people enjoy your style of writing enough, they will be willing to read other things you write that move beyond the fan fic realm . . .

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            • I’ve actually written two literary novels under my real name, but they were written mostly for family and friends. They have nothing to do with RA. (Sad, I know) Maybe someday I’ll let the world take a look at them.

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              • Well, Charlotte, some authors have been able to get their earlier works published after establishing themselves, so who is to say it won’t happen for you, too?
                Every story doesn’t have to revolve around RA–as fun as it is when they do. *wink*

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  9. Welcome to the beautiful USA….just be careful in the city…lol

    In regards to the sheriff, I got the impression that he was one of those over-controlling dictators, who did not want to see anyone happy or see his subjects place anyone over him, thus him being number one in Guy’s life.

    Have a safe trip.

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    • Yes Avalon, that’s how I wanted to portray him. That’s usually how the Sheriff of Nottingham is portrayed, but maybe I should have given him a bit more depth. I think I was concentrating too much on Guy. (Can’t blame me for that, right?) If I ever get a traditional publisher and have a chance to make some changes, The Sheriff will be one of the touch ups that I make, along with a few other little details.

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      • I think part of the issue, then, is why the Sheriff would feel threatened by anything that Gisborne does with a commoner. It’s clear why he has an interest in getting rid of Marian — she is a political force — but it’s not clear why he’d object to Cassia. I.e., if you want us to believe that the Sheriff sees Cassia as a threat you have to show her changing Guy’s behavior in way that threatens the Sheriff, if you see what I mean.

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    • yeah, I’ll have to be careful tomorrow when I leave rural utopia!

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  10. Hey… who said I didn’t like the sex scenes!?
    Oh wait~ I guess I gave that impression when I listed that as a “con” in my review. hahah. Well, what I was referring to was the overabundance of sex scenes which began to feel repetitive to me, and overdone. Like you said, “the unbelievable staying power of the hero, the repeated simultaneous orgasms, the calling out of the lover’s name at the point of climax” had me rolling my eyes a bit. Of course, that didn’t keep me from reading it with rosey cheeks and a goofy grin on my face!!! For me personally (and I know I’m probably a minority in this case), that much graphic sex doesn’t have to be squeezed into nearly every chapter to make a great romantic, heartpounding story. To me, the story is more interesting than the hanky-panky. 🙂

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    • As someone who does write a fair amount of steamy NC-17 material (and according to Dr. S, does it quite well–thank you, Doc!)I have to say I also enjoy character development and creating a story arc. I don’t want it to just be a series of sex scenes, but an interesting, engaging story in which characters do happen to have a sexual relationship.

      I think it is important not to get too carried away with the sex.

      Everything doesn’t have to be a big, bombastic, athletic romp. Sometimes a really gentle, slow, tender scene can be quite lovely and satisfying.

      Or a flirtatious slap and tickle that doesn’t involve penetration and climaxes–just two people having fun and enjoying one another. My characters often laugh in bed. I’m also into writing sexy banter and occasions where couples touch only with their eyes. I guess what I’m saying is it’s good if you can have a sort of balance in the story. (And let’s face it, you can start to run short of descriptive terms and end up being repetitive if they’re shagging every five minutes LOL)

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    • I didn’t mean to put words in your mouth; I was thinking of your earlier comment some time ago that you were less bothered by sex on screen. I do think that too much sex distracts from the story line. But my definition of “too much sex” is probably more generous than that of the average romance reader. 🙂

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  11. […] dozens of times before I stop. Some of this I’ve documented already, as with my reaction to The Tempest and pointing readers in the direction of khandy’s fics. Continuing to enjoy Truce, which is […]

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  12. […] I wanted to remind everyone of “Rebel Mine,” which is a sequel of sorts to The Tempest (which I loved), but which I haven’t been able to start reading yet. I think Ann Marie’s been betaing […]

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  13. […] has just come out (review here by Traxy; Servetus’s review of her earlier novel can be found here). She really succeeds at pursuing her […]

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  14. […] Hawkins had published a sequel to her earlier Guy of Gisborne retelling, The Tempest (2010). I enjoyed that work a great deal (other reviews from Armitage bloggers at The Squeee, Fly High!, and Richard Armitage Fan Blog […]

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  15. […] Charlotte Hawkins (author of one of my favorite booklength fanfics) is already jonesing for the next […]

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  16. […] and reviewed it here. I have not read it yet, but I reviewed the two earlier titles in the series here and here. Like Charlotte Hawkins on FB […]

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  17. […] and filled in based on her own interest in the tales of Guy of Gisborne: The Tempest (my review here) and My Lady Gisborne (my review here) and The Baron’s […]

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