Monday, February 28, 2022

10. Sea Jade by Phyllis A. Whitney

This is the gothic romance/thriller that made me have doubts about the genre.  I am hoping that this was a badly formed example rather than just me not liking the tropes.  It was quite maddening.  Miranda Heath, young woman recently orphaned returns to her father's business partner's mansion in New England against his wishes because she is economically desperate.  Though old Captain Obadiah Bascombe welcomed her, when she arrives, everybody else, including the huge dog and the ragamuffin girl all seem to hate her.  She has to unravel the mystery of her own past, defeat her numerous enemies with demure yet firm niceness and discover which brooding, inscrutable male she actually loves.

I guess the appeal of these books to readers is the weakenss of the protagonist.  I don't know, I really struggled with it.  I get it at first that she is at a total disadvantage and is forced to marry Brock MacLean, the bitter, stormy yet of course oddly attractive heir apparent (and son of the murdered third business partner) as well as put up with his complete bitch of a mother and the totally rude and inappropriate housekeeper (who is bitter at Miranda because her mother was working class and married into her "betters").  But when in the big early twist, she is awarded complete control of the shipbuilding business and thus has power over all of them, instead of whooping ass on them all, she is super apologetic and cedes everything to Brock and tries to make diplomatic overtures to the two uptight women.  I want a book where she slaps the shit out of her mother-in-law and stabs the housekeeper in a hand with a fork until she apologizes and gets dinner on the table fucking pronto.

Worst of all, though, is the romance.  Brock is just an asshole.  He's not straight up cruel, but treats her like a nuisance and patronizes her about almost everything even though she is usually the one on the right track.  There is nothing inherently appealing about him yet somehow she falls in love.  And all the mysteries, once resolved, are just not that satisfying.  Finally, these books always have unreliable narration so you are never sure until the very end who is bad and who is good.  I guess they are written that way deliberately so you can't guess by clues in the text, but it means that when you do find out the truth, it's not convincing because you don't feel confident about any of the heroine's interpretations that led up to it.

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