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Anne Mallory

REVIEW: In Total Surrender by Anne Mallory

REVIEW: In Total Surrender by Anne Mallory

Dear Ms. Mallory,

I have been anticipating the release of your novel, In Total Surrender, since I read about the Merrick brothers in your last effort, One Night Is Never Enough. There’s just something about a pair of intellectual thugs that gets my blood pumping.

In Total Surrender is Andreas Merrick’s book. The one in which the taciturn and deadly Lord of the Criminal Underworld falls in love with the upbeat daughter of a merchant.

In Total Surrender	Anne MalloryAndreas Merrick is once again the object of an assassination plot. A plot he has anticipated, for the assassination attempt is the direct result of his own plan to bring down his arch-nemesis, Lord Garrett. Andreas has been plotting this man’s downfall for ages and he is so close to finally destroying him that he can taste the victory. Unfortunately, things are not going quite as he had intended. There have been . . . set-backs. A warehouse has been burned down and other attacks against the Merricks’ empire have been made, the assassination attempt not the least among them.  More irritatingly still, his brother Roman is on his honeymoon and has left him to deal alone with the various employees, spies, and cogs in the wheels of their empire. So when a cloaked and hooded woman enters his offices after a particularly irritating evening of dealing with various attacks, Andreas is expecting—well, he’s expecting to have someone try to kill him.

What he is not expecting is Phoebe Pace, the daughter of the merchant James Pace. The family Pace has been under his gaze for quite a while now. He’s been watching them, interested in their comings and goings. For the Pace family is a key ingredient in his machinations against Lord Garrett. In fact, one of the set-backs his plot has suffered was the disappearance of the only son, Christopher and the reclusive nature of the father. The only time, it seems, that the family leaves their home is to attend the theater. So Andreas has been writing to James Pace, trying to convince him to meet. But James Pace is strangely reluctant. He keeps refusing, and no one refuses Andreas Merrick.

That Phoebe Pace should come to him in the dead of night is absolutely extraordinary. It doesn’t take him long to figure out that the person who he has been corresponding with has not been James Pace at all, but Phoebe. That this girl has been the one running the company since the disappearance of her brother and the seclusion of her father is astonishing. And not just a little bit irritating.

Phoebe Pace proceeds to become more irksome still for what she wants from Andreas Merrick is information. She seems to believe that he knows or can find out what happened to her brother. Is he dead? Is he missing? Kidnapped? By whom? And for what reason? Phoebe isn’t put off by assassination attempts and ruffians. She begins a campaign to insinuate herself in the Merrick household through baked goods and kind words. But Andreas isn’t fooled. What is she up to? And how much does she know?

Andreas is sure she knows something. He also realizes that her interference in his plans is his own damn fault. After all, his fascination with her has led to this. It was through his doings and schemes that the Paces are involved with him at all. It was his design that entangled them with his vendetta against Lord Garrett.  He was using them like pawns in a chess game. So whatever Phoebe wants and whatever Phoebe is, her optimism and good nature are just a front, a tactic to throw him off and let down his guard, because he knows that what she is after is far more intertwined in the danger that surrounds  them than perhaps either of them are aware.

But more distressingly still, he thinks about her. He goes to the theater to watch her and he hates the theater. She seems to be able to see into him. And he, he is totally unable to see into her. He cannot understand her. This disturbs him, because she, herself, disturbs him. She’s disturbed him from the first moment he saw her at the theater:

It had been immediate. How the hell that could be, he didn’t know. But her eyes had connected with his, somehow, as she’d entered the box on the opposite side of the theater—connected with his even through the dark shadows he surrounded himself with. And her mouth had bestowed a warm smile on a random stranger in the crowd.

Barbed warmth sinking under his skin, biting and clawing.

Her body was cloaked in the color of innocence, but her lips were passion-stained. The warmth of the lamps seemed to converge on her at all times, no matter where she moved, or with whom she spoke—a bright spot pushing back the shadows.

In many ways this novel is playing with and manipulating romance tropes and forms.  On the surface it seems to be the classic tale of the good girl and the rogue. But this is quickly dispelled. Mallory makes a point of adjusting the story just enough that it doesn’t read quite the same as it ought to. I am for this adjustment. I am for the manipulation of tropes and conventions. I think it gives us wonderful romances when romance authors dare to twist, turn and pervert the usual generic standards. Mallory often does this in her books. She tweaks things. Starts at odd points and places in the story. She doesn’t reveal or fully explain the characters past, even at the end of the story. She uses time and perspective in slightly idiosyncratic ways. All of this is very well done. All of this I support.

For instance, In Total Surrender is predominantly told from Andreas’ perspective. Particularly in the first seven chapters when we, the readers, are privy to none of Phoebe Pace’s thoughts. Phoebe is an utter and complete mystery to Andreas. Her motivations, her goals, her desires are totally foreign to him. He knows, quite perfectly well, that she is up to something. He simply cannot figure out what it is. In fact, Mallory makes Phoebe a mystery—in my humble opinion—precisely so that she might play with the trope of sweet, optimistic young women who invades the dark lord’s home and turns it upside-down for the better. Because Phoebe, as we learn, is not exactly sweet, is not exactly optimistic and is invading Andreas’ establishment the way that Catherine the Great invaded Turkey, turning things upside-down in pursuit of her own warm-water port.

Ms. Mallory uses, like most romance novel authors, limited third person perspective as her narrative mode. However, there are many ways to use third person. In most romances, the narrator is invisible. This is in contrast to other books like Middlemarch, where on occasion the narrator offers an opinion about the characters manners and behaviors. Or, as in Jane Austen where there might not be an actual intrusion into the narrative, but there is an ironic distance to the tone in which events are related. Mallory, like her sister romance authors, remains mostly invisible in the text; however, she also does this thing where she closes the distance between herself and the character. She imposes upon her narration a very limited and constrained perspective. Often the reader finds herself in the dark about past events and motivations, even when occupying the space inside a character’s head. Moreover, Mallory has a particular talent for visceral and claustrophobic narrative. Her stories are rather gothic because of this.

The effect of all of these narrative devices is to heighten the tension and the friction in the relationship between the hero and the heroine. By not being able to know what the other is thinking, and by imposing that same limitation on the reader, Mallory ratchets up the sexual tension to quivering levels. We, the readers, feel the effect of this tension. We share it, for neither are we able to understand or to know the object of the hero, Andreas’ desire. Instead, we must wait, like him, to find out about Phoebe; to find out about her secrets, her thoughts, her knowledge and her plans.

The problem with In Total Surrender is that it doesn’t deliver. I think it does work quite well in its manipulation of certain tropes and genre conventions, but it fails in three significant ways, three significant ways which are primarily confined to the end of the book rather than the beginning.

First, the sex scene. When I talked about this with Jane she described it as vague and unsatisfying and I would have to concur with that assessment. The sex scene is vague and unsatisfying. Unsatisfying because the sexual tension is practically thrumming by the time you reach that point in the story. You can feel Andreas’s nerves about to snap. So the fact that the sex scene is so brief really does little to dissipate that tension. This dissatisfaction is exacerbated by the sheer vagueness in which it is related. What, if anything, happens? I wasn’t actually entirely sure they had sex for a minute there. That’s how vague it was.

Now, I’m not all about the sex scene. In fact, there are times I wish there was no sex scene. For example, there are certain authors who rely on the sex scene or the sex scenes to carry the rest of the story to its close. This is both to the detriment of the story and the detriment of the characters. Hero and heroine spend the last third of the book shagging themselves senseless and boring the bejesus out of me. Usually, what remains in these books is some half-arsed mystery plot that I have already solved. Or sometimes the hero just hasn’t said “I love you” but this is not enough to keep me reading another 80 pages.

Mallory has not committed that crime. And if I might be so bold as to presume to know the author’s intentions, I see both the vague and unsatisfying nature of the sex scene in In Total Surrender as endeavoring to do the opposite. I applaud Ms. Mallory for attempting to do something different with sex in a romance novel. It was a bold move. Unfortunately, as if often the case with bold moves, this one didn’t quite work. The tension between Phoebe and Andreas was such that it needed to be consummated more than the sex scene allowed for.

Second, the use of historical personages. Or the historical personage who is the deus ex machina. This one, I don’t understand. It was totally unnecessary to the plot of the novel, to the development of the characters, or to the themes of this book to have a Historical Personage appear. The Historical Personage was inserted with all the deftness and subtlety of a bull in a china shop. Or a toddler with a pair of scissors. Why, dear author, why? In order to explain why this didn’t work I must spoil the surprise, thus:

SPOILER ALERT

 

[spoiler]Part of the plot of both this novel and the once preceding it, One Night is Never Enough, is the mystery surrounding Andreas Merrick’s identity. In fact, Andreas’ identity is intimately tied to his involvement with Phoebe and his grand vendetta. We know that he wasn’t always the Lord of the Criminal Underworld he is now. We, perhaps, even suspected more gentrified origins. And, indeed, it should come as no surprise that we were right. Andreas is not of the lower classes, but was the eldest son of a titled family. Alas, he is also a bastard and his father knew it. A tragic, abusive childhood followed, finally culminating in his father trying to have him killed. This history is vital to the plot. However, the identity of his real father is not. In fact, it detracts.His real father is Frederick, Duke of York. We find this out and we also find out that Phoebe had some strange childhood crush on the Duke of York, due to him saving her from a carriage. Neither of these revelations revels anything of import about either character. It is superfluous. Frederick does not acknowledge Andreas. Nor does he pardon him. Nor does he do anything other than suggest that had Andreas come to him when he was abandoned and nearly killed by his legal father, Frederick might have taken him in. For whatever that’s worth. The whole meeting doesn’t even seem to give Andreas a sense of closure about his family or his paternity. In fact, it seems to exacerbate those anxieties. Moreover, his father being the Duke of York is in no way pertinent. The same effect could be had with just about anyone. There is no reason that the Duke of York and not the Duke of Earl or the Earl of Duke had to be Andreas’ father. It was an unnecessary detail to the plot.

[/spoiler]

 

END SPOILER ALERT

The appearance of the Historical Personage highlights two things: the hasty ending and the sudden upswing to the saccharine. Prior to the appearance of the Historical Personage, the sex scene—though vague and unsatisfying—was the major weakness in the book. The tension and conflict at the heart of Phoebe and Andreas’ relationship was well-written enough for me to ignore some of the flaws, including the sex scene itself.

But the ending. Oh the ending. It wasn’t that it wasn’t happy. It was. It was too happy. It was too damn happy. The first third of the book—nay! Nearly the entire book is characterized by a tone and atmosphere that could only be described as dark and grim. Lord of the Underworld describes not only Andreas himself, but the feel of the book. One feels as if one is in an underworld, a world without sunshine or light, a world of shadows and twilight. But then, first the Historical Personage shows up and, worse, an abrupt flash into the future that shows how blissfully happy our heroes still are twenty years after the events of the book.

Clearly, my problem isn’t HEA. Clearly, my problem isn’t epilogues. But this wasn’t properly an epilogue. Nor was it properly a resolution to the final conflict between Phoebe and Andreas. It was if I was reading an early draft of the novel. It just went from a declaration to a flash forward to a saccharine ending so sweet that it threatened to give me hyperglycemia.

And he kissed her. Not a farewell kiss, or an evening kiss, or a friendly kiss at all. It was a forever kiss, and it was everything she’d ever wanted.

“And I love you too, Phoebe.”

 

If only that were the ending! But no. Then we get this:

Twenty years later, Phoebe Merrick still anticipated weekly notes, placed in different spots where she had to hunt to find them. No one had ever said the man was not difficult. But now he always smiled readily and laughed when she chased him down.

The twins were a constant joy.

It isn’t that we have not seen this before. But rather that this flash forward ejects the earlier tension, darkness and gothic atmosphere for an entirely different kind of tone. It is the sort of paragraph I would expect in a Julia Quinn. There’s nothing wrong with that but this is not a comedy. Thus, this last part of the book rang discordant for me. It was like listening to Beethoven’s Fifth and then having the recording suddenly, and without warning switch to the opening strains of The Temptations’ “My Girl.” It jangled.

I like Ms. Mallory’s books very much, generally. But some of her backlist has been hit or miss for me. This one is a miss. And it started out so well, too. I feel like I began in different book than the one I finished. As such, my grade dwindled. With the vague sex scene, this book was probably a B. With the historical personage, may be a B-. With the saccharine ending that resolves nothing and changes the entire tone of the book . . .  C+

Lazaraspaste

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REVIEW: One Night Is Never Enough by Anne Mallory

REVIEW: One Night Is Never Enough by Anne Mallory

Dear Ms. Mallory,

I read Seven Secrets of Seduction over winter break. This, despite the fact, that I had been wanting to read it since it came out. Alas, my life conspires against me and I was caught in a maelstrom of duty.   So, even though it had been on my shelf for months . . . basically since Jane reviewed it here at Dear Author . . . I had tragically not been able to open its covers. When I finally did, it was everything she said it was and more. My praise of this book garnered me the honor of getting to review your next book, One Night is Never Enough. You are an unusual author in that, though you write historical romance, they are primarily writes stand-alone novels, not inter-connected series. However, One Night is Never Enough deviates from this trend, and is directly connected to Seven Secrets of Seduction. The heroine of this new novel was the rival of the heroine of the last novel. Although, that summation does a disservice to both characters, it is the most succinct why of putting it.

One Night Is Never Enough By Anne Mallory The plot of One Night is Never Enough is as follows: Charlotte Chatsworth is in her third season, and she's becoming desperate. Or, to be more exact, her father is becoming desperate. Charlotte has received many offers, but none of them have ever been quite   good enough for her father-’a man bent on using his eldest daughter's beauty, poise, and standing in society to better the family, to lift them out of debt, and, in short, to save them from his own profligacy. Charlotte is desperate because her father is desperate. Charlotte knows her duty. Charlotte knows that if she does not carry out her father's wishes, accedes to his plans, and manages to make a great marriage, that disaster will follow and that her sister, her one source of familial affection and love, will suffer as a consequence.   Charlotte is acutely aware that disaster is not just likely to fall upon the family at any moment, but that it will fall on them. It is not a question of when, but of how soon. All of this is due to her father's gambling, selfishness and utter disregard for anyone's needs, but his own. He is a man capable of bringing the Chatsworths to ruin and then blaming Charlotte for it-’because she did not marry well, because she failed in her duty. Charlotte, while not happy by this state of affairs by any measure, is resigned to performing her father's wishes as swiftly and neatly as she can in order to both escape him and rescue her sister.

Due to their financial and social instability, coupled with Chatsworth's own ambition, he is constantly trying to sell his daughter to the highest bidder . . . albeit on the marriage mart. That said, one night, whilst in his cups in a dubious gaming hell owned by the Merrick Brothers, Chatsworth ends up betting one night with his daughter against some astronomical sum of money, convinced he can win on one hand of cards and thus undo all the harm he's done with his previous gambles. He does not, of course, manage this feat. The gentleman who leads him into this disastrous bet is not, as one would suspect, the hero, but a Mr. Trant, whose ambitions match Chatsworth's, but who is much subtler, and therefore, better a getting what he wants. What he wants is Charlotte, who he imagines as the perfect society wife-’which of course, she is. The problem with Trant's plan regarding Chatsworth's bet is that Roman Merrick is playing at the same table; the same Roman Merrick who is part owner of the gaming hell; the same Roman Merrick who is very beautiful and very amoral and already rather taken by Charlotte; the same Roman Merrick who decides he ought to win. They've meet before, you see, he and Charlotte, and he fancies her.   Merrick wins. Of course, he wins. And Charlotte does her duty to her father and honors the bet, as she always does. Thus, the one night they spend together that occupies the title of the book

Plot-wise, the book proceeds as any long time reader of romance, expects it would. They are struck with each other. They become obsessed with each other. They fall in love with each other. They overcome the obstacles to their union. And finally, are with each other.   But a plot summary can't actually convey the sheer emotional intensity of this story. Since I read Seven Secrets of Seduction, I have glommed a good portion of Ms. Mallory's backlist. Some books I have enjoyed more than others. But every single one of those books, I can say without hyperbole, is a book that stands out in the genre. While they are all in short summary, quite like many other romances, the actual execution of these standard plots is something altogether different. I've been thinking about why this is and I believe that it comes down to Mallory's writing style. What she does best, in my not so humble opinion, is to narrow the scope of the story to a single, claustrophobic perspective at the beginning of the story-’usually the heroine's. From here, she slowly opens the lens of the camera, widens the picture outward, eventually zooming out to encompass a much larger scene-’but one that is always imbedded in that first intense and narrow eye. The result of this perspective being rooted in that first narrow and emotional scope, gives her stories an intensity and an emotional nuance that I find unusual or, at the very least, uncommon.   Mallory's books are sensational, in the sense that they cause sensation-’at least they cause me a physiological reaction. The narrow scope, the slow build of emotions and sensations works much like a thriller or a mystery, where each scene, each interior shift, slowly layers the emotions to a fever pitch   until you, too, feel the character's emotions and anxieties as if they were in your body, not the character's.

One Night is Never Enough is no exception to this rule. The book begins in the narrow confines of Charlotte's mind as she's walking down Bond Street, anxiously worrying over the possibilities of her future, her family's dysfunction, and plotting, plotting, always plotting how she is going to get them all out of this impending doom.

 

She needed to slow down. To saunter and smile gently as a well-bred lady should. To embody the kind and soft woman she wished to be.

Charlotte Chatsworth strode the pavement instead. Long, hard strides. Trying to shake the feel of chains that had always been there, that she had tried to ignore for so long. Chains that were settling more firmly over her shoulders, growing tighter around her wrists and neck.

A distended feeling, full of panic and weariness, pushed outward from her belly, pushing against her ribs, reaching for her throat, to choke her-’a balloon grown too large. Emotions too tangled within and around it-’creating an almost physical pain.

If only it were a physical pain, a stomachache. Something that could be cured or relieved.

But the swelling desperation-’the mixture of bitterness, pride, and fear-’had been growing inside her for so long that she didn't know if anything would be left of her true self should the balloon finally pop.

 

The pressure of her situation obscures everything else around her. It is this lack of attention to the world outside her own misery that leads her to first meet Roman Merrick. What happens is that Charlotte and her maid, Anna, walk into a shop to pick up a parcel, unwittingly stumbling upon a violent scene-’what euphemistically could be called a re-negotiation of terms, but is really a series of threats followed by a few blows to get the point home. Roman Merrick and his brother, Andreas, are the ones doing the threatening. In the process of trying to escape, Charlotte calls attention to her presence and there is an exchange of sorts, between Charlotte and Roman. It is this meeting that prompts Roman to beat Trant at his own game and win Charlotte for a night.   After all, it represented a singular moment in her life as well as his-’a singular moment that he intends to extend into another meeting, into an entire night. And the singularity of that encounter, like Charlotte's anxiety over her family's future, seems to balloon out from her until it begins to swallow up everything else in her being-’even that ever present "distention." This is not a state of affairs she wishes for and yet, it is one she longs for.

Unable to meet Charlotte anywhere but in the dark, like a vampire, Roman stalks her in solitary places, such as Vauxhall.   Arranging to meet her to continue what was started but never finished during that one night of the bet.

 

She positioned her body to swing around the bench. To hide behind it in stupid panic. But the footsteps stopped and abruptly changed paths, echoing away. She clenched the stone. What was she doing, truly doing, here in the dark?

The path to Venus. It had been written in a quick and scratchy scrawl.

And here she was. Sitting amongst the hedges,  waiting. Waiting.Just like any other boffleheaded chit hoping for a lover. The reckless urge reached up and pushed against everything she knew to be right.

The urge had been pushing hard and fast ever since she'd met him.

"Damn you, Roman Merrick," she muttered, a tad bitterly, too low for anyone to hear, should they be near.

"What did I do now?"

She shot off the bench and whirled around, looking wildly about her, one hand clutched at her throat in terror and shock. Not seeing anyone standing, she wrenched her gaze back to the bench to see an arm propped on the stone, his bottom half hidden behind the bench.

Lying back there the entire time.

She did the only thing that occurred to her in her flurry of wild emotion. She moved forward and kicked him in what she assumed was his backside, cloaked in the shadows as he was. Incongruously, he started to laugh. She lifted her foot to kick him again, but he grasped her ankle. Heated fingers pierced through her stockings, touching her bare flesh through the netting as they wrapped around.

"Don't make me ruin your lovely dress in the grass." Amusement laced his voice as he lifted her leg, pulling her off-balance and causing her to hop on the other. "Or do. It would greatly simplify matters, don't you think?"

"What the bloody hell are you doing back there?"

"My goodness. Such gutter language on a lady so fine." One finger stroked the underside of her calf. Up, up. She tried to pull her limb back, hopping more fiercely, arms whirling around to keep herself upright. "I hope you know other such words because there is simply nothing more divine than the idea of such a classy woman speaking foully as I thrust into her."

 

What I chiefly like best about this book, and Mallory's writing in general, is the longing she evokes. There is not enough longing in romance these days. Maybe there never was enough. It's all sex, sex, sex in lieu of emotional development, which, as I've indicated elsewhere, is boring to me.   What's attractive about romance is the ability to get a story that cannot be told if you were just watching people. Whether you are watching them have sex, or get married, or exchange insults-’you don't get to see inside them, to see what they are feeling, quite as directly as you get to in fiction. This is, of course, what is so tantalizing and addictive about literature-’that ability to have direct access to someone's interiority, an access you get nowhere else.

As I said, Mallory begins the novel in the tight, narrow scope of Charlotte's anxiety and widens the book out from there. Because of this, you never get the sense she is just a martyr to her family, in that frustrating and senseless way so many heroines are martyrs. Rather, you feel how trapped she is by circumstance and the few options open to her as a woman. Similarly, even when the perspective shifts to Roman's, there is something obscure about him that is never really illuminated, even by the end of the book. Something about him remains mysterious. The tight perspective of the narrative prevents the reader from ever being privy to certain mysteries and characters that inhabit the story. By the end of the book, some things, events, and people remain unknown.   Because of this, I feel it is my duty as a reviewer to warn people of the following: This is a book which, while historical, is not concerned with history-’that is, the camera lens never widens out far enough to encapsulate the historical moment it is set in. In some ways, it is ahistorical. It could be set at any time between 1794 and 1825. This might annoy some people. I, personally, find the ahistorical nature of story adeptly wielded because it allows more time for a concentration on the characters' mental space. I also think some people might be annoyed by the occlusion that occurs over some events, characters and personages. Certain things just don't become clear by the end of the story. But whether this is okay with you might be a matter of taste.

Despite these caveats, for me, this book was a very good read. I enjoyed it immensely, partly because it felt unusual in the way it was told, and partly because it was so visceral in that telling; both things that I find very attractive in books. I didn't quite like it as much as Seven Secrets, but overall, I think it was a very good romance, an intense read with interesting and distinctive characters and writing style. One that I will read again. A-

Lazaraspaste

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