GUEST REVIEW: Ember and Like a Thief by Bettie Sharpe
This special guest review is from author Sherry Thomas. You’ll want to read the entire thing down to the end because Sherry and I are sponsoring a pay it forward Bettie Sharpe giveaway. You see, Bettie Sharpe gave away a fantastic retelling of the Cinderella story. Only we got it in drips and drabs, one installment a week on the blog of Dionne Galace.
But it was so good that I think everyone was salivating for Bettie’s release from Samhain. I suspect that Bettie is bound for New York. You heard it here first. (okay, maybe not here first since I think any number of people said that on Dionne’s blog).
Dear Ms. Sharpe,
Brace yourself. I’m going to French-kiss you-‘I’m talking about serious, messy, slobbering tonguing-‘and I don’t know if I’ll be able to stop at just that.
I’ve railed on my blog that although romance is largely a genre by women for women, there is a lack of memorable heroines that almost rivals that of Hollywood action flicks. This is, of course, one picky woman’s opinion. But I don’t think I’m at all alone in it. Romance, in its current state, is men-centered, full of matches between larger-than-life heroes and very nice but no-more-than-life-size heroines.
While I can enjoy that match-up as well as anyone, being a very nice, no-more-than-life-sized suburban soccer mom in real life, I’ve come to realize that deep in my heart, I don’t want to be a good girl and never have. My fantasy is to be the baddest motherfucking woman that ever lived, like Queen Elizabeth I, a woman who wields tremendous power with ease and surety and harshness when necessary, and who yet is respected, admired, and even loved. And if QE1 had had a worthy man to warm her bed nightly, why then, the fantasy would be complete.
You write my fantasies–my complete fantasies.
There is no other way to put it. I don’t know how you do it. It is as if you heard all the vague moaning and rattling in my head, laughed, and said "No, sweetie, pie, this is what you fucking want."
And like the limp and sore but oh-so-happy heroine in a ménage story who’d just experienced the man-sandwich for the very first time, all I can say is, "Fuck me again, Bettie."
Oh, I guess readers would want a synopsis or two here. This is Bettie’s own introduction to Ember.
Everyone loves Prince Charming. They have to-‘he’s cursed. Every man must respect him. Every woman must desire him. One look, and all is lost.
Ember would rather carve out a piece of her soul than be enslaved by passions not her own. She turns to the dark arts to save her heart and becomes the one woman in the kingdom able to resist the Prince’s Charm.
Poor girl. If Ember had spent less time studying magic and more time studying human nature, she might have guessed that a man who gets everything and everyone he wants will come to want the one woman he cannot have.
Charm is a curse. Love is a fire. This story is no fairytale.
Ember is Tanith Lee on acid. It’s the bestest, baddest take on the Cinderella story and turns every last familiar element on its head with a "Ha!" and a fuck-you. One of my favorite such moments happens at the meeting of Ember and the Stepmother.
She paused when she saw me, and I couldn’t blame her. I knew what I looked like-‘my cold expression, my red hair and freckled skin, my angry black eyes smoldering like hot coals. Her eyes flicked to the torches flanking our door, noting, I am sure, the way the flames yearned toward me though the wind urged them in the opposite direction.
Her face tightened beneath its faÃ§ade of paint. Her white-powdered hand wavered on the verge of greeting me. In that moment, she realized my father’s tales of an innocent, biddable daughter were spun from the same wishful imagination that had let him believe her to be a noblewoman, and to believe the two hard-eyed whores (scarcely a decade her junior) who peered out of the carriage behind her were her daughters.
"Step-mamÃ¡!" I greeted her, taking her shoulders and kissing her powdered cheeks.
My lips came away white with a mixture of lead and lard, but it was worth it for the expression of surprise that crossed her face. When my father wasn’t looking, I wiped my mouth on the cuff of my velvet sleeve.
And it gets even better when the Stepmother and the Stepsisters, frightened of Ember’s power, tells her they would leave.
"Leave?" I said. "But my father needs a wife. The Old Wives say sheep dogs are descended from wolves, and the best thief takers were once thieves, themselves. You know how gullible my father can be, for you gulled him. Who better to look after him than one who knows his weaknesses?"
My new stepmother opened her mouth to protest, but the fire flared in anger at her interruption. She snapped her jaw closed and let me speak.
"Sylvia’s potion must be made and taken by the month. The price of my help, dear Stepmother, is that you stay."
"But I saw your sour face at the sight of us. You don’t like courtesans."
I laughed and every flame in the room danced with joy at the sound of it. "You mistake me, Sister. Whores are the better part of my business. A witch who shuns the custom of whores and courtesans will be a pauper. No. I dislike liars and cheats. I dislike deceivers and dissemblers.
"Now that the air is clear between us, I like you just fine. My father needs a wife, and as long as you care for him and do not cuckold him with other men, we shall get along as well as he imagined."
As I had predicted, we got along quite well.
Ember is a witch, not a nice one, but a true one, with a fundamental sense of fairness you could only hope that anyone wielding a large amount of power would possess. She is what she is, she loves as she is, and her love is as full of flaws and fascinating and dangerous as herself. She is, without a doubt, one of the best heroines (protagonists) I’ve ever read, anywhere. And the prince, he is every asshole Prince Charming you’ve ever wanted to bring to heel, and then some. And he comes to heel in the most satisfying way here.
And by the way, Ember is a free story. It was first serialized at Bam’s blog. And now available to be read online or downloaded in pdf at your website. How can anyone beat that?. An A+, for the orgasmic reading experience it was.
Like a Thief in the Night is not free, but that’s fine. I was very happy to pay my $3.50 ($3.15 in fact) for it, so as not have to go through ten long weeks, counting down the days till the next Thursday to read the next installment.
She’s a heartless assassin; he’s an immortal thief. In another life, they would have been lovers. In this one, he’s her target and she’s his prize.
Somebody would have a fit reading this story. It’s sex, violence, more sex, more violence, even more sex, and even more violence. And such language as would have fainted an entire population of Victorian ladies and exhausted the world’s supply of smelling salt. In Ember, the word "cunt" was thrown about like firecrackers at Chinese New Year. In Thief, you even used the word "twat". I believe I choked on my dinner at that and read on with even greater glee.
I love that Arden is a heartless assassin, truly a bad, bad, bad girl–and omg she likes sex too, looks for it, in fact, when she’s not killing. And I love that she’s finally come up against a man she can’t kill. And he’s caught her and is holding her in a super-secret, super-inescapable location. Mandatory sex, anyone?
I love the way Arden sees herself.
And how screwed up was she to check out the man who had stripped her naked and tied her to a chair in his basement? The answer to that question was all too obvious. She killed people for a living; she was a very sick girl. She would just have to add this newfound taste for high-stake bondage to her already long list of kinks.
And does she have kinks ever. Let me just say that though I’m not such an innocent girl at heart, this story had a good several "Holy shit!" moments for me, as in "I can’t fucking believe Bettie Sharpe wrote that"-‘but in a good way, cuz I am obviously developing a taste for kink and sick and all that good shit.
Oh, and did I mention that it’s a pretty decent love story too?
Is it perfect? No. I would have liked for you to have explored the relationship more at length. And I thought the SF/fantasy aspects were slightly pat, in the sense that they made things too easy for our protagonists at certain points. But perfection is such a pale, silly standard before the force and vitality of your writing. A-
Your talent burns like a star gone supernova. I love your lean, potent prose. I love your bad-to-the-core and yet still-worth-loving characters. And I love your take-no-prisoner voice.
And I love how I feel when I read you: like someone finally understands me, understands the rotten, crazy, bad, bad, bad girl that I am at heart and loves me all the same. The. Best. Fantasy. EVA!
And because I love it so, and because you first instilled the idea of pay-it-forward in me, I’m going to buy three more copies of Like a Thief in the Night and give them away to three commenters to this post. Jane’s Note: I liked this book too and would be willing to chip in 3 more books
Let the fun begin. And I look forward to a long, and illustrious career from you, young lady.
P.S. And I just love that my spellchecker had no suggestions to offer when it came to the word "motherfucking".
Very Important Notice: I would like readers of this blog to know that my normal writing voice is as serene, radiant, and unsullied as a Renaissance Madonna. The tone of this post is entirely Bettie Sharpe’s corrupt influence. Oh, fuck me again already, Bettie.