Thursday, August 18, 2011

Beyond Paradise

Beyond Paradise by Elizabeth Doyle

This is a mildly entertaining, if flawed, romance. The setting, on Martinique amid displaced French aristocracy is interesting. Sylvie's family clings to its title but has no money, so they arrange for her to marry wealthy but dissolute Etienne. At first she prefers the dashing pirate hunter Jervais, but when captive pirate Jacques kidnaps her as part of his plan to escape, she falls for him instantly. Soon Sylvie finds herself pursued by all three men. Although it's clear she loves only Jacques, how can the two of them escape, and even if they can escape, how can they have a future together?

It's not a bad premise, however, this is 100% fantasy, and the utter lack of any kind of realism bothered me. The author's historical research seems to have been comprised of multiple viewings of "Pirates of the Caribbean." The characters all speak and behave in ways that are not only anachronistic but often surprisingly out of character, simply to move the plot along. And the prose turns to purple on occasion, there are a lot of descriptions of his "cushiony lips" and "tight thighs" etc.

But what really bothered me the most is the totally unrealistic depiction of deafness. Jacques supposedly was born completely deaf, yet somehow he taught himself to speak French, English and Spanish perfectly, and to read lips. This is simply not possible. Even the best lip readers will not catch every word, even under ideal conditions. But here he has long, complicated conversations, with only the occasional slightest difficulty. He also has a sign language, but it's not mentioned or used very much. So his deafness is only sort of decorative, and the author pushes it aside when it suits her. Just because it's a romance novel doesn't mean we have to throw all realism out the window. The Highland Wife is a much more realistic depiction of deafness that is still a satisfying romance, and a better book overall.

In spite of these problems, however, I found the characters rather charming. Sylvie is clever and spunky as a sort of proto-femninist. And Jacques is appealingly boyish. He's not the typical alpha male romance hero. Although he is physically strong, he's sensitive and tender-hearted. Fans of the "wounded hero" type will not be disappointed.

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