When I see that a book averages three stars at Amazon or Goodreads, I always click down to scan through some of the reader reviews. Because three stars means I’m facing one of three very different kinds of book: it is either A) competent and inoffensive, but also bland and tepid, in that it fails to inspire a passionate response in any direction, B) a LOVE IT or HATE it title* C) or truly a mixed bag.
Laura L. Sullivan’s Ladies in Waiting—girls in Charles II’s Restoration Era court deal with life and love and sexism—was one that fell into Column B, with some readers (like me) yelling, “ZOMG, AMAZEBALLS!” and other readers yelling, “ZOMG, WHY ARE THESE GIRLS SO INTERESTED IN THE SEX??” Her most recent book, Delusion, falls squarely into Column C. To aid you in your To Read It or To Read It Not question, here’s a handy breakdown of its strengths and weaknesses:
The premise. HOLY COW, THE PREMISE. Two gorgeous sisters, born into a family of magicians (stage magic, not magic-magic), are sent to the countryside when the London Blitz begins. Once there, one of them stomps around trying to recruit the completely apathetic townsfolk into working for the war effort...and then stumbles across a college of magic. Yes, real magic.
The setting. Bittersweet is an over-the-top bucolic town full of characters who’d fit right into one of the James Herriot books. The College of Drycraeft is a centuries-old castle chock-full of men who spend all of their time completely cloistered. Both sets of people have no interest in the war—the Bittersweet residents because they think it’s impossible that the Nazis would ever come that far afield, and the College men because they don’t concern themselves with the petty squabbles of “commoners”—but both sets are about to be blindsided by one flame-haired Philomel Albion.
The sisters. At first, Phil and Fee come off as straightforward archetypes: Phil is practical and combative; Fee is a hopelessly dreamy romantic. As we get to know them, though, it turns out that they both have all of those traits, and more. We also see growth on both parts: Phil comes to terms with the difference between playing at war and being at war, while Fee finds the sort of stoic emotional strength that isn’t often found in a person who sobs at worm funerals. (Which she does.)
The humor, the thoughtfulness and the swoony bits. This book made me snicker. A lot. As in Ladies in Waiting, the Albion girls are quite worldly—and they’re not above using their physical assets as powerful tools—and so some of that humor comes from subtle sexual innuendo, but there’s also humor that would be right at home in a Diana Wynne Jones book or in a Wodehousian farce. On top of the fun, Delusion explores serious issues like preemptive incarceration; the morality of neutrality and pacifism in the face of True Evil; and as is fitting in a World War II novel, the idea of a superior race. Last but not least, the swoony bits are VERY SWOONY INDEED.
Weaknesses. Well, weakness:
There’s just too much going on. As a fan of the awesome, it pains me to say this: There’s just TOO MUCH awesome here for one book. All of the disparate parts? Fantastic. I could sit around for hours listing the lines and sentences and paragraphs that I loved...but once they’re all put together, it becomes a soupy, somewhat overlong mishmash. The sum of its parts is lesser than its parts alone, which is really too bad.
But! The parts! Oh, the parts. They are wonderful. I will look on them fondly until the sequel appears, and then I will read the hell out of it.
*My favorite, because, love it or not, you know it’ll be entertaining for one reason or another—whether it’s rubbernecking at a trainwreck or squealing with joy and wonder—as well as being fabulous fodder for debate.
If she isn't writing Bookshelves of Doom or doing her librarian thing, Leila Roy is probably curled up by the woodstove, reading.