Dancing on Air
Ballerinas and opera singers often appear in historicals only as the mistresses that aristocratic heroes discard once they meet their more gently-born True Love. Dancing on Air features a ballerina heroine in Victorian England, so I thought it could end up being an interesting spin on convention. Unfortunately, weak writing doomed it almost from the start.
Following the death of her mother, a celebrated dancer, Lisette practically grew up in the somewhat rundown Imperial Theater with her harsh Aunt Marie determined to mold her into a prima ballerina. We see Lisette’s life in rather simplistic language from the opening scenes of the book – harsh taskmaster of an aunt who is never pleased, special snowflake ballerina who is obviously different from all the rest and so on. At least the supporting cast of dancers and theater workers make an interesting crew.
Despite the lack of ellipses in the dialogue, Lisette still comes off as a wide-eyed, purer than pure Barbara Cartland heroine. And of course, when Lord Gainswith heads out to the ballet, it’s love at first sight. We need some drama, though, so there is also an eeeevil depraved aristocrat with his eye on Lisette. A tale of good suitor vs. evil could have been fun in the right hands, but everything in this book is told in such overly simplistic language that it’s hard to engage with the story. Basically, Lord Gainswith is a generic sort of guy and Lisette is a Special Snowflake. We know that she will be a great dancer and we know that she will draw a hero’s eye because she is Just. So. Special. If ever a reader should start to forget this, just wait a few paragraphs and you’ll be beaten over the head with it once more.
Dancing on Air is the sort of book where one can guess most of the plot twists before they actually occur. Some aspects of the story are a little unusual, but the author gives them away well in advance. For instance, we know right away who the bad guy is and since readers get to see him plotting with Lisette’s aunt, we get far inside his mind earlier than was probably good for maintaining tension. In addition, the eeevil plotting just builds and builds to the point that it almost feels farcical. Frankly, the social divide between Lisette and Gainswith makes for plenty of conflict in and of itself; some of the other intrigue just starts to feel like overkill.
And speaking of overkill, I won’t give away too much but I do have to mention the big climax at the end of the story where Lisette’s fate is settled once and for all. Let’s just say it goes beyond dramatic and straight into the realm of cheesy. Not the good kind of cheese that leaves a smile on your face either. I’m talking the tinny-tasting stuff that comes in a spray can.
Some of the secondary characters in Dancing on Air caught my eye and there was one hint of secondary romance that I kept hoping would blossom. The details of theater life backstage also make for interesting reading. However, as historical romance, this one just didn’t come anywhere near sweeping me off my feet.