This book was an eel. It was trying to drink soup with a fork. Well, I didn’t catch that eel, and I didn’t have soup for dinner. What I have is enough frustration to blow off the roof because on some level, I still have no idea what I read.
This makes me sad, because I was rather looking forward to the second book in Ms. Lofty’s Christie siblings series. I crawled through the first book, Flawless, in fits and starts, alternately impressed with the historical aspect and tiring of the romance. But the former was strong and compelling enough (being set in South Africa) that I felt the Christies deserved another shot.
The initial premise bore out my hope. Alex, the eldest of the Christies, has a very good reason to take up the ridiculous terms of his late father’s will, which is to make the troubled Glaswegian cotton mill run a profit or lose his share of his father’s millions. See, Alex’s vicious father-in-law, Josiah Todd, has the clout and money to take Alex’s son away from him if Alex can’t support him. As an astronomy lecturer, his future has potential but is nowhere near secure yet. So he decamps for industrial Glasgow.
He runs into trouble right away, when someone sets off an explosion at the mill and several of his workers are injured. Relations between the masters and the workers are very tense, and Alex’s American status is treated with both relief (he’s not English) and suspicion (but he’s still a foreigner).
Up to here, the book is fine. It’s fantastic. We see Alex, struggling still with his wife’s death and unsure of his future. We see Polly Gowan, de facto leader of the mill workers, a charming young woman and natural leader who tries to stick up for her peoples’ rights without resorting to violence. And I’d be lying if I didn’t say that the mill scenes remind me oh so pleasantly of North and South (also a Victorian gender and class story of the cotton industry). Taken individually, at the beginning and throughout the book, these scenes shine. The historical immersion is the glowing strength in Starlight, as it was in the previous book.
It’s when the threads come together that the problems crop up, and, unfortunately, that happens as soon as Polly and Alex meet. You must have been wondering what Alex did next, what with his status in question and all, and Josiah Todd’s threat hanging over his head. Well, here’s what I know: Alex pops up at the mill. Alex meets Polly. And Alex and Polly crack out some kind of deal where she kind of shows him what it’s like Being a Worker, and he kind of Does Something In Exchange. But to tell the truth, I don’t remember the details; I do remember the mental lusting, which appeared with the subtlety of a tank.
That was the rest of the book. Fabulous scenes of Alex, Polly, or workers alone – heartfelt, sympathetic, detailed, insightful scenes – interspersed with mental lusting, real lusting, physical action, and more mental lusting. I could tiptoe around the issue, and say that it cuts the flow of the book, it’s too prevalent, makes the plot too jumpy, blabbity-blah. But let’s call a spade a spade, shall we? It’s a problem. A really big one.
I spent the next 300 pages trying to pin down the characters, the plot – any kind of continuity, actually, that would help me navigate the jumbly mess, but it never happened. Every time Alex did something new, he’d lust after Polly. Every time a new aspect of Polly’s character came up, she’d lust after Alex. It got real tiring trying to piece them together.
On top of that, there’s a definite break between the sexual prose and everything else. Descriptions of the workers, the mill, action scenes, emotional ones – these are gritty, sometimes ugly, often passionate and emotional, but always true, and always elegant. The writing in the lusting and sex scenes is not erotic – it is sexual, and it is borderline vulgar.
This is now the third book by Ms. Lofty that I’ve read. I read all three because I wanted my historical back in the romance, and I got it in spades. I also got enough frustration with the sudden lusting and sexing that I seriously reconsidered trying her again. Well, trying’s over, friends. I think I’m done.