The Geek Girl and the Scandalous Earl
When I picked a book about a time-traveling “Geek Girl,” it never occurred to me that the heroine would be not only coarse but TSTL. The book itself is bland and its plot, minus the time travel, is a class-and-culture conflict straight out of dozens of Regencies, but the unlikeable heroine took this book down to a D for me. If I hadn’t been reviewing, I have quit by page 30.
An antique mirror takes Jamie Marten out of a 2102 Concord, North Carolina storage shed and into the bedroom of Micah Axelby, Earl of Dunnington, in 1816. It turns out that the mirror was bespelled to bring the Earl’s ideal mate – her – to the past to meet him. The housekeeper promises to have the portal re-opened by a witch, but in the meantime, Jamie’s stuck. Can this rough-edged American win the heart of the Earl, or will his obsessive mistress spoil everything?
There’s nothing wrong with Micah, except that I’ve read him dozens of times before. You know you’re in trouble when the most memorable characteristic is his resemblance to Colin Firth, which is mentioned multiple times. He’s lost a previous love (which is why he’s “scandalous.”). He’s honor-bound to put his estates first. He’s overly protective. He wears black a lot. I never saw him as an individual, and I certainly never understood his attraction to Jamie.
Jamie’s unusual, but that’s because immature and unlikeable characters don’t come along frequently. I don’t call characters TSTL lightly, but if you defy advice to go out alone and nearly get killed not once but twice, well, you probably would stay home the third time. And if you did, you’d be smarter than Jamie. I could have tolerated this if it had been part of some larger geek character – intelligent but perhaps lacking in social skills and common sense – but I was so disappointed to find that Jamie’s not much of a geek, either. She plays video games. That’s really it. The author even goes out of her way to assure us that when Jamie studied calculus, she “thought nothing could be more boring,” and the “strange combo of letters and numbers… made absolutely zero sense to her.” So never fear. Jamie may be a geek, but she’s not like that. (This is on the same page on which Jamie criticizes the “backwards, sexist historical crap” of 1816 England).
The author tries to distinguish between her third-person narrators by using different vocabulary for Jamie and Micah. The voices matched the characters, but not in a good way. Stereotypical, forgettable Micah uses stereotypical, forgettable words like “insupportable,” “ablutions,” or “morn.” Jamie, perhaps in an attempt to show how “modern” she is, swears constantly. I don’t think there’s a stretch in the book when she goes five pages without swearing. Not that profanity doesn’t have a place, but like all words, it has to be used for effect. Jamie’s is indiscriminate. She uses the same word for discovering that she has time-traveled, for discovering that the past doesn’t use dress sizes, and for realizing that horses are large. She just comes across as crude and lacking in vocabulary.
History in Geek Girl is mostly the blurry, generic remnants of the sixty years since Georgette Heyer (Aubusson carpets, Hessian boots, Hyde Park, scandalous ankles, etc.) with some slightly more detailed daily life experiences like chamber pots and stays. Unfortunately, sometimes this is wrong: the stays which crush Jamie’s midsection (causing her to plot murder, which seems excessive, and swear, which is typical) are not consistent with an 1816 setting.
The sad thing is how much potential this book had. I had hoped to see a technological, modern woman grappling with a pre-industrial world. Would a dedicated gamer experience withdrawal? Would she invent real-world steampunk? Sadly, no. If you ignored the first 25 pages, you could have pretended that Jamie came from an incredibly vulgar 1816 United States.
For me, the distinction between a C and a D is that a C-range book has little going for it, but a D-range book actively annoys me. Read the Amazon excerpt, and if Jamie’s character and voice don’t drive you crazy, this book might be a C for you. If, like me, you imagine slack-jawed gum-snapping with every sentence, you’ll want to give Geek Girl a miss.