Well Met, indeed, Jen DeLuca! Helping out while her sister recovers from a broken leg means that Emily does the driving, the shopping – and the volunteering, serving as a pub wench at the local Renaissance Faire run by the high school English teacher, Simon. But there’s more to this Faire than just turkey legs, and there’s more to Simon than his checklists and logistics, which Emily soon discovers. I love a promising début, and this is a solid first effort.
My biggest concern about the story is that the Simon and Emily of the first third of the book just don’t have a lot in common with the two of them later on. The good news about this inconsistency is that while the early characters and their relationship merit maybe just a B-, the second part of the novel is closer to an A. Early on, Simon is written as an isolated disciplinarian type, grumping at Emily in order to cover up his attraction to her. It’s a stock hero, and not a good fit for a teacher and leader of volunteers. Second-two-thirds Simon is a sweet romantic who dons a swashbuckling pirate persona at the Faire, but in real life is resigned to being in someone else’s shadow. Growing up, it was his brother, who started the Faire, and whose death at a young age has left Simon the guardian of this legacy. Now, it’s people like his friend, the strapping and chiseled Marcus (described, fantastically, as a Gaston) – whom Simon simply assumes Emily would choose over him. See how much more developed and sympathetic later-Simon is? Similarly, Emily is given an abandoned English degree in her backstory, but it feels contrived, so as to allow her to banter about Shakespeare with Simon. At the Faire, she is less interested in the history and performances than in the business model, and later, she makes a business plan for a friend’s book shop. This later Emily, with her shrewd head for logistics, business, and marketing, is more rounded and appealingly competent.
As the characters get going, so does the Faire, and at its peak, this story hits a whirring DIK stride. Emily clears up the Big Mis about Marcus and deftly learns to manage a bar tent. In my favorite sequence of the book, Simon enlists the entire Ren Faire to help him woo Emily. DeLuca mentions in her bio that she was a volunteer wench, which I’m sure helped her bring to life details like the groaning delight of an end-of-day shower and the rituals and traditions of the cast. However, the few specifics she gives about the more dedicated performers felt unlikely. I bought that Emily would wear a chemise with elastic in it, but would Simon really wear anachronistic leather trousers, especially in the heat of the summer? No wonder the shower felt so good…
The denouement drags slightly, as several obvious misunderstandings go unsorted and an OTT romantic gesture is forced, but on the whole, the ending is satisfying and fun. I enjoyed a knowledgeable look at a quirky contemporary setting, and I really liked the couple that Simon and Emily became. I look forward to more from Jen DeLuca!