Trapped at the Altar, by Jane Feather

Before I begin, a word of warning: Jane Feather's Trapped at the Altar ends on such an inexplicably abrupt note that I found myself wondering if the e-reader advance copy I was sent was somehow missing several final chapters. But after poking around a bit online, I'm assuming my copy is fine—it seems that's just the way the story ends. However, if I find out later there's secretly another 100 pages out there, I promise to go back and update this with a more fair assessment.

Trapped at the Altar is set in 1684, during the turbulent reign of Charles II. Feather's heroine is Lady Ariadne Daunt, the youngest member of a wealthy family that fell out of royal favor during England's Civil War. Determined to return to their former prominence, Ari's family decides to marry her off to her second cousin and childhood friend, Ivor Chalfont, and plan to send the half-Catholic, half-Protestant couple off to London, where they will be expected to cozy up to whichever religious group seems to be coming into power. Unfortunately, Ari is already in love with a handsome young poet named Gabriel, but Ivor is determined to make their marriage—and their family's political schemes—succeed, and intends to use all his intelligence and charisma to do it.

I had a lot of problems with this book, you guys. A lot. My notes were too incoherent (and, I must admit, profanity-laden) to organize into a coherent essay, so I finally settled for making a list:

1. At the beginning of the story, Ari is sleeping with Gabriel, because she's all “fierce” and “independent”. I suspect we're supposed to regard this as proof of her fearless, passionate nature, but really it just makes her incredibly stupid. Most wealthy young ladies in the seventeenth century didn't hang onto their virginity because they were prudes, Ms. Feather. They didn't have sex because sex had consequences—pregnancy, disease, social ruin. Ari's decision to have unprotected premarital sex with Gabriel is the 1600s equivalent of playing Russian Roulette. If you want to write stories about unmarried young women cheerfully embracing their sexuality, maybe you should choose a different time period.

2. Then there's Ivor. He's presented as a manly, non-judgmental kind of guy, who declines sex with Ari on their wedding night (he wants to wait for her period, to ensure that she isn't carrying Gabriel's baby), but gallantly offers to cut his arm and drip a little blood on their sheets, thereby keeping her lack of virginity a secret. Of course, the very next day he decides he can't resist sex any longer, and pops into the local whorehouse (in their tiny village! In front of everyone!) for a little afternoon delight, despite the fact that such behavior might make people a tad suspicious of his status as a blissful newlywed. Way to keep a potentially life-altering secret, buddy!

3. In keeping with their inexplicably modern ideas about sex, neither Ari nor Ivor speak in period-appropriate dialogue. But Feather obviously wanted to get some mileage out of her historical research, so instead she goes into disgusting detail about various unpleasant realities of seventeenth-century life: the hero doesn't even own a bathtub, there are frequent mentions of filthy outhouses, and most of the beds described in the story are crawling with fleas, ticks, and lice. (But don't worry—before the protagonists start gettin' it on, Ari's maid puts down a bunch of raw garlic and herbs. Doesn't that sound delightful? Like having sex on a plate of spaghetti.) If you're going to ignore any kind of historical reality in your characterization, Ms. Feather, did you have to tell us so much about all the chamberpots?

4. And, last but definitely not least, we have that ending. After doing a reasonably interesting job of establishing her characters in Charles's court, Feather suddenly switches her focus back to romantic angst. The novel's dénouement unfolds like this (spoilers ahead, obviously): Gabriel turns up, hoping to convince Ari to run off with him. She declines. Ivor is upset to discover that Ari hasn't told him about Gabriel's presence in London, but when Ari assures him that she only met with Gabriel to tell him their relationship was toast, he forgives her, and they fall into their (undoubtedly flea-ridden) bed together. Every other plot point—their interactions with the court, their family's schemes, their own plans—is left unresolved, presumably to lure dissatisfied readers into buying the next installment in what I'm now assuming will be an ongoing series. I hate leaving a story half-finished, so I might not have the strength of will to resist reading the sequel to this sucker, but I strongly encourage the rest of you to avoid falling into Trapped at the Altar in the first place. Please, dear readers—save yourselves.

Review based on publisher-provided copy.
Posted by: Julianka


27 Jun, 2014 04:52 AM

You should post a picture of your notes, doodles and all.

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