Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Tyburn by Jessica Cale - for those who are sick of A Christmas Carol!

Greetings, commies!
As we swing into December, there will be no shortage of references to A Christmas Carol, the kind of sugary, "uplifting" holiday staple I'm sick of. If you hate that cheesy, preachy holiday vibe as much as I do, here is a novel worth checking out. It's set in England, albeit during the Stuart era, not Victorian. Yes, it deals with social inequality, but without Dickens' ... life-affirming message. Raw, unapologetic and politically incorrect, Tyburn is a treat for every Grinch out there.
Caught between a new love and an old need for revenge, notorious harlot Sally Green fights for survival in Restoration London. A sinister nobleman, a tutor with a secret, danger around every corner, and unbridled passion … Jessica Cale is pleased to present Tyburn, Book 1 of her new historical romance series, The Southwark Saga.
My thoughts:
Jessica Cale had a very challenging task ahead of her: reinventing and reassembling common archetypes. The whore with a heart of gold has been done to death. So has the teacher/highwayman. She manages to take those stock images, shake them up and flesh them out in brilliant new light. Even though marketed as a traditional romance, "Tyburn" is a gritty, realistic, multi-level novel with distinct noir twist. Set in England during the reign of the Stuart dynasty, the novel tells the story of a French born waif who manages to maintain her sense of humor, compassion and determination to survive. She is stripped of squeamishness and prudishness but not of dignity in the higher sense. She sells her body, but she doesn't agonize over it. Influential patrons bid for exclusivity. Not all of them repulsive. Some are actually tolerable. I am thankful to the author for not painting all men who paid for prostitutes' time with the same brush, for not making them equally filthy pigs. I am also thankful that she did not throw a token orphan. It seems like no sympathetic prostitute is complete without a love child (I am looking at you, Fantine from "Les Mis"). Blessedly, there are no cute prepubescent street children lurking in the background (die, Gavroche, die!) Sally refers to herself nonchalantly as "a barren whore". Kudos to the author for portraying a sexually promiscuous heroine without judgment or melodrama. You don't find edgy content like that in most romance novels, where the heroine is expected to be chaste, or at least reluctant and contrite, if she is sexually active. Even after all her traumatic experiences, Sally manages to separate business from pleasure. Even after being raped, beaten, forced to cater to the most exotic sexual whims of her clients, she retains her ability to fall in love, proving that humanity and purity can be found in the filthiest of places. Her tender camaraderie with her fellow prostitute, a cross-dressing male who styles himself Bettie, is probably the most moving relationships in the novel. There are so many things to respect about this marvelous debut.

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