And our parody of the day is of...
by Madeleine Brent
Here’s something kind of cool about Gothics: they were seen as written by and for the girls so much that dudes used female pseudonyms to write them. In every other genre except romance, it’s the other way around.
But Peter O’Donnell had to pretend to be Madeleine Brent.
He chose those initials because he was also the creator of a comic strip about an awesome lady adventurer, rich from a life of crime, performing occasional good deeds for the British secret service. She went by the fetching name of Modesty Blaise.
I’ve read more than one Madeleine Brent—the first I read was Moonraker’s Bride, in which the heroine Lucy is raised in China. She’s not Chinese though: the girl who holds off attackers and protects the orphaned children with Lucy is, and I wished she got to be a heroine too. It reminded me of Victoria Holt’s House of A Thousand Lanterns, also partly set in China but with the stars all not Chinese.
But in Merlin’s Keep the heroine Jani is raised in Tibet, and she is biracial: her mother was Indian. She’s not at home in her Tibetan village, but in the English village of Larkfield where she ends up after Various Adventures, people are suspicious of her as well. She’s in a slightly uncomfortable position wherever she goes… but everywhere she goes she also finds people who are worth her time. And Jani being extremely well travelled, independent and speaking many languages means she’s able to deal pretty awesomely with the Gothic mystery when it shows up.
JANI: Maybe we’d fit into Namkhara better if you’d learn the language, Dad... I presume you’re my father since you’re an English soldier who raised me in the Himalayas.
SEMBUR: Nope, no learning heathen tongues for me!
JANI: Omigod Dad you are so embarrassing.
SEMBUR: By the way I’m not your biological father, your origins are mysterious!
JANI: Wait, what?
SEMBUR: Shh, honey. Good talk.
JANI: Care to tell me why you have a secret cache of jewels while we labor in our tiny Himalayan village?
SEMBUR: Sweetie, it’s called a Gothic MYSTERY, not a Gothic I-Was-Raised-Fully-Informed-Of-My-Herita
JANI: Uh, the Oracle says a demon is coming to kill you?
SEMBUR: Oh, probably not a demon. Probably just my enemies who think I am responsible for a terrible crime.
JANI: What enemies? WHAT CRIME?
SEMBUR: No time to explain, gotta pack!
JANI: Please tell me about my mysterious origins!
SEMBUR: I will tell you one thing and one thing only. Your mother was a stone cold fox.
MYSTERIOUS HOT DUDE: Hey have you seen an English soldier anywhere around?
JANI: Uh, I think he went that way?
MYSTERIOUS HOT DUDE: Which way?
JANI: In the direction of far.
JANI: Quickly, adopted dad, let us flee!
SEMBUR: I wanted better things for you than escaping across the Himalayas in a blizzard. Could things get any worse?
JANI: Oh look, there’s a very ironic bear.
SEMBUR: Also, I’m having a heart attack.
MYSTERIOUS HOT DUDE: Due to the fact you are now hiding out in a cave with the escaped criminal I was chasing, I believe you were less than honest with me earlier.
JANI: I am a fibber it’s true!
MYSTERIOUS HOT DUDE: So Sembur, do you confess to stabbing the Maharani and her husband to death with a bayonet?
SEMBUR: Yep, I totally did it.
MYSTERIOUS HOT DUDE: … I hate these people.
SEMBUR: It is my dying wish that you look after Jani!
MYSTERIOUS HOT DUDE: Wait, your what wish?
MYSTERIOUS HOT DUDE: Oh, spit.
MYSTERIOUS HOT DUDE: Well, I’ve just had to bury your father and nurse you through diphtheria, so I think we should all have a nice rest…
JANI: Time to go snow’s coming down just tie me to a horse!
JANI: For heaven’s sake let me bargain for lodgings you are useless!
JANI: Also I can tame snow leopards.
MYSTERIOUS HOT DUDE: How old are you?
MYSTERIOUS HOT DUDE: … Good Lord.
HOLY MAN: I see your future. There will be a Gothic damsel in distress in red, and a Silvery Gothic Villain.
JANI: Can’t wait for the manor.
NUN: Hi Jani, welcome to a hospital. Turns out diphtheria and cross country travel are two tastes that taste lethal together!
JANI: Holy wow I’ve never seen a blonde before.
NUN: … Glad to broaden your experience.
JANI: Where did the Mysterious Hot Dude go?
NUN: The young captain was shipped off, but he left you with a medallion inscribed with a Hindi message that I believe reads ‘Back When You’re Legal.’
ENGLISH ORPHANAGE: Gross, Jane, you’re half Indian.
JANI: My name’s not Jane. Oh, is that the time?
ENGLISH ORPHANAGE: Is what the time?
JANI: Seems to me like it’s kicking the orphanage bully around the yard and then ruling this place o’clock.
ENGLISH FARM: Welcome to service, Jane.
ENGLISH FARMER: Welcome to my busy hands, Jane.
JANI: My name’s still Jani and I think it’s ‘run away, sleeping in ditches, across the English countryside to find work where I’m not getting bad-touched,’ o’clock.
ENGLISH FARMER’S WIFE: Godspeed, I packed you a sandwich!
ENGLISH SCHOLAR: Dear child pray do not approach me as I am currently being threatened by a dread serpent!
JANI: Jani grabbing a snake and throwing it into a ditch powers activate!
ENGLISH SCHOLAR: What a remarkable young lady you are. Could you take me home? I fear I have the vapours.
JANI: Hey, nice Gothic manor you live in, sir.
ENGLISH SCHOLAR: It’s called Merlin’s Keep. You may know the name from the cover of this novel. I’m sure no sinister mystery will ever arise here!
LADY IN RED: I am the English scholar’s daughter Eleanor and in no way part of any Gothic Mystery Prophecy!
ENGLISH SCHOLAR: Call me Mr Lambert, child. Housekeeper, please fetch this child a snack, and also let us adopt her as a daughter of the house!
ELEANOR: Well, we could always use someone to save Dad from snakes and also act as my secretary.
JANI: Okay, but there’s this issue you might have heard of called racism which might have an effect on how this adoption is viewed by your small English village?
MAJOR IDIOTFACE: A child of mixed blood!!!!
ELEANOR: I don’t think we give a fig about any such ridiculous thing?
MR LAMBERT: And not a single fig was given that day.
MAJOR IDIOTFACE: I’ll just go then.
JANI: Now that I am eighteen, accepted in my small English society and totally legal for any Hot Mysterious Dudes from my past, I’m sure my life will be uneventful!
ELEANOR: I am sure the most excitement we will ever see is me completing my fascinating book on wildflowers!
MR LAMBERT: ‘Sembur’ is probably a babytalk word for ‘RSM (Regimental Sergeant Major) Burr. Weird super-official way to refer to your father…
JANI: Yeah, he wasn’t my father, and he was hiding some dark secrets and also some jewels? But I’m sure that mystery will never come back to haunt us.
MR LAMBERT: *dies*
ELEANOR: Jani, I’m going to go on a botany holiday to be alone with my grief, okay?
JANI: Well, I don’t see how someone going off alone feeling all emotionally vulnerable can go wrong…
KINDLY VETERINARIAN: You seemed weirdly unhappy when we were putting in a cow’s womb together, Jani! I can’t understand why, because I know cow wombs are your favourite thing.
JANI: Don’t worry, to me the womb of a cow is still a barrel of laughs. It’s just that Eleanor’s letters keep mentioning a strange Englishman at a hotel with her, and maybe him hypnotizing her to throw herself in the Corinth Canal?
JANI: … I was kind of hoping for postcards that said ‘Wish you were here.’
JANI: Oh look a hidden letter from my dead adoptive father!
SEMBUR: Dear Jani, I bet you’ve been wondering about your mysterious origins! So here’s the thing: your mother was an Indian princess, and your father was a colonel in the English army. Your father controlled the army for your mother while she ruled the land! All was pretty awesome until your wicked uncle poisoned them both and your mother lost her mind with pain. Your father begged me to kill them both and protect you, so I did it, took your mother’s jewels and ran with you. You are the rightful ruler of Jahanpur and I think I have PTSD. Lots of love, your adoptive father.
JANI: … All the letters I get these days are very upsetting.
JANI: So, kindly vet and Major Idiotface, could we clear my adoptive father’s name? And could we make it quick because I think I need to go to Greece and rescue Eleanor from a Gothic villain?
MAJOR IDIOTFACE: All hail the Indian princess!
JANI: … Oh lord, here we go.
MAJOR IDIOTFACE: Let me go clear Sembur’s name immediately, Your Highness.
JANI: Well, I guess you do have your uses after all.
JANI: Oh another letter from Eleanor.
ELEANOR: Dear Jani, I have married a Gothic villain with the power of hypnosis called Vernon Quayle. Soon we will come back to the Gothic manor where, in keeping with tradition, I believe my new husband will shortly murder me. Can’t wait to see you, make sure the beds are made! Love Eleanor.
JANI: … I think I’m going to just stop opening letters in the future.
ELEANOR: Jani I love you and I am terribly frightened and everything is all fuzzy and-
QUAYLE: Please excuse my wife, you know how women are. Evil hypnosis disagrees with them.
JANI: Ah, you’re wearing all silver, just like in the Gothic Mystery Prophecy!
QUAYLE: Beg pardon?
JANI: Um… your silver suit of evil is very dapper.
QUAYLE: Thank you, it’s evil designer.
ELEANOR: Never leave me, Jani!
JANI: Holy God what is going on.
QUAYLE: Nothing’s going on, right, Eleanor?
ELEANOR: Nothing. Is. Going. On.
QUAYLE: Can I have this room in the Gothic manor for my study of evil alchemy?
ELEANOR: Let’s. Go. To. Evil. Ikea. And. Fix. It. Up. Real. Nice.
QUAYLE: Awesome. What else?
ELEANOR: Should. I. Cluck. Like. A. Chicken?
JANI: I’m no doctor, but my diagnosis is ‘super hypnotized.’
JANI: Help it’s awful Eleanor is super submissive to her husband and has given up her writing!
ENGLISH VILLAGE: When you said ‘awful’ you probably meant to say ‘awesome,’ right?
JANI: … I am in perfect command of the English language. Also I can do hand gestures, see?
ENGLISH VILLAGE: Rude.
QUAYLE: Did you learn any evil spells in Tibet, Jani dear?
QUAYLE: Look into my eyyyyyyy-
QUAYLE: You’re fired from this house.
JANI: I’m not actually a servant.
ELEANOR: You. Are. Fired. From. Our. Lives.
JANI: I still love you hypnotized Eleanor and I’m going to save you!
QUAYLE: I had my evil manservant pack your bags. Please depart Merlin’s Keep, which is now populated entirely by the evil and hypnotized!
JANI: So now I’m living in a cottage, Eleanor is in the grip of evil and… even worse… another letter has arrived!
MYSTERIOUS HOT DUDE’S PARENTS: Dear Jani, We were wondering if you could visit us in London and you inform us of the whereabouts of our estranged son, mysterious hot captain Adam Gascoyne. Love, Mysterious Hot Future Inlaws.
JANI: I’m afraid I haven’t seen him since I was twelve. And that was a while ago, because as you can see, I am now totally, totally legal.
MYSTERIOUS HOT DUDE’S PARENTS: But he gave you his magic medallion! Surely you must have some information!
JANI: Well, I do know an evil magician who might help me track him down. I mean, up side: magic, down side: evil.
QUAYLE: I’d be delighted to help you, for my own reasons.
JANI: What reasons?
QUAYLE: Evil, unspecific reasons. Eleanor, my sweet wife, let me hypnotize you into giving us all the answers.
ELEANOR: Ten-four, evil master! The mysterious hot dude you seek is near Tower Bridge.
JANI: So which Tube stop should I take?
QUAYLE: Evil magic store is CLOSED FOR THE DAY, missy.
JANI: It seems Mysterious Hot Dude is living in a filthy thieves’ den in the East End becoming an alcoholic! Well, time to rescue him.
ADAM, FORMERLY KNOWN AS MYSTERIOUS HOT DUDE: Who’s that? Molly? Jimmy? Cutthroat Clive?
JANI: … Also he’s blind. Dammit, Edward Crazypants Rochester, you have a lot to answer for when it comes to Gothic heroes.
JANI: HUG TIME!
ADAM: Uh, I do not wish to be uncouth, but, uh, you sure do feel legal.
JANI: So I’m an Indian princess and my only friend is a Gothic maiden trapped in a manor by a villain with the cute pet name of ‘Eater of Souls.’ And how have you been?
ADAM: Uh, I think you need to stay away from people called ‘Eater of Souls.’
JANI: Nope, I’ll be rescuing Eleanor right after I rescue you.
ADAM: Rescue me? But my life here as a blind alcoholic in a filthy thieves’ den is awesome!
ADAM: … Yeah, I’ll get my things.
ADAM: Did I mention I totally have an Irish mistress? You know how the Irish are. Saucy minxes.
IRISH MISTRESS: I’ll be exiting stage left but let me assure you, Adam’s still got it!
JANI: … I MUST HAVE HIM.
JANI: So let’s reunite you with your parents.
JANI: Also I’m going to bargain with your Chinese employer so you get better paid for ivory carving.
JANE: Also control a wild horse so you are safe.
ADAM: … Girl you are a hurricane.
JANI: Does that mean you like me? Check yes or no.
ADAM: I need this note in Braille.
ADAM’S FATHER SIR CHARLES MYSTERIOUSHOTDUDE: Jani, you are now a recognized princess and here is an enormous pile of gold from the British government who are hoping you will not go back and reclaim your crown.
JANI: I wasn’t planning on going back to reclaim my… Understood. Thank you for my enormous pile of gold!
ADAM’S MOTHER LADY MYSTERIOUSHOTDUDE: Jani, I hope you marry my son. And not just because you have an enormous pile of gold.
JANI: I would enjoy that because honestly I would like to rock him like a hurricane, but I’m not sure he like-likes me, plus I have a maiden to save from a Gothic manor.
ADAM’S MOTHER LADY MYSTERIOUSHOTDUDE: Augh, stupid Gothic responsibilities getting in the way of my matchmaking!
ADAM: Jani bores me.
JANI: I am going back home to buy a farm and rescue Eleanor.
ADAM’S PARENTS THE MYSTERIOUSHOTDUDES: Curse Gothic situations and stubbornly cruel but attractive Gothic sons getting in the way of our matchmaking!
KINDLY VET: Maybe we should get married, Jani. Married on the rebound!
JANI: I think we both still have complicated feelings for other people.
KINDLY VET: So last night I went to the Gothic manor and saw Eleanor naked in the garden-
JANI: Okay that sounds like a sexy dream!
KINDLY VET: And Gothic Villain Quayle was there pointing a wand at her and I tried to shoot him and instead due to his dark magic shot myself.
JANI: … Okay, that’s not sexy at all.
JANI: Oh no something even worse has happened!
KINDLY VET: WORSE THAN ME BEING SHOT BY AN EVIL MAGICIAN?
JANI: Definitely worse than that. I’ve received another letter.
KINDLY VET: …
JANI: NO GOOD COMES OF LETTERS!
QUAYLE: Dear Jani, please come to the Gothic manor to assist with an evil magic ceremony. Love, Your Gothic Villain.
JANI: What’s up, you lovebirds? Still respectively evil and hypnotized?
QUAYLE: You bet!
ELEANOR: You. Bet.
JANI: Mostly it’s a relief Eleanor’s dressed. So what spells are we doing today?
QUAYLE: We’re doing a spell to restore Adam’s sight.
JANI: I have to say, so far all your evil spells are really helpful as regards my love life. Evil magicians, better than match.com
ADAM: JANI I CAN SEE! And you are super hot! And you were super hot when you were twelve!
JANI: … Okay, rein it in, Adam, I know you’re excited but it’s getting creepy. And I thought you said I was boring!
ADAM: I only insulted you for your own good so you would marry the kindly vet and leave me to die alone in despair!
JANI: Gothic heroes are such idiots.
JANI: Oh well. Kiss me, you Gothic fool.
KINDLY VET: Someone should stop Jani from going to the Gothic manor!
JANI: Hahahahaha. ‘Someone should stop me.’ You’re hilarious, kindly vet.
ADAM: Hi Jani and I are here to bargain for Eleanor’s freedom? Also we couldn’t help noticing you killed your last three wives.
QUAYLE: Killed is such a harsh word! … But accurate, obviously, yeah.
JANI: WHY IMMA RIP YOUR FACE OFF AND-
ADAM: Easy, honey bear. So, Eleanor’s freedom?
QUAYLE: Well you two crazy kids, basically I want you to combine forces to steal a magic jewel from a Tibetan temple. And then I will free Eleanor.
JANI: Okay, to Tibet! But first, kindly vet, you kidnap Eleanor.
KINDLY VET: …
JANI: And you, Adam! I like it and Imma put a ring on it. I’m going to rock that boat to Tibet with you every night!
ADAM: I’ve found it’s best to let her have her way.
JANI AND ADAM: Cool, we stole your magic jewel. I’m sure you’ll honorably keep your terms of the agreement!
QUAYLE: Kill them both, minions!
JANI AND ADAM: This is terrible news.
QUAYLE: Please consult the dictionary definition of ‘Evil.’ Then consult the dictionary definition of ‘Duh.’
JANI: You jerk, I’m stealing back the magic jewel and riding like the wind!
ADAM: I’m being swallowed up by a magic avalanche!
JANI: Oh, my poor sweet Adam. He never was as good at adventuring as me. Well, time to hide from Quayle in the cave where my adoptive father died and Adam nursed me back to health… oh, hey, Adam!
ADAM: That magic avalanche was just a hallucination you had because the magic jewel is in an evil jewelry box.
JANI: Oh my God, who curses jewelry boxes? Who does that? I am so sick of that evil magician guy!
ADAM: Now the danger’s over, let me and these handy British soldiers dig up your dead adoptive father so we can re-bury him with military honors elsewhere! You just stay here unprotected on this lonely mountain while the villain wanders loose, there’s no way that can go wrong!
QUAYLE: Hi Jani. I kill you now?
JANI: My sweet Adam. So pretty. Not so bright.
JANI: Super Jani asking for help from snow leopards powers activate!
SNOW LEOPARD EX MACHINA!
ADAM: Jani, my darling! Thank heavens Quayle was unexpectedly and very luckily bitten in half by a snow leopard.
JANI: Yep, just one of those lucky snow leopard twists of fate.
ADAM: Oh look, darling, another letter!
JANI: Oh no, I’ve had enough!
LETTER: Dear Jani, Eleanor is feeling much better now she is no longer under evil hypnosis. She and the Kindly Vet are getting married. Also, you have inherited your mother’s big pile of jewelry. Maybe you can keep it with your enormous pile of gold? Love, England.
JANI: Maybe all letters aren’t so bad.
The book wasn’t perfect by any means: Adam got literally magically healed and India was painted as a strange and sinister land in many ways. But Jani was a very cool heroine, and a step forward for the modern Gothic heroine.
While Jani has moments of being Threatened by the Evil Magician, she really isn’t the one in danger, and it isn’t a case of Jani protecting children either: Eleanor is older than Jani is. Yet Eleanor is the one in the Gothic maiden position: someone definitely is trying to kill her, and it definitely is her husband.
I really liked seeing the heroine of a Gothic novel as not necessarily the vulnerable one, and I played with the idea of another character trapped in the Gothic manor in Unspoken. (Today I link to the UK edition in honour of my newly released UK cover!) The US and UK editions of Unspoken are out September 11, which as of tomorrow will be in A MONTH!
I am as excited as Jani seeing a snow leopard approach to eat her enemies.