July 31st, 2012

unmade

Gothic Heroines & Snow Leopards!

On the very last possible Tuesday of July (and I know, I'm sorry, July's Sleuth Thursday is late but it is coming in two days and is full of RESEARCH!) I present to you your Gothic Tuesday!

And our parody of the day is of...

Merlin’s Keep

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-Heritage, okay?

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!

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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.