Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Review- Glory and the Clever Cat by Carol Storm

Glory and the Clever Cat
by Carol Storm
Historical/ f/f
Less than 8K words- $1.50
Ebook- Noble Romance

By Guest Reviewer- M.A.

Buy Noble Romance Publishing

Queen Catharine of Echosea will do anything to save her country. Queen Gloriana of Albion leads her people with the strength of a man. Two warrior queens, imperious and beautiful. Destiny made them rivals . . . passion made them lovers!

Glory and the Clever Cat is a good short story. If you’re looking for the elements of a novel condensed into a paltry word count, don’t bother. If you appreciate well-crafted short stories, this is a good one. Storm’s compelling prose unfolds into a precious adult bedtime fantasy, short and sweet, comforting as French hot chocolate.

For better understanding of my criteria in evaluating short stories, please read Elements of Short Stories

Noble Romance classifies “Glory and the Clever Cat” in the historical genre. A more accurate designation would be Alternate Historical. The main characters stand out to any history fan as creative reinventions of prominent figures in Tudor England, and the events portrayed in the book have no basis in historical fact.

Nicely done romance and romantica focuses upon potent sexual attraction between two queens, Gloriana of Albion and Catherine of Echosea, whose neighboring nations are at war. When Catherine’s defeated forces are reduced to hiding in freezing winter bogs and facing starvation, Catherine approaches Gloriana to talk truce.

Catherine claims to be a noblewoman and offers her services as a guide through the bogs to negotiate Cat’s surrender with the intent of leading Gloriana’s forces into an ambush. Since neither Gloriana nor any of her glittering court has ever seen Cat, her true identity remains a secret.

The two women are taken with each other instantly. Flame-haired Gloriana is vividly, deliciously androgynous. Feminine in looks and dress, masculine in manner and taste, the voluptuous queen declares her interest in Cat’s blonde ladylike delicacy. Cat is no less fascinated, but political anxieties prevent the younger queen from examining her attraction to Gloriana too closely.

The affair continues another two days on a journey through Albion. Gloriana introduces Cat to various experiences, transforms the beautiful young woman to an enchanting gamine, and puts her to work as a pageboy. As their travel and love-play progresses, Gloriana opens her heart further to Catherine, inciting Cat’s respect, admiration and empathy. The romance transitions well, albeit hastily.

“Glory and the Clever Cat” has several strong points. It contains all the proper elements characteristic of a short story. So many short epublished works read more like a novel or a novella “cut down” into a shorter work, resulting in awkward execution and inconsistency. Not the case here. The story has a beginning, a middle, and an ending, and it revolves around a specific theme. Setting and exposition are well-established without info-dumping.

The protagonist is well-drawn with believable motivations and goals. With one exception I’ll mention later, Cat’s changes in the story harmonize with the plot and Cat’s own characterization.

Gloriana, Cat’s love interest, is depicted with virtues and flaws, indomitable fearlessness and tender vulnerability. Ironically, I did not “see” Gloriana as particularly attractive, but her sex appeal and confidence radiated through the prose and I found myself interested in her even when I did not like her arrogance and egoism.

Conflict and tension cook the love story through and through, ever interesting, never predictable.

In addition to well-crafted structure the ebook boasts good, even pacing and smooth flow. This book was a true pleasure to read.

After three reads and skimming once, I didn’t find any glaring typos or editorial errors. This was my first Noble Romance purchase and has instilled confidence in me that I might expect professional quality editorial in future purchases. (Disclaimer: I make no claim the book is error-free, but if errors are present they didn’t distract from my reading enjoyment.)

With so much good about Glory and the Clever Cat, I hate addressing the bad. Most of my “issues” with the book are related to personal taste and not toward technical or structural problems that can frustrate a reader expecting a professionally written book. I want to reiterate that this is a well-written short story that should satisfy lovers of short romantic fiction.

Dialogue struck me as unnatural at times. Dialogue is a useful tool in establishing plot and moving the story forward, but if used ineffectively it can sound contrived and unconvincing.
Here’s an example:

"Thank you, great queen." The girl dropped a curtsy. "If you will but hear me, I have news that may please you. Your hated enemy, Queen Catherine, is not far away."

The clause your hated enemy is intended more to establish plot to the reader than it is for Catherine to communicate information to Gloriana. Gloriana already knows Catherine is her enemy, and Catherine knows (or should know) Gloriana knows. Their respective countries are at war. Good dialogue should not only convey information, it should make sense and sound like natural conversation.

Consider this alternative:

"Thank you, great queen." The girl dropped a curtsy. "If you will but hear me, I have news that may please you. Queen Catherine and her troops are in retreat, not far away."

I found this story a little “naked” in places. Ms. Storm doesn’t overwrite a thing. Usually “less is more,” but I felt Glory and the Clever Cat could have benefitted from a little extra fleshing out without impacting the story’s integrity or significantly expanding word count.

Some of the things I wanted to know:

1. Why were Albion and Echosea at war? Trade agreements? Boundary disputes? Succession disputes? Religious conflicts? Obligations to other allies? Broken betrothal? (Reminiscent of England’s “rough wooing” of Scotland? Imagine how intriguing if Gloriana, considered a “man at heart,” had demanded Catherine as a bride in order to assert control over Echosea and been refused?) It’s a small thing, would not have taken much time to discuss, and might have had some bearing on negotiations for peace. It is strange to me, as a lover of historical fiction, that the two queens spent several days together and barely discussed their respective politics.

2. How was it possible for Gloriana to have no idea what Catherine looked like? Although they’d never met, they were neighboring sovereigns. If the story represents Renaissance history, it was quite common for rulers to exchange portraits as a goodwill gesture. Even without a portrait, ambassadors might have relayed each queen’s looks to the other. I get that Gloriana’s ignorance of Catherine’s looks was vital to Catherine’s anonymity when they met which brings me to my next question:

3. What was the point in Catherine’s anonymous “surrender” to Gloriana? It made sense at first as part of the “ambush plot.” But afterwards it would have benefitted Catherine to identify herself and demand the treatment and respect due a royal hostage. Why would Gloriana agree to spare a nation based on her fancy for a pretty face? Successful monarchs don’t wage expensive wars on enemies and then agree to spare them because of infatuation with a politically worthless lover. On the other hand, had Queen Catherine agreed to attend Gloriana and negotiate with her, that would have made much more sense because it was productive. Gloriana would have her royal hostage as well as a lover.

Small details like that would have given the story greater depth in my opinion.

The love scenes are nicely written, but I found them a tad short and underdeveloped. Narrative conveyed powerful sexual desire and romantic interest between the two women, I would have liked to see a little more of their lovemaking. That said, I appreciate Storm’s even-paced storytelling and that the love scenes did not overwhelm the book.

SPOILER ALERT: I was “thrown out of the story” by this comment from Gloriana in one of the love scenes: “Or imagine having another chance to feel my beautiful body, rubbing me all over, holding my great big boobies in your slim white hands.” This dialogue struck me as unnatural and the language not particularly sexy. Even taking into account that “boobies” (“bubbies”) was in common usage in Renaissance English, the comment made me perceive Gloriana almost as a comic cartoon caricature of the historical figure she represents. I laughed and not in a good way.

The story’s theme is trust. Plotting remains true to the theme as various revelations indicate the value of trustworthy people, the danger of untrustworthy people, and how both can surprise you when you least expect it.

The author “flubs” at the climax, however, when Catherine lectures Gloriana about the importance of trust. Catherine herself obviously distrusted Gloriana and abused Gloriana’s trust throughout the story. This disharmony in theme and plot could have been avoided had Catherine revealed her identity to Glory (or had been identified by Glory or Glory’s troops) earlier in the tale. I liked and empathized with Cat as Glory’s hostage and willing sexual plaything up to that point. Her lecture, so out of sync with her actions and coupled with a demand for restitution to boot, made me like her less and perceive her as a hypocrite.

The book’s blurb refers to Catherine and Gloriana as “fierce warrior queens.” When trapped and in danger of their lives, however, neither queen struck me as fierce, warlike, or even willing to fight for their own lives. A lucky break saves them, not their own prowess or ingenuity as warriors. This is not particularly inappropriate for a Renaissance female monarch, but it is very inappropriate for characters dubbed “fierce warrior queens.”

The cover art is beautiful and eye-catching. It does not entirely “work” for me as a cover for a historical romance, it looks more like a paranormal or fantasy book to me. However, I think this may work in the story’s favor since it is not a period accurate historical romance. The cover caught my eye first and after skimming the blurb and excerpt, I bought the ebook expecting a fantasy story. If I’d expected a more authentic historical I would have been put off by the discrepancy.

Again, many of these caveats are based upon my personal tastes. I admit I’m a tough customer when it comes to critiquing books. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Glory and the Clever Cat. I will enjoy reading it again and should Miss Storm pen a sequel I will buy it without hesitation. I recommend the book to anyone who enjoys good, romantic short stories.

Sex rating: Damp panties. There are several love scenes in the book featuring mild explicit description; allusion to sex toys. Reads more like a “spicy” traditional romance.

Grade: B-


Cathy in AK said...

From the description and events this would have made a decent novella or novel too. The two women sound very interesting, and their conflict is something solid to hang a longer plot upon.

No matter how historically accurate "boobies" might be, it would have thrown me out of the story, chortling like a 12 year old boy.

I don't read many short stories, so I appreciate it when someone who understands the format can give an appropriate review. Well done, M.A. : )

LVLM said...

Agreed. I can only come from a reader's POV on short story as I'm not a writer or that knowledgeable about the technical aspects of it.

So it's nice to get a writerly/scholarly/readerly view of a short story.

This story does sound intriguing and I'll probably pick it up one day.

And I agree about boobies. When I read that I started laughing and couldn't stop. The DH kept looking at me, but it's hard to explain.

M.A. you're always welcome to review here if you wish. As it goes for anyone who comes here.

M. A. said...

Thanks, ladies. I'm tickled to death to have found and read "Glory and the Clever Cat" for all the reasons listed in my review.

Regarding the "boobies" comment, I do give Storm "snaps" for her effort to include authentic period terminology in her work. Normally I'm a stickler for accuracy, but I admit "boobies" didn't work for me, either. It turned a sexy moment into something comic and ridiculous.

Overall, though, I was really impressed with this story. I'd love to see more of Storm's writing.

Jill Sorenson said...

OMG. Bubbies would be okay in a historical. Boobies = never!!