Book Talk: The Trouble with Grace

Posted October 24, 2017 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in Books, Other People's Creations / 0 Comments

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Book Talk: The Trouble with GraceThe Trouble with Grace by Jenn LeBlanc
Series: Lords of Time #4
Pages: 264

She had no idea what passion was,
Until she saw them...

Lady Alain needs a husband, and Quintin Wyntor will do just fine.
She plans to offer him a mutual agreement of respect and independence, something any bachelor in England would be happy for.

But she didn't know his mistress would be a mister.

When she sees them together something is stirred.
Desire is ignited.
But she still doesn't want to be touched.
Celeste knows that Quinn was meant for Calder, but she can't deny the way she feels.

When Calder leaves the country, Quinn is devastated.
He decides to explore his feelings for Celeste to ease his broken heart but in one unchecked moment of passion, mutual need spins out of control and marriage is the only way to protect her.

This book is the story of Celeste and has her happily for now.
It is also the beginning of Calder and Quinn's story which is continued in THE SPARE AND THE HEIR.

This book. This. Book. Okay, so The Trouble with Grace came onto my radar somewhere around mid-September as being a historical romance featuring an ace-spec (autochrissexual and/or gray ace, to be specific) character. This piqued… the attention of pretty much everyone I know because I can count the number of historical fiction books (never mind historical romance) with explicitly ace-coded protagonists on one hand. It’s basically this book and that’s it. But I see people asking about historical ace fiction reasonably frequently and… Yeah. So this was high on the wishlist. Then a friend read it and… hated it. To pieces.

And I was… unsure. So I picked up the sample and figured I would make up my own mind. If the sample hadn’t ended when it did, I don’t think I would have managed to read much further before tossing the book onto my DNF pile. I cannot, in good conscience, recommend this book on any level. Not based on what I read, anyway. The Trouble with Grace is, hands-down, the worst story I’ve (attempted to) read this year. But not so much because of the actual depiction of Celeste’s asexuality.

I would love to tell you something about the romance plot between Celeste and Quin(n)tin and how Celeste’s asexuality affects it, but I actually don’t know the first thing about their romance plot because the vast majority of the sample is actually about a third character, Calder, and his attempts to deal with a human trafficking ring as well as his jealousy at seeing Celeste dance with Quinn, whom he’s lusting after rather powerfully.

The plot with Calder is confusing and the character introductions all assume you already know who these characters are. Which is sort of fair enough since it’s a continuation of a series, but as a prequel to the next book in said series I would kind of expect it to stand on its own and serve as an introduction for new readers as well as a reminder for old readers. It’s this… weird thing where it’s billed as both the next book in a series and a prequel to the next book in the series, so it occupies this space where it’s both and neither something that should work as a standalone. Anyway, the whole plot of this sample is about a human trafficking ring and it is the most misogynistic thing I have read in ages. If not, like, ever. (Seriously, the only nice thing Calder is able to say about women in this whole sample is that Celeste is smart. But also he spends ten times as long describing how much he hates her and explicitly mentions he would like to CRUSH HER LIKE A BUG at one point, so. You know.)

Celeste only shows up in a speaking role 79% or so into the sample and, before that, only appears like once to let us feel Calder’s jealousy and pining for Quinn. Can I remind you all that this book is supposed to be about Celeste and her HFN and yet she barely shows up in the sample of the book that’s about her? And, yes, sure, plot and all that, but look at that blurb. WHAT PART OF THAT BLURB TELLS ME TO EXPECT A PLOT ABOUT STOPPING A HUMAN TRAFFICKING RING THAT CENTRES ON CALDER?!

I was promised a romance between Celeste and Quinn. I was promised a book that focuses on Celeste, with a minor side-tour into Quinn/Calder as set-up for the next book. But the way the sample reads strongly suggests that Celeste is going to be sidelined by Calder’s needs and narrative in her own story. I wouldn’t be half as annoyed at what I read if I’d been told to expect Calder taking up so much of the spotlight.

Okay, no. I lie. I would still be as annoyed because it wouldn’t address any of the other problems. It’d just have adjusted my expectations on the narrative focus.

ANYWAY! The ace rep in this sample is… not terrible? I hate the “introduction” with a passion because it’s absolutely useless and for all that it talks about not wanting to participate in erasure of any kind it certainly manages not to mention that Quinn is bisexual, but other than that introduction the actual depiction of Celeste’s asexuality, when it shows up, is not terrible. I don’t think the snippets we get really mesh together either, though. It read more like Celeste’s ace identity depended on what the plot needed in that moment, which is a shame. I am told that the overall issue with the representation isn’t so much the explicit description of Celeste’s asexuality, but the plot surrounding the romance is… Well, amisic. You know what with Celeste’s happiness depending on a sexual awakening and sending her husband away to be with his One True Love and yeah.

I liked that Celeste seems very clear on what she wants and pretty happy with who she is, that tiny bit that I got to see of her. But we get to see so little of her and she gets to deal with internalised racism (not so much from anyone else, though, just from Celeste and her memories of her family) and internalised amisia. Oh, yes, there’s amisia for all she seem surface-happy with herself. See, without a romance or a sexual attraction to anyone, Celeste is just so empty and her entire happiness, we know from the intro, depends on her having a sexual awakening that will presumably make her feel not-empty anymore.

And apparently this is a time-travel story too, but you know? You’d never know from the sample if reviews didn’t tell you this. Which means that when Celeste off and starts swearing in modern terms in a Victorian setting the reader (at least one who started with this prequel?) has no idea why and it’s breaking the immersion in a story that’s already thin on details. This is something that could work fantastically to illustrate Celeste’s difference in mindset (and it would almost make up for the fact that over half this sample deals with Calder’s personal affairs) and do fascinating things with it. BUT IT DOESN’T. It just does a vague thing about non-existent mental illnesses at the beginning that makes no sense on its own and, thus, doesn’t work for me as a hook and, frankly, as a mentally ill reader I found it hurtful to see mental health get so dismissed to nothing more than a nebulous ineffective plot hook.

It’s just… This doesn’t read like it’s Celeste’s book. Celeste reads like she’s just an obstacle between Calder and Quinn’s lust-affaire romance thing and her asexuality reads more like it’s a handy way to un-obstacle her further down the road than a genuine part of her romance and her story.

Anyway. I read the sample. I didn’t think the ace rep I saw in the sample was terrible and if the plot set-up didn’t sound amisic in its very nature and I felt like the book was actually going to treat Celeste like a main character instead of an accessory to her own story, I might be persuaded to read the whole book and see if there are aspects of the ace rep I’d recommend to people. But as it stands, I cannot recommend this with a good conscience. I don’t often hate what I read.

I hated this. Passionately. I’m sorry. I wish I had some historical (romance) fiction with aces to recommend that work better than this book did. I’m afraid all I’ve got for you is Samual Richardson’s Clarissa, which isn’t explicit or deliberate ace rep, isn’t Victorian, includes on page rape (albeit very vaguely described because 1784), sees the heroine die at the end, and is basically more of a morality tale and I actually wouldn’t recommend it for ace rep at all, but this is all I’ve got as an alternative, okay? T_T Like. I dunno. Maybe you could read a Georgette Heyer romance and headcanon some of the characters as ace? I could headcanon Cotillion with aces. Oh! No! If you’re okay with really low fantasy and alt!Europe, you can read Heather Rose Jones’ The Mystic Marriage, featuring a demisexual lead. But that‘s all I’ve got. T_T

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