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The unloved corner of the triangle March 19, 2009

Posted by dolorosa12 in books, reviews.
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I recently read the books that follow Diana Marcellas’ Mother Ocean, Daughter Sea. You’ll recall that I was cautiously optimistic about Marcellas’ odd take on standard romantic fantasy tropes. I was intrigued that the hero and heroine were having an affair, behind the back of the hero’s much-respected wife. I was concerned that Marcellas would try to transform Brierley and Melfallan’s illicit relationship into something more honorable.

I have a sinking feeling that Marcellas may find a way to get rid of Saray honourably and marry Melfallan and Brierley. I imagine she feels that we’re unable to empathise with a cheating-husband and other-woman hero and heroine.

Well, Marcellas didn’t do that. She took the other bad-fanfic-love-triangle-cop-out route. She made Melfallan’s wife, Saray, into an unlikeable harridan.

You see people whining about this on fanficrants all the time. Person A’s canon partner C is getting in the way of A’s steamy relationship with B. Solution: make C a whiny, vicious, thoroughly nasty individual. Why would A like such a person? The answer is, he wouldn’t. Problem solved.

This is what Marcellas did. Saray in the first book of the series was a sheltered young wife who couldn’t understand why she shared no emotional intimacy with her husband. She was not, however, a hysterical harpy. In fact, she was a calm, poised, demure ice queen in public. In private she was intelligent, compassionate and willing to give people the benefit of the doubt. Although we readers cheered Melfallan and Brierley in their affair, we felt bad about it because Saray was such a nice person.

In the second and third books, Marcellas sets about changing all that. She makes Saray paranoid, bigoted, stupid and petty. It’s a depressing and entirely unconvincing change. It’s completely unbelievable, and throws the reader out of the story instantly.

What Marcellas shows with this is that the complexity and freshness of her story was only superficial. Romantic fantasy has been stuck in a bit of a rut for years now: taciturn man meets damaged girl and together they save the world. By making her taciturn man already married, Marcellas seemed to indicate she was pushing the boundaries slightly. If she had figured out a way to resolve the love triangle without killing Saray or making her into such an unlikeable individual, she would have succeeded. As it is, however, the final two books are a most unsatisfactory conclusion to a series that started out with such promise.

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Comments»

1. Catie - March 19, 2009

Yes, that is so irritating. It’s a staple of romantic comedy- you feel like the characters should have the courage to realise they’re doing something wrong, even though we sympathise. A less black and white- the heroes are good, so the scorned wife must be bad type of thing.
Some retellings of the Arthurian saga do this. Like ‘The Once and Future King’. Funny that it’s Guinevere who is made to look bad though, in ‘Mists of Avalon’ (though for different reasons) and so on. Is it always the woman who is made to be evil?

2. dolorosa12 - March 20, 2009

Not always. The partner of the man or woman who is cheating is always the one made to look bad. If it’s a woman who’s having an affair, her husband is sexist and abusive. If it’s a man, his wife is a controlling, idiotic lunatic. It’s almost as if the writers think that the only reason people cheat on their spouses is because the spouse is inadequate in some way.

3. Catie - April 15, 2009

You’re absolutely right of course…
I was talking about this with someone who said they watched a movie where the wife is made to look inadequate because she flosses her teeth in a funny way. Annoying.

4. dolorosa12 - April 17, 2009

That’s pretty crazy, and also annoying, as you say. There are reasons why people have affairs, and there are reasons why husbands and wives fall out of love with one another, but if it’s flossing that tips things over the edge, I’d say the couple have got problems beyond their relationship…


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