Paul Rumsfeld, a lonely, rich, widower, seeks Evangeline’s hand in marriage. He is her first real marital prospect, as the entire village considers her damaged goods. Rumors abound about the way Evangeline and her sister Rose Red, serviced the Black Bear who resided at their hearth during one particularly hard, bitter winter. Evangeline did no such thing, but no man pays her court. She accepts Paul’s offer to marry him, while trying to ignore the vile gossip mongers’ talk in the village that Paul’s last four wives died under bizarre-and troubling-circumstances. Is Paul a Bluebeard, or is he an innocent man? Evangeline trusts her husband implicitly, but the rumors are hard to ignore.Christ, okay, in my defense, I only skimmed that long-ass summary enough to grasp the “fairytale retelling” aspect and totally missed the “erotic” part of the subtitle. There’s a reason I decided to stop reviewing porn, and while Evangeline does nothing to restore my interest in the genre, I also get the strong feeling that, despite its ALL CAPS subtitle, Evangeline doesn’t really want to be an erotica. It’s long on story and short on sexual interludes, but…well, hell, at least I can have a good wailing on the plot without being pestered by that damned “can-you-rag-on-porn-for-being-stupid” dilemma.
They marry and she travels with him to his marvelous villa on the sea. Once there, she is introduced to the household servants, including the grim and reproving Mathilda. Mathilda is a formidable opponent, and it takes all of Evangeline’s guile and resources to outmaneuver the imperious maidservant. Evangeline soon finds herself with child, and with the support of the midwife, she begins to exert her will. Out with the restricting corsets and stays! Evangeline has no desire to confine her body to the dictates of fashion. She wants her baby to be healthy and strong, and the only way to do that is to ensure her own comfort. Mathilda is horrified, but cannot bend Evangeline to her will.
At the same time, Evangeline is attempting to breach the citadel that is her husband’s broken heart. Paul honestly cannot say how it has come to pass that he is the widower of four deceased wives, each one expiring under odd and distressing circumstances. As a result, he has locked down his heart to any further intimacy. He is half-convinced that Evangeline shall also die, and it would be unbearable if he were to allow her into his heart.
Evangeline is apparently a retelling of the classic Brothers Grimm story you’ve never heard, Snow White and Rose Red. Williams took a stab at the story once before in Rose Red and Black Bear; Evangeline is a spinoff of sorts, or perhaps just an alternate telling starring a side character, I’m really not sure and honestly don’t care that much. The point is that, where the original was about two young girls who essentially adopted a talking bear for a winter that turned out to be a cursed prince and later married one of them, Evangeline is the story of two creepy young women who fucked a bear for an entire winter and then were rightfully shunned by the rest of the village.
I mean seriously, I skimmed the summary, so when it became apparent in the first few pages that Evangeline (this retelling’s Snow White) was unmarryable for some reason, I assumed it was the usual: money. Or, lack there of. But no, the reason that the boy Evangeline’s taken a fancy to (in the beginning) can’t marry her is because his father actually saw her and her sister fucking the bear, and completely understandably put his foot down. I mean, would you want your son to marry someone who did that for an entire winter? I didn’t think so. Yet Evangeline whines about it like being socially blacklisted is some totally unexpected consequence of bestiality. Are we really supposed to feel sorry for this chick’s plight?
Okay, okay, so the summary says she “did no such thing”, but seriously? In the book, she never denies it, and she even speaks to her sister later about how she wished that Black Bear could have married one of them. Maybe there’s something in the previous book that states for sure whether or not they did, but that’s not how I read it. Ew.
Anyway, moving on. Evangeline herself is a pretty inconsistently-written character. She starts out the book as almost a vixen, certainly a tease, obsessed with securing a husband because it’s her ~only means of escaping~ this “provincial life” that she alternately defends and despises. Once she catches the attention of the designated Love Interest,
For the first couple of chapters I just assumed we’d be stuck with the gold-digging type heroine, but in a bizarre reversal, the moment that Rumsfeld begins officially courting her, Evangeline turns into this scared, clingy, helpless damsel, and then stays that way for the rest of the book. No guile here; the most resourcefulness she ever shows is when she escapes from her evil maidservant by hiding like a child and running away. Not to mention that her only outward acts of rebellion come when she has the permission of another character. She stands up for herself once in the entire book, and it’s to the kid she rolls in the hay with in the beginning of the book, you know, before her personality transplant.
It’s pretty obviously situationally-dependent characterization – the author wants or needs the heroine to behave in a certain way to move the plot along or set the right mood, so she does, no matter how bizarrely inconsistent she comes off.
Ugh, and then there’s her attraction to Rumsfeld. It’s the typical irritating turned-on-by-danger bullshit you find in most “erotica” tales that don’t even try for feminine empowerment. The whole town thinks Rumsfeld is a “Bluebeard” – the male equivalent of a Black Widow – and so does Evangeline, until they’re introduced, and she sees just enough ~sadness in his eyes~ to plant a seed of doubt. A seed is all there is, though, because while she is able to use it to con herself into marrying him, she secretly gets off on the idea that he’s dangerous and could possibly kill her. But she doesn’t care, dammit, because she’ll be rich and out of this town and happy and will probably have the best goddamn sex of her life for the three whole days she survives!
The whole courting process, while supposedly taking months, is glossed over between chapters – we get absolutely no relationship development, and Evangeline feels the same way towards Paul while she’s marrying him as she did the day they met. While I understand this in the context of the book as a whole, it’s incredibly jarring. That whole transition from pre- to post-marriage is a clunky and awkward one, possibly because the entire book has to make a huge genre-switch; one minute we’re on the set of a B-budget fairytale porno movie, the next we’re in a looming, dark Gothic romance.
To be fair, the second half of Evangeline is better than the first (that’s what she said?). Most of the bad porno vibe is gone, and the love interest, much to my surprise, actually gets some development, as does his and Evangeline’s relationship. The mood is appropriately dark, and the core mystery – who has been killing off Rumsfeld’s wives and why? – has a lot of potential. But the set-up for this conflict is also incredibly misleading.
There’s a scene not long after Evangeline moves into Paul’s mansion where he gives her the key to a secret garden he designed for after his first wife died. It also happens to be where his second wife met her end, but apparently nobody finds that creepy. Anyway, he tells her that it will be her sanctuary, and one day after escaping the painfully obviously scheming maidservant Mathilde, Evangeline goes there to take a walk. In the middle of this walk, the statues literally come to life and warn her that the garden doesn’t want her, and that she better give her husband a son, or he’ll be disappointed, and she’ll be in danger. She freaks, runs away, and later mentions it in passing to her husband, who recalls his own moment of paranoia one creepy night in which he, too, might have seen statues moving.
Nothing ever comes of this. NOTHING. It doesn’t tie in to the murders, her husband is never a suspect, the gender of her baby is never any source of conflict, and no explanation is ever given for the statue’s ability to move. In fact, there are so many instances of characters musing about how eerily life-like the various statues in Paul’s house are, that I’m fairly certain it was relevant to the story in some earlier draft. I guess Williams changed her mind at some point and decided to root her resolution a little more in reality, but never went back to erase the breadcrumbs that lead towards something else. Or, in the case of the living statue scene, the bread-fucking-loaf.
When you put aside the misleading statue shit, the murderer is pretty obvious. So obvious, in fact, that I figured she might just be a red herring, or part of a larger conspiracy (a’la Rosemary’s Baby), or at least supernatural. But no, she’s just a jealous, vengeful, really, really transparently evil bitch. That’s okay, though, because the characters are all too stupid or meek to pose any real threat to her plans, even after she’s fired for – I shit you not – being too creepy. That whole firing scene actually almost worked, by the way, in terms of providing a decent motive and pathology, but the forced sexual interlude totally ruined it.
Anyway, back to stupid. Get this: Evangeline is giving birth, right – and this is just after Paul’s fired this bitter, evil chick – and he gets this ~mysterious note~ in the middle of the birth saying something about his employee needing help with livestock that have apparently caught some sort of plague.
Kind of a transparent ploy already, but it gets worse when Paul muses about why his employee didn’t mention this to him when they met the day before, and about how the guy knows that livestock plague isn’t really important enough to bother him while Evangeline is in labor. But he leaves, because he convinces himself that the guy wouldn’t have called him away if it weren’t important. Cause that…totally makes sense. “If it’s not important, then it must be important!”
So he gets to the guy’s house, right, and the guy’s servant tells him “Oh no sir, no sheep have died here, and the boss is at the local pub chasing tail.” At which point our hero becomes mildly alarmed because well, why would his employee just go off to the pub and miss their CLEARLY LEGITIMATE AND NOT A PLOY AT ALL meeting?
So he goes down to the fucking bar, and is told point-blank by his employee that he didn’t write the note. He proceeds to frown in puzzlement because clearly SOMETHING IS AMISS, at which point his employee takes pity and clues him in like: “Uh, hey, isn’t your wife at home, in labor, TOTALLY UNPROTECTED?”
*a beat* “OH SHIT YOU’RE RIGHT!” *dashes away*
*headdesk* Too stupid to live, I swear to God.
So yeah, he gets home, and guess which BITTER FORMER EMPLOYEE is menacing his wife? But it’s okay because she’s easily, anticlimactically disposed of. Cut to some unspecified amount of time later when the whole fairytale-retelling aspect comes barging back into our Gothic thriller, when Rose’s sister visits and announces that the Black Bear they fucked all winter was really a prince (how lucky) and that they’re getting married and blah, blah, blah, nobody cares about characters who haven’t been in the book at all.
The book ends with a bunch of mushy talk about how the characters saved each other, and how their daughter Myfanwhy (my VAN wee) has the worst name of all time, and they wind up having extremely boring sex on the beach where our hero’s first wife’s body washed up. How romantic.
Which brings us to the defining aspect of any erotica novel: the sex.
It’s not hot. At all. It’s written with all the enthusiasm and passion of a rock, and not even a sexy rock, more like a depressed, bored rock with a low sex drive. Like Buffy, it’s just going through the motions: thrust thrust here, tickling in there, lots of “thatches” of things and “members”, and oh, doesn’t he just have the biggest cock ever (don’t they always?), blah blah blah. It’s totally uninspired. Even the wording is awkward, I mean really, when you’re trying to be sexy, why in the hell would you refer to “pubic” anything? Yet Williams makes these weird wording choices like that over and over, and fires off some of the cheesiest lines in the history of sexual encounters.
Seriously, it seems like in every scene but the opening, the sex isn’t fun or hot, it’s just obligatory. Like, “Well, shit, this is an erotica, we’ve gotta have sex at least once every thirty pages or so, so we’ll just throw in a couple of paragraphs of thrust-thrust and move on.” What is that? This is an erotica! Take some risks, add some description, do something. NO NO WAIT, I TAKE IT BACK, ANYTHING BUT BESTIALITY.
All in all, this book is just…not for me. The Gothic thriller in there has potential, but it’s bogged down by weak characters and ultimately irrelevant plot points, cheesy writing, and worst of all for an erotica, bad sex!
This is truly my last goddamn porn book. Remind me to avoid Red Sage publishing at all costs.