When it was good …
Like the old nursery rhyme, when Born of Persuasion was good, it was very very good. But when it was bad, it was horrid.
Julia Elliston is seventeen, recently orphaned, and about to be sent to Scotland against her will to become a lady’s companion. In order to escape this fate dictated by her unknown guardian, she goes to visit her old friends in Am Meer, in the hopes of reconnecting with Edward, son of Lord Auburn, to whom she is secretly engaged. But Julia is the daughter of England’s most famous atheist, and Edward is now an ordained Anglican minister. Compelled (for no known reason) to resist her guardian’s plan, she enlists the help of Lady Foxmore in finding her a husband, and they are soon en route to Bedfordshire, to the estate of Mr Chance Macy.
Born of Persuasion is written in the first person, and it took a long time before we actually found out the name of the narrator (which annoyed me) or where she is (beyond being somewhere in England). It’s clear from Julia’s personal interjections that she’s telling the story from the future, and she assumes knowledge the reader doesn’t have (such as “I scarce have need to describe Mr Forrester, as his notoriety continues to this day”. It is several more chapters before we find out why Mr Forrester is notorious). I had the continual feeling of only having part of the story, as though there was a first book I’d missed (there isn’t).
While first person isn’t unusual in gothic fiction, it is also something that annoys many readers. For me, it depends on whether I like the narrator. I found Julia to be an annoying narrator. I was never sure if she was naïve and innocent, or simply stupid (it would be useful to know if she’s writing from the near or distant future. If she’s writing only a couple of years in her own future, I’d be inclined to see her as naïve. As it is, she comes across as inconsistent, unreliable and unlikeable, so I’m more inclined to go with stupid).
Endorsements for Born of Persuasion compare Jessica Dotta to authors such as Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, Charles Dickens, Philippa Gregory and Sarah Dunant. Yes there were echoes of Austen in the unlikeable characters, except that Austen wrote characters like Mrs Bennett and Mr Collins as jokes. There were echoes of the Bronte sisters in the gothic suspense, and there were echoes Dickens in the length and the way it took a lot of words to say not very much. I’ve not read Sarah Dunant, so can’t comment except to say that based on the titles, I doubt Tyndale, the Christian publisher of Born of Persuasion, would publish Dunant's books.
And the comparison to Philippa Gregory, a novelist famous for her historical sex romps? What was Tyndale thinking? Are they going to be comparing their authors to EL James next? Because anyone who enjoyed Wideacre or The Other Boleyn Girl is going to be dreadfully disappointed at the lack of explicit sex in Born of Persuasion. I’d compare it more to the gothic romances of Mary Stewart and Victoria Holt, except that I have actually enjoyed books by those authors.
While I was relieved at the lack of explicit sex, I wasn’t impressed by the lack of Christian content. Edward, the only Christian character in the book, spends the first part of the book being totally unpleasant. He improves, but only because his character has an inexplicable personality transplant. Julia loathes the very concept of God because of the way her family was treated by the village priest.
Another problem was the moral ambiguity. I like books where the hero and heroine are good, and the villain is bad. In Born of Persuasion, I couldn’t tell. This is ambiguous to the point that I'm not convinced, even at the end, that Julia is close to the truth. I didn’t agree. This leads into the final problem: the ending. While it’s not a cliffhanger ending, it’s clear the story isn’t yet complete. This is the first book in a trilogy, so I guess it’s going to take all three books before all the questions about Julia, Edward and Macy are answered, not to mention the fate of minor characters such as Elizabeth and Henry. Will I be reading the sequel? I doubt it. And I certainly wouldn’t buy it.
Thanks to Tyndale and NetGalley for providing a free ebook for review. You can find out more about Jessica Dotta at her website.