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'10 Authors Insider Tips

Cooking Up A Storey
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The Master & the Muses

by Amanda McIntyre

Book Review by Lynne Connolly


The Master & the Muses

The Master & the Muses is a new addition to Harlequin Spice line. It’s an account of an artist and his affairs with three women—his muses. Two of them have a happy ending with someone else, and the third is his true love (that’s outlined in the prologue, so not a spoiler).

The character of Thomas Rodin is closely based on Dante Gabriel Rossetti, one of the five Pre Raphaelite Brotherhood members, and the time period is the same, the book covering 1858-1863. Thomas, his brother William and their colleague Edward Rhys, together with Helen, Sara and Grace form the heroes and heroines of these stories.

Two things puzzled me about name choice in this book. Although the members are fictionalised, the name of the Pre Raphaelite Brotherhood [PRB] is kept intact. Either the book is fiction, or it isn’t, and by allying his name to the PRB, Rodin is given an identity that doesn’t quite fit. There were only five original members, with a few honorary ones added later, and I kept thinking back to the real life counterparts, instead of being swept away in the story. An invented movement would, I feel, have added to the suspension of disbelief.

The other name confusion came with “Rodin” for the hero, which is a French name and also the name of one of the most important French artists of the 19th century. I’m sure I wasn’t supposed to be thinking of “The Kiss” or “The Thinker” but the constant and necessary repetition kept dragging me back.

The research for this book is patchy. While some details, like the streets and the Cremorne Gardens, and the life of Rossetti, have been well researched, other details are left wanting. The life of a milliner was one of the worst at the time, not the genteel existence that Helen’s life is described as, for instance. And the way the Royal Academy of the time worked is found wanting. The paintings in the Academy Summer Exhibition were offered for sale. That was the whole point of it, although Thomas seems to have a painting permanently on display (which wouldn’t have been accepted by the Committee anyway). It was situated in a grand building, previously an aristocratic palace, on Piccadilly, Burlington House, although McKintyre’s version is a fairly anonymous place, and described in the vaguest terms.

The girls of the PRB were most definitely not respectable by the strictures of the era and losing one’s virginity without marriage was a huge step for any girl, although the girls in this story give it up as modern women do, with a passing regret, or a decision that it was time. I found that a bit jarring.

McKintyre has researched some facts about the Victorian era and the painting of the time, but the details are interspersed with anachronisms and Americanisms. The characters speak American English, using “gotten,” “in back,” and so on as everyday speech. They wear derbys instead of bowler hats, vests instead of waistcoats (in the English version, vests are undergarments, singlets), although they do wear trousers. At one point one of the ladies wears a bustle, which, considering the book is set between 1858 and 1863, is a considerable anachronism, predating the garment by a good ten years or more. And yet there is no mention of the crinoline, the most fashionable undergarment of the time. Also, McKintyre seems to think that dresses could be pulled off over a woman’s head, even a more expensive version, which was far from the case. I would have appreciated a little reference to the eccentric dress of the PRB, which got them stared at in the street, but apart from referring to the hero’s propensity to dress in an eighteenth century style, and wear his hair long, there was little.

Anachronisms are scattered through the book. I winced every time “surreal” was used, a word that was invented in around 1930, for instance.

The first heroine, Helen, is based on Lizzie Siddal. In real life Lizzie was a laudanum addict who died of consumption. Rossetti buried her with the love poems he wrote to her, and then dug her up a few years later to get them back. Here, Helen falls for William Rodin, brother, but marries Thomas after William goes travelling to leave the road clear for his brother. I thought that was rather spineless of him. Her laudanum addiction is referred to, but left somewhat in the air. And although she works in a milliner’s shop, as Lizzie did, she speaks like a lady, instead of using Lizzie’s broad Cockney accent, and has a respectable home, to which she travels to and from every day. Anything less like the life of a milliner is hard to imagine.

We get a feel for Lizzie’s emotions, and McKintyre does a good job of explaining how she can fall for one brother, yet marry the other one. William I wasn’t too keen on, as he idolised his brother and gave way to him in what I thought was a spineless manner.

I could have let all these omissions, and the others, slip, if I’d been more deeply engaged in the stories, but while I enjoyed the read, I never became completely engrossed, because McKintyre has a tendency to tell us how people feel and behave, instead of showing us.

The sex is usually f/m, with one female masturbation scene and one slightly odd ménage (where one of the participants is supposed to have gone to India and come back in the space of three weeks, if he ever went there at all – I couldn’t work that one out). The sex is over quickly and although well written, is not of enough frequency that the book would classify as a true erotic romance.

McKintyre’s style is clean and the story of the developing artist is interesting, but I’d far rather she hadn’t named the PRB, as the comparisons between real life and fiction kept distracting me from the story at hand. I’d have liked more accurate detail, too, to really bring the history alive, and a better understanding of the language of the time. Every participant sounded refined and ‘posh,’ with a similar voice. Thank goodness there was barely any brogue or slang written phoenetically, but the way the characters spoke didn’t really indicate their upbringing or backgrounds. They all sounded the same.

And please, a British beta reader, or a British editor, to iron out the Americanisms. McKintyre tried very hard, but just as when a British author writes “American,” things slip through (“wet your whistle” doesn’t mean to have sex, it means to have a drink – that one made me laugh). I thank the powers that be every day that I have US editors for my books, and they take great efforts to make sure that my characters sound American. And I try very hard to get it right, and visit the States frequently, something McKintyre can’t do with her chosen period of Victorian England.

If you’re not as obsessed as I am with art history, the inaccuracies are unlikely to bother you and this is, when all’s said and done, a different, engaging read with a fair amount of sexual content. Her voice is distinct, and I’d definitely try another book of hers!

Lynne Connolly
May-June 2010

The Master & the Muses by Amanda McIntyre
(Spice, June 2010; ISBN-10: 0373605447)
Available at:  Amazon | Amazon UK

© 2010 Lynne Connolly. All rights reserved. Content may not be copied or used in whole or part without written permission.

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