Okay, overall the series is uneven and not nearly as fantastic and fun as her medieval, but that fifth book is just--and I say this as a Romance novel reader--there is some terrible pre-feminism in here. I don't object at all to anachronistic feminism and anti-racism. Even when it's done awkwardly or badly, I give points for good intentions or making a decent effort because even handled badly, they're trying desperately to handle it in a genre that is not really easy to pull it off in and most people don't even try to integrate it at all, much less make a sincere but awkward effort at it.
IDEK what was going on with this one, but it was really hideously awkward attempts at pre-feminism backed against invisible-to-the-author misogyny that's not used deliberately. Gellis had an earlier book where in her notes, she made reference to blaming women for the fall of women's rights in medieval europe, so haven't read that one again, but her Roselynde books are so strong in women's lives and etc that I can just ignore that one. It was weird and the few good points (noting law that made a woman stop existing when she married; that was genuinely unsettling to read, even though I was aware of it, detailing it out like that was very well done) but then it's offset with the story's supporting the idea that her wanting to not marry again or wanting freedom or etc was all about lacking trust in her husband and a mania, which fuck no.
There was a lot of mixed messaging here, is what I'm saying, and I can't give points for what she did do because the entire thing was based on HEROINE DOES NOT TRUST MEN AND WHY. And later, how she acknowledges her own foolishness, because hello, her goddamn points were valid even in--especially in--a happy marriage. I mean, that's what made it work. EVEN IF YOUR HUSBAND WAS LOVING AND RESPECTFUL, HE COULD AND DID DO THIS SHIT IN THE SPIRIT OF LOVE AND RESPECT AND THAT SHIT WAS STILL WRONG.
(Though it did have a genuinely touching, subtle moment with the hero questioning his mother and her responses were wonderfully drawn of a woman who had a perfectly happy marriage but also the small embarrassments/discomforts of the fact that as a married woman, she was owned by her husband and could own nothing herself; all belonged to her husband on his sufferance.)
I can't figure out why she bothered with the proto-feminism at all when the text itself was arguing against it or fighting it so hard. I think she made a stab at racism, but I won't swear to it because that was just weird and awkward and uncomfortable in a bad way. Your text should not argue for the purpose of proving that feminism is awesome, but with a good husband, not so much necessary.
Stick with the Roselynde series or the Royal Dynasty series, is what I'm saying.
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