Seperis (seperis) wrote,

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books: loretta chase, georgette heyer, the bourne effect, and the sphere of competence

It's been a week in which I have determinedly re-read my Chase romance novels, as in general I love her heroines for being really awesome. However, she also has one of my favorite type of characters, which Georgette Heyer also used, and very few people get right, which is the not-all-that-bright-but-weirdly-almost-preternaturally-competent-in-their-field-of-choice character. Heyer did it with Freddie in Cotillion; for Chase, it is Bertie Trent in two of her novels and one of her short stories, and Rupert Carsington in Mr. Impossible.

Okay, to be fair, Freddie isn't dumb, he's just not all that book smart nor really wants to be, and could be said he's simply a product of his class of wealthy aristocrat. With Freddie, though, he's like a genius at being an aristocrat and a dandy. He has very little imagination, granted, but that's like a huge strength of his, because it ends up being a weird kind of intensely practical. When arranging for a friend of his fiancee to elope, he practically took her to his sister to conceal her from her mother, got her clothing to travel in, then on the way to the rendezvous, stopped for a brush, comb, and toothbrush before the girl and her paramour could romantically flee to Paris. I mean, that's magic. In Cotillion, he is like the Secret Master of Society and wields the rules of behavior like a rapier and it's just brilliant.

Bertie Trent, however, is in fact kind of dumb, has no sense of money or budget, hero worships the worst people possible, and likely was dropped on his head as a child, but its all in a very endearing way that you feel as long as a good, strong woman sweeps him off his feet and rescues him from himself, he'll be okay. Bertie appears first in Lord of Scoundrels as utterly beyond words helplessly ridic, then shows up again in one of Chase's short stories and then again in The Last Hellion and in these last two is where you realize his secret power; it is, I kid you not, the power of friendship. Yes, he's a goddamn My Little Pony. He combines this with a truly terrifying level of Pure Unadulterated Focus On a Problem (dear God does he), Terrifying Loyalty, and a Clear Sense Of What Is Right. Single-handedly of his own accord after finding out about it, he gently convinces a dickish aristocrat to take responsibility for the girl he debauched and the child he fathered through what might be called a gift--If I Do What He Says, He Will Go Away (also used in the short story with a tactical brilliance Napoleon might envy). His secondary character status does not preclude him bumbling about being almost creepily useful in his Sphere of Competence.

I have a weakness for this like whoa, and it's got to be that Bourne Effect--competence is frighteningly hot, and Bertie can't even do math reliably, but I am totally attracted to his magical powers of Getting Shit Done.

Reading this time, I focused more on Bertie finding his true love who is highly intelligent, intensely practical, good common sense, and deeply reliable (and an heiress) and seriously became teary-eyed at the wonder of it all. I only wish she'd ridden in on a white charger to rescue him, but she doesn't seem the type to think that's at all practical, so.

Rupert Carsington in Mr. Impossible by Loretta Chase is pretty much the same type, but his major accomplishments include Being an Awesome Ruffian for Justice (not joking), beating bad people up, and kind of--and man does this sound pretentious--deconstructing the entire Wicked, Dissipated Hero cliche by following it with almost lawyer-like precision on the definition and making it kind of hilarious. I've reviewed the book under the loretta chase tag and go into more detail there, but again, not a lot of book smarts, not really interested in being so, but incredibly brilliant at Getting Shit Done in his Sphere of Competence (beating bad people up, rescuing people, organizing large boats on the Nile, being an assistant archaeologist to a brilliant scholar).

This is like the unicorn of character traits, and dammit I wish there were more of these. I mean, sure, I like heroes who are brilliant and hot and awesome, but there is just something catnippy about the ones that generally are considered bumbling or not that bright (which is true), consider themselves both (again, this is true), but get them into their Sphere of Competence and they could totally take over the world (which if they marry prudently to women who can run it, I wouldn't consider a bad thing at all). It's weirdly the reverse of the Heroine With One Man-Like Skill That Makes Her Awesome (I hate this trope), because in general the Man Like Skill is a useless or rarefied one* that has no bearing on the story or the plot, while this type it is the proof the hero is worth the effort of unlacing your corset.

I think my favorite part of these is because--in general--the heroine tends to be far more fleshed out as a character and both hero and heroine are shown to bring something to the table besides nubility/virginity (heroine) or wealth/worldliness (hero) and combine it with overly clever, snarky dialogue to explain True Love. Instead, at least in the above, they have concrete actions and conversation--actual conversation--to show why the relationship is so wonderful/good for them/completes them/is awesome. Freddie in Cotillion is actually one of the more classical romance pairings (the heroine is admittedly flighty and not entirely ethical in her actions sometimes, but is extremely good intentioned; read: emotional; Freddie is wealthy and of higher social rank), but Freddie is still requires the hero to not only work for her, but act as support/help in what she wants to do instead of making it all about him, and manages to completely show why they fall in love with each other.

*One exception I can remember: Judith McNaught had a Regency with a heroine who could play the stock market that killed me dead. The story wasn't all that great, but the heroine casually reading the papers for financial information while single-handedly making money hand over fist between social calls was brilliant. Of course, once she got married, it was set aside, which seriously, what the ever loving fuck.

Books Mentioned

Cotillion by Georgette Heyer - Amazon, $2.99

Lord of Scoundrels by Loretta Chase - Amazon - $7.99

The Last Hellion by Loretta Chase - Amazon - $6.99

Captives of the Night by Loretta Chase - Amazon - $3.99

Mr. Impossible by Loretta Chase - Amazon - $7.99


My sister is in an Illuminati fever which admittedly is both hilarious and frightening. If anyone has any recs--I can't believe I'm writing that--I'd love some to give her. She spent an unsettling amount of time on youtube recently charting the influence of the Illuminati in music videos and consumer products, and while yes, I know this could end with me having a relative as an actual conspiracy theorist, I don't see this as necessarily a disadvantage. The conversations, at least, are fascinating.

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Tags: books, books: georgette heyer, books: loretta chase, crosspost
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