by Emmuska Orczy
I had so many problems with the direction of this plot, but I loved the writing style. I was also very disappointed that the Scarlet Pimpernel himself is not in this book at all. He barely gets two sentences in the entire book.
Andre as a character is described in delicious detail. We see his fury against the aristocrats who have everything, while his poor mother slaves away doing odd jobs of washing and sewing to make a few pennies. Andre is constantly described as having this unquenchable rage and hatred of the aristocrats, but especially of the de Marigny family in his village.
He becomes more devious and depraved. As a teenager, he catches girls in side streets and steals a kiss from them. I think that is meant to sound romantic, but it sounds absolutely nightmarish to me. He is meant to be a lovable rogue, but I hated him so much. I’ve never been one to like the brooding bad boys, and this guy is the worst.
However, I will say that his character is extremely well-written. He is complex and emotional and a powerful character. The force of his personality dominates the entire book.
There are two early scenes where he meets Aurore de Marigny by chance, and both times he is struck by her beauty, but scowls at her to the point where she is frightened by the murderous look in his eye. Later on after their marriage, they have several tense scenes where they argue, and each time Andre goes out of his way to humiliate and emotionally torment Aurore. He is verbally abusive and threatens her several times.
The scene on the cover is when he offers her a sword to commit suicide, mocking her, knowing that as a good Catholic, she will not commit suicide, but will choose to suffer in an abusive marriage rather than take the easy way out.
The first 75% of the book establishes Andre as a really horrible person. He has a couple of good points. He loves his mother and is loyal to her, but ignores her sensible advice and gets into trouble anyway.
My whole problem with this book is the Stockholm Syndrome romance and the shoddy redemption arc that Andre supposedly goes through. It’s never explained why Aurore finally falls in love with the husband who basically kidnapped her and has tormented her, and it’s never explained how Andre came to have a change of heart and turn away from his evil deeds. He never exhibits any remorse for forcing her into a marriage she didn’t want.
The redemption arc is sloppy at best. I didn’t find it believable. Andre’s friends tell Aurore a story about how he saved some soldiers lives during the war, and how brave and loyal that was.
Hmmm…. not buying it. Everything we hear about his redemption arc is second-hand. Other people tell Aurore about Andre and how “good” he is. We don’t really see any significant change in his actual behavior, other than that he stops actively tormenting Aurore and mostly leaves her alone and is polite to her.
The romance happens way too quickly. One minute Aurore hates him and is horrified by his very presence, then she barely tolerates him because he is polite to her, and then suddenly she is madly in love with him.
Most of the first part of the book is spent establishing Aurore’s absolute terror of Andre. These feelings of dread and intense fear are described so vividly, in Aurore’s thoughts, her physical reactions, and in her dialogue. Everything about the beginning scenes scream that Aurore is disgusted and terrified by Andre, and that made me, the reader, disgusted and terrified with her. It would take a lot to diminish that level of fear and revulsion. And the story does not lead us into anything like a gradual romantic feeling developing. So disappointing.
If the author is going to establish such strong emotions of hatred in Andre and revulsion in Aurore at the beginning, a hasty romance cobbled together from bits of hearsay from other characters is NOT going to erase those first impressions.