As I mentioned in my last Happily-Ever-After post here, HEAs come in lots of shapes, sizes, genres, and (occasionally) paws. One of its very earliest incarnations, the gothic novel, has demonstrated a remarkable ability to adapt over the years since Horace Walpole invented the genre.
How can you tell if you are a heroine in a gothic novel?
Easy-peasy! Just look for the following elements:
- You talk funny. (“I have not yet said anything condemnatory of Mr. Rochester’s project of marrying for interest and connexions. […] All their class held these principles: I supposed, then, they had reasons for holding them such as I could not fathom. It seemed to me that, were I a gentleman like him, I would take to my bosom only such a wife as I could love; but the very obviousness of the advantages to the husband’s own happiness, offered by this plan, convinced me that there must be arguments against its general adoption of which I was quite ignorant: otherwise I felt sure all the world would act as I wished to act.“—Jane Eyre [translation: “He should marry (me) for love.”]
- Here there be monsters: the villain, preferably a monster, has scary eyes.
- “It was a discoloured face—it was a savage face. I wish I could forget the roll of the red eyes and the fearful blackened inflation of the lineaments!” (Emily Bronte’s Jane Eyre, who found it easier to compare the multi-racial Bertha to a vampire than to acknowledge her skin color)
- “…for it seemed for an instant as if the stranger had great eyes like burning flames….” (Bram Stoker’s Dracula)
- You swoon. Lots. Like Mina, in Dracula. Jane Eyre is made of tougher stuff, but she still faints when overcome by emotion or fear. Emily, in Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolfo, swoons so regularly she’s rarely vertical.
- You hang out in a creepy castle or at least a scary stately home, preferably with a mad not-so-ex wife locked up in the attic. (Jane Eyre at Thornfield, Rebecca at Manderly, etc.)
- The weather sucks. No, seriously. The wind is always blowing, clouds block the sun, and odds are it’s raining. Bonus points for thunder, lightning, and fog.
- The monster is NOT a middle-class WASP. Only really rich, really poor, preferably foreign, need apply.
Still not sure? Check out how this works in my mini-gothic below.
The Damp Moors—A Lost Brontë Novel
Guy Hero is a sympathetic and witty orphan raised by a dastardly mouth-breather stable hand. Eventually he gets a job working as a racehorse trainer for the honorable Lady Marysue of Marysue Manor. The unlikely couple rapidly succumbs to a night of unrestrained lusty passion in which Guy kisses Lady Marysue’s hand. Twice.
On the day of their wedding, an insane fingernail-biting butler escapes from the attic of Marysue Manor and starts a fire. Believing that Lady Marysue is dead, Guy flees from the church and wanders the damp moors in the rain for days, racked with pollen allergies because he forgot to bring his inhaler during his flight, until he is rescued by a modest beach chair stacker, who always has a few spare inhalers when she hits the moors.
However, although Lady Marysue is blinded by the fire, she still breathes. Without Guy she becomes unspeakably cruel and controlling. She turns to alcohol for comfort. The ghost of the butler from the attic haunts her.
Meanwhile, thinking Lady Marysue is dead, Guy accepts a marriage proposal from his savior, the beach chair stacker. However, one night he believes he can hear Lady Marysue calling, “Oh, my erstwhile blessed muse who ever guided the lost ramblings of my spirit and anchored my trembling soul, why can you not sense my tremulous essence and comfort me?” [translation for those who don’t speak fluent gothic: “Guy, haul your kiester back here now!”] and he returns to Marysue Manor.
On Guy’s return, he finds Lady Marysue drunk and sightless. Mistaking him for the ghost of the fingernail-biting butler, she attacks him with the sling-shot that belonged to the insane fingernail-biting (dead) butler, and Guy Hero dies.
As she attends to the body, Lady Marysue realizes what she has done. Driven mad with guilt, she hatches a plan to destroy the next generation by supporting far-right authoritarian political candidates with reactionary social agendas. But then she remembers that she and Guy never got around to reproducing, so she dies of consumption two weeks later.
- if Guy is an orphan and the stablehand is his wicked uncle whose evil plan is to steal Guy’s inheritance (a solid gold bridle which, face it, is pretty useless otherwise because the gold is pretty soft), if Marysue Manor is huge and reasonably spooky, and if the butler is a vampire, it’s a gothic novel.
- If the butler speaks with a southern accent and bites Lady Marysue when she’s dying in order to turn her into his eternal mate, it’s Gothic Paranormal
- If she’s into the biting and it’s consensual, and they live Happily (for)Ever After, it’s Gothic Paranormal Romance.
- If she’s into the biting, but kinda misses Guy too, so she bites him and the three of them live Happily Ever After with lots more biting and maybe some tying-up stuff…it’s Gothic Paranormal Romance Erotica and will probably make more than the rest of the genre writers put together.
Why would I care about this? I just read the latest book in Kassandra Lamb’s cozy mystery series, and was just on Chapter Two when I made a surprising discovery.
The Sound and The Furry: A Marcia Banks and Buddy Mystery (The Marcia Banks and Buddy Cozy Mysteries Book 7) by Kassandra Lamb
- Genre: Cozy mystery
- Author: Kassandra Lamb
A tropical paradise turns deadly.
Service dog trainer Marcia Banks had thought it was the perfect arrangement—stay on her client’s private Gulf-coast island and get the human phase of the training done more quickly, while enjoying a much-needed break from the chaos of house renovations back home.
This certainly wasn’t the tranquil getaway she’d envisioned, however. Two resident ghosts, a sour-puss housekeeper and bearing witness to her client’s shaky marriage are bad enough. But within days, she’s discovered even deeper and darker layers of dysfunction.
Via emails and static-filled phone calls, fiancé Will Haines convinces her to get herself and her dog Buddy out of there, but before Marcia can accomplish this, a late-season hurricane abruptly changes course and strands them on the island… with a murderer.
My Review: 5 out of 5 stars
There’s something comforting about reading the latest book in a favorite cozy mystery series. You know the sleuth, their quirky posse, favorite methods, genre tropes. I was sure I knew what to expect when I started the fabulously-titled The Sound and the Furry, book seven of Kassandra Lamb’s series, The Marcia Banks and Buddy Cozy Mysteries. But I was barely into Chapter Two when I realized: this wasn’t going to be one of those books.
You see, that’s when service dog trainer Marcia—that’s “Mar-SEE-a” and never “Mar-sha”—gets her first glimpse of the old house on the private Florida island. “Still a slight chill ran down my spine as we entered the shaded area around the house, and I gazed up at its massive facade.”
Marcia has agreed to be a guest at an island mansion while she completes the training of the newest service dog for a military veteran suffering from PTSD. It soon becomes apparent that her client Ellie is far more disabled—both physically and emotionally—than Marcia had prepared for.
From there, the tropes were checked off like a gothic novel grocery list.
- Talk funny? Well, Marcia is no Jane Eyre, but her ongoing internal dialogue/wrestling match with Ms. Snark—whose voice bears a suspicious resemblance to Marcia’s mother—is hilarious. (“You might be a redneck, Ms. Snark quipped internally, if your post office is smaller than a garden shed.”)
- Creepy castle with scary servants? Not only is the house isolated on its private island, but it comes complete with a dour housekeeper and a pair of resident ghosts.
- Terrible weather: Forget Wuthering Heights’ blizzards and storms. Marcia and her hosts are trapped on the island during a hurricane, along with a murderer and at least one suspiciously solid ghost. Ms. Snark is not pleased, and Marcia’s boyfriend Will is frantic.
- Lots of swooning? Maybe not exactly. But Marcia begins to suspect that her client suffers not only from PTSD, or from her rapidly deteriorating physical condition, but from blackouts that might have roots deep in her past.
- Monsters? Well, there is that malevolent pirate ghost…
- Villain is not from a comfortably familiar middle class? Hey, now… You’ll really have to read the book to find out!
The Florida setting is exotic and quirky, beautifully described as always. I learned more about the training and astonishing achievements of the service dogs, plus got a glimpse into an often-misunderstood but fascinating medical condition (and no, I won’t tell you what it is because it plays a pivotal plot role).
And best of all, not only is the story arc neatly wrapped up during storm, death, and terror, but commitment-averse Marcia takes a giant personal growth step that comes as a huge surprise to me. One of my favorite things about Kassandra Lamb’s series is that she’s not afraid to let her characters grow and develop. I can honestly say I loved the way The Sound and the Furry was resolved. But the five stars I give it are especially due to the wider context of the series, and to Marcia’s remarkable personal growth over the books so far.
And please come back for my next post reviewing the happy-ever-afters in Patricia Sand’s newest release!