Every once in awhile, I don’t connect with a book on its surface. I can see the merit, and I know the story will be wonderful for someone else, just not for me.
However, if I take a moment to look at the story in a deeper context, it resonates something powerful. The work becomes more than the sum of its words. So it is with Inherited, by Freedom Matthews.
To be fair, romance isn’t my go-to genre. Actually, I never read pure romance, and I’m far too cynical to believe in the “true love at first glance” trope. Picking up the novel, I hoped to connect as an author and learn about the mechanics of storytelling in a genre that grossed $1.8 billion just three years ago.
Overall, the story is very well written. Matthews has wonderful command of language, and her voice captivates the audience. In exposition, the protagonists go through violent emotional swings. These emotions add tension to the scene, which can be difficult to build in a romance. Unfortunately, the wide variety of emotions conveyed feels less than genuine and keeps the reader from connecting to the characters fully. This is a minor consideration and doesn’t detract from the overall feel of the prose.
Matthews shines in action scenes. Her seamless merging of character thinking, subtle reaction, and action draws the reader into the story. Whether dancing or fighting, the author pulls the reader to the scene’s conclusion.
The curse plot parallels the romance plot of protagonists Lenny and Nathaniel. Readers can expect to live (or, as in my case, relive) the emotional rollercoaster of high school romance as Lenny avoids her own feelings of lust for her new crewmate. The curse of the sailors aboard the Wilted Rose explains their juvenile behavior, while providing commentary on modern coupling. The early push-pull dynamic reminds readers that we’re all crazy when hormones get involved.
As the story moves forward, a more mature, “let’s get this mission done,” posture replaces the emotional rollercoaster. As the story develops, the characters acknowledge their personal feelings and set them aside for future use. When the curse is lifted, requited love replaces hormonal drive as the characters exchange their true feelings.
Likewise, the couple’s climax parallels the curse plot’s climax. A surprising plot twist provides an unconventional ending after leading readers through what felt like a tropish charade.
The book has a number shortcomings. For starters, in the e-reader version, instead of using chapter titles, bookmarks display the first few words of each chapter, making the placeholders impossible to differentiate without investigation. In fact, the chapter headings are beautiful graphics, which might have compounded the issue. This should have been caught and corrected in the digital editing process.
A few plot holes degrade the quality of the story. First, the reputation of the Wilted Rose doesn’t match their reception. As a ship of mercy, the reader expects the Wilted Rose be welcomed by most. In an era where reputation was spread in taverns by word of mouth, it seems strange that so many were hostile to the flag of the Wilted Rose.
Second, the antagonist locks Lenny in a room where she has access to the entire evil plot. As a plot device, it’s no different from a villain’s monologue. However, a monologue makes sense as an egomaniac’s moment of boastful triumph, trying to dazzle their opponent with details of their plan the moment they feel the conclusion at hand. By locking Lenny away in the potions room, Hadnaloy gives Lenny every advantage without reaping any benefit. When Lenny comes across the plan, placed under her nose, it seems like an obvious trap. With someone as conniving as Hadnaloy, the oversight is inconceivable.
Third, I take issue with the use of ‘pirate’ as it relates to the crew of the Wilted Rose. A pirate, in the classic sense, is someone who commits acts of war while afloat against a sovereign party, ostensibly without the permission of another sovereign party. So, readers should expect to see some raiding, pillaging, or treasure-hunting. Instead, these pirates are the kindly sort:
“The Wilted Rose was used, at least in Rosa’s day, as a ship to aid those troubled by the sea.”
Ned’s reply had the wooden woman smiling in agreement. (Kindle Locations 497-499)
‘Good samaritan pirates,’ like “The Helpful Bus,” are great if it’s an unapologetic satire on a common trope. As the basis for a story, things feel forced and awkward.
Not once does the crew of the Wilted Rose help themselves to someone else’s property, thus destroying the premise that they are pirates. Guns, swords, and cannons don’t make one a pirate; piracy makes one a pirate.
There are forty-six uses of ‘pirate’ in the story. Near as I can count, only a dozen refer to something other than a member of the crew. It leaves me feeling that Matthews uses the term pirate merely to capitalize on their commercial popularity.
The saving grace to this aberration is a beautiful and unexpected twist on the concept; they are not in the Caribbean! The story takes place in what feels like Europe. Most of the references are to fictional places, but there are also references to European cities (London and Valencia) instead of New World colonies. Also, the French appears to my untrained eye to be actual French, not colonial creole. There is one reference to the Spanish Main, but otherwise the story feels European.
There are a plethora of stories of pirates and ‘free-boats’ that operated in the seas around the European continent, and nodding to them exposes readers to our varied histories during the Age of Sail. It’s a saving grace to the ‘pirate’ concept.
Finally, the character backgrounds are grim and dark. The best example is the protagonist, Lenny. Simply, Lenny was a child prostitute. She was pushed into service by an adoptive uncle and indirectly by her own mother. By the age of fourteen, having been the object of many men’s drunken lust, she murders her uncle (who is somehow seen as an upstanding man in society, by even the women) in an attempt to escape his violent sexual assault. This pushes her onto the road of violence and onto the Wilted Rose.
I spent the first third of the novel trying to make sure I understood correctly that the character was only eighteen when she first appears, in spite of a clear pedophilia theme. Notes and annotations adorned the digital margins of my e-reader as my mind remained in denial that a protagonist in a YA-slotted novel had that backstory. Confirmations were given twice over as flashbacks. Even still, her backstory is a hard pill to swallow.
I think the backgrounds help to underline an important theme the author gives the reader, and it’s one that I think too many people forget in life: we are not the sum of our circumstances and experiences. We are capable of growth beyond the trials and tribulations we face, and we are all deserving of affection and love.
That theme is far too absent in our world. It certainly isn’t one I approach often. In spite of the plot holes, the obvious pirate ploy, and all the other lesser sins, the theme of acceptance and growth redeems the novel. In a way, it makes the details I’ve criticized above feel, somehow, less important.