Romance novels are awesome. Read the following two sentences and tell me you’re not jealous you didn’t write them:
“The woman didn’t belong. She was as out of place in the dark winter streets of this part of Pittsburgh as a poodle in a jungle.”
Those gorgeous sentences are from a new book just out now on Kindle by Gail Dayton: Knight in Black Leather. Notice how the entire novel begins with a negative. “I thought we weren’t supposed to do that?” all the writing students will be thinking. Yeah, no. Please ignore that old high school English teacher advice. The second sentence gives us a little more information: the speaker is watching a woman, not with a vaguely disapproving attitude, but with curiosity. Just as the reader begins to think, “Hmm, interesting,” Dayton cuts loose with one of the most creative metaphors I’ve ever read. IN THE SECOND SENTENCE OF THE BOOK. And we’ve got location, time of day, and the season to boot. At first, I was jealous. I want to write like that. I REALLY want to write like that. Happily, my jealousy didn’t last long, mostly because those sentences are so intriguing that I couldn’t stop reading long enough to savor my envy. It faded away as quickly as an ice cube taped to a poodle’s butt.
When reading a romance novel, one jumps into the thing with a single, solid certainty: the book will always have a happy ending. This book doesn’t disappoint with that, of course, but the journey toward that ending is so freaking awesome that I stopped thinking about it halfway through the first chapter. Another staple of the romance genre is the role of hero and heroine. My biggest pet peeve with romances is when these characters are stupid and fight all through the book about dumb things. A great many writers do this to create tension but it’s really just lazy writing, in my opinion. This novel does not fall prey to that problem. Eli, the hero, is one of the most likable characters I’ve read. He always keeps his promises. The heroine, Marilyn, is also incredibly decent. Neither of them fight over stupid things. Instead of fake tension created by fake problems, every single one of the plot points in this book arises out of who these two people are, how they got to be where they are in their lives, and how those experiences (both painful and joyful) cause them to react to each other in the midst of the larger plot. The sheer brilliance of the writing of these two characters makes me utterly grateful that Gail Dayton is alive and can type and apparently plans to continue for the forceable future at those tasks.
Eli and Marilyn felt real to me as I read their story. Neither was perfect yet neither was so completely a caricature of brokenness that I grew exasperated. I adored the way they met and how they grew to know each other. I would’ve been perfectly content reading about their love story, except the book managed to introduce supporting characters that were just as real as Eli and Marilyn. Marilyn’s family, and the characters close to Eli were just as well put together. And then, as I settled into the book, thinking “oh, I know where this is going,” the plot intensified. Things happened that I just did NOT expect. And the characters STILL didn’t panic and do dumb things that made no sense. I don’t want to give anything away, so I’ve left the particulars rather vague in this review. Suffice to say, I laughed out loud during the first chapter. I sighed in happiness by the seventh and bit my lip in dismay by the twenty-third (I also might have cried a little, but I refuse to get into that).
On Twitter, Ms. Dayton said both her agent and her editors loved the novel, but that it “didn’t quite fit anywhere.” This astonishes me, especially now that I’ve finished reading it. Truly, if a well-published author can’t get a book this phenomenal published, I don’t know what that says about the state of the book industry. Bad things, I suppose. The novel, “Knight in Black Leather,” is now at the top of my list of books I adore and will read again over and over. Thank you Ms. Dayton for writing this book. Thank you. I loved it.
(Disclaimer: I do not personally know Gail Dayton. I’ve never met her. And yes, I think all of her books are awesome. My personal favorites are “The Compass Rose,” “The Barbed Rose,” “The Eternal Rose,” “New Blood,” and “Heart’s Blood.”)