HEA Hypothesis: Briarley by Aster Glenn Gray

Hey, book buddy! Good to see you here on my blog. This post is part of a series called HEA Hypothesis, in which I try to dissect and analyze why different scenes in romance novels work well. I was an English major once upon a time, so bear with me as I blow the dust off my skills here. Maybe it’ll even improve my craft? One can only hope.

Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash

Our first scene comes from Briarley by Aster Glenn Gray, a Beauty and the Beast retelling set during World War II, which was recommended to me by Helen Kord (@mirabel_chan) on Twitter. She’s also a talented artist, so check out her work! The context is that the parson (part of our couple) has, due to a rainstorm, just visited a very fine mansion, which appeared to be empty. Yet finding the table set and the fires burning with no one at home creeped him out, so he’s decided to head out without eating.

The mist rose high and thick, so that the front wheel seemed to disappear into the fog. The parson felt uneasy as he looked at it, and uneasier still when his gaze fell further and he saw that he could not see his own booted feet in that mist. He looked hastily away. And that was his undoing: for his gaze fell upon the roses again (Chapter Two, Location 138, Gray).

Though we’re familiar with the original story, it’s hard to believe that the author is setting up the meeting of two people (creatures?) who are about to fall in love. Disoriented and afraid, all the parson can see is that he can’t see anything…given that the first level of intimacy is usually checking out the other person’s body, this doesn’t exactly bode well.

It seemed a great pity not to fulfill his promise to his daughter, when there were so many roses here and no one to miss them. The parson propped up his bicycle on the gravel lane, and stole across the grass to the rose hedges lining the drive. The moonlight only enriched their velvet colors. Even in the silvery light the petals glowed wine-red. The parson cupped one red rose in his hand: a flower as vast as a peony, its petals soft as a baby’s skin. His penknife was dull, and it took him some few minutes to saw through the thick thorny stem. His thumb caught and tore on one of the wicked thorns, dripping red blood onto the green grass below.

The author seems to be taking care to show us just how exactly opposite these two are. The adjectives of the dragon’s garden are dripping with wealth symbolism: silvery, velvet, wine, abundance, vastness, softness. Let’s look then at the adjectives surrounding the parson: he steals and props up, sawing like a common laborer rather than snipping or cutting with efficiency due to the dullness of his knife; even his thumb is getting caught like the thief he’s about to be pronounced. Could these two be any more different?

But at last the knife won through. The stem had been sliced jagged, but the rose remained unblemished. The parson lifted it to his nose and took a sniff, and frowned. It did not smell as sweet as he thought it should. But nonetheless he put it tenderly in his buttonhole, and patted it, and turned back toward the path, where the mist shrouded his bicycle. Only one handlebar rose visible above the thick white gauze of fog.

Here’s our poor parson, so poor that he doesn’t even get the victory of winning the rose: the author gives it to the knife instead. What a lovely example of showing instead of telling here: despite the meet disaster that’s about to happen, we’ve just learned that the parson is not easily deterred from what he wants and tolerates imperfection well, with compassion, even. The author gives us just enough hope to get us through the chapter without despairing for these two, and it starts here with revealing his character so beautifully when faced with subverted expectations.

But the moment the parson set foot on the path, the iron gates swung shut. They crashed together with a terrible clang, and the parson stood frozen in surprise and creeping horror. One did not steal the fairies’ flowers either, it seemed. One should not bleed on fairy ground. “Thief!” a great voice roared, and the parson whipped around, looking for the source of it. “Thief! Thief! Thief!” And the parson was covered in shame. Could he have stolen a flower, like a schoolboy scrumping apples? ‘I’m sorry,’ he said. ‘I wanted it for my daughter; and your roses are so perfect, I did not stop to think…’

Our parson, faced with his sin, gives us a few truths: he’s sorry (though perhaps only because he was caught?), it was for someone else (true certainly), your roses are perfect (a little cloying, but okay)…but then he does something unexpected: he lies. “I did not stop to think,” he says, even though he overcomes several barriers (the dull knife, the thick mist, an injury to his flesh) in order to succeed at his task, all of which had given him the opportunity to re-evaluate his decision.

Since I have a deep, undying love for beautifully complex, flawed characters, I have a feeling that Ms. Gray and I will get along just fine as I continue to read. If this has piqued your interest, you can get the book in Kindle Unlimited or on Amazon. These are affiliate links, so I’ll get a small kickback if you order them. Very small.

Do you agree with my analysis? Got more to add? Jump into the comments or at me on Twitter and let’s keep the conversation going!

Inking Against Invisibility — Longreads

I loved this. I just can’t even say how much. Yes, it made me cry, because I’ve been there, being told you’re being ridiculous and “that doesn’t happen to people.” But hearing it from someone else’s lips is healing, somehow. And if you haven’t picked up any of Talia’s books yet, I’ll put a link to my favorite at the end.

In the face of chronic pain, invisible illness, and medical discrimination, Talia Hibbert turned to tattoos to reclaim ownership of her body.

Inking Against Invisibility — Longreads

The Semi-Royal ARC's are out…

It’s getting close now, book buddies…The Semi-Royal will be out in a little more than two weeks! Rhodie and Arron have been taking up a lot of room in my head for a while now, and I know this is a story you won’t soon forget. Can’t wait until the 7th? You can get an advance reader copy in exchange for an honest review on Booksprout right now. Here’s the link: https://booksprout.co/arc/28271/the-semi-royal

It’s also available for pre-order on Amazon for just $0.99, but it won’t stay at that price long. Everyone who pre-orders can send me an email to claim their free romance manifesto printable, so jump on it if that sounds like something you want!

I can’t wait for you to dive into this sweet tropical romance and let me know what you think!

The Ex-Princess is one of Publishers Weekly’s Best Books of 2019!

My jaw is still recovering from the massive drop it experienced last week when I heard the news…my debut novel? One of the best books of 2019? Out of all the romances published? The only indie book highlighted, no less? It’s hard to express how AMAZING it is that a sweet, non-steamy, indie published romance made this list, friends. I can’t really understate how unusual that is.

I’m incredibly thrilled that my book’s on this list, especially since The Jinxed Journalist just came out and I’d really like to get more readers into this wonderful series. It expresses so much about family and justice and real romance that’s close to my heart, and it’s so unusual to find that, in a sweet fantasy romance context no less! So much fantasy is very dark, and I want my books to be light and slightly silly and hopeful. I want them to be feel-good, even if they make you cry a little bit.

A special thanks to everyone who reviewed the book, especially in the early days when PW was trying to decide if they’d even look at it. You contributed to this success! You rock.

Back to work…you’re going to love Rhodie and Arron’s story, so I’d better get back to writing it! The first draft of The Semi-Royal is almost done! If you haven’t read The Ex-Princess, it’s just $0.99 right now, so go grab your copy: https://amzn.to/35tjrbi

Work-in-Progress Wednesday

“Did you mean to give me a ‘come hither’ stare?” Abbie asked.

Parker grinned. “I was just enjoying watching you. I didn’t know it would summon you, but I’m not sorry it did.” He held out a white-gloved hand. “Would you like to waltz with me?”

“Are you any good?”

“I excel at many things, dancing among them.”

Abbie rolled her eyes, but she set down her plate on the nearest table and brushed any lingering food particles off her hands, lest she dirty his tuxedo. “I think you just wanted a way to touch me in public.”

“If you’re waiting for me to deny that accusation . . .” He led her toward the center of the room. “. . . you’ll be waiting a long while.”

Oof, it’s been a long time since I’ve done this. Yet as Abbie placed her right hand in Parker’s lifted left, she was surprised how good it felt to be in his arms, however removed the rest of their bodies were. Abbie smiled as she remembered her lessons from Mrs. Andel, the famous Trellan dancer who’d married a member of Brevsporan aristocracy. Let your hand perch upon his shoulder like a baby bird . . . He put the right amount of pressure on her upper back and held his arm out stiffly, gently supporting her hand, and she stepped backwards following him into a basic box step.

“Well, that answers that question.”

“What question?” Abbie asked.

Keep your gaze over your partner’s shoulder, children, well to the left; romantic as the dance is, if you try to look at your partner, you’ll drift right and get all tangled up. There had been rampant snorts and giggles at that.

“The question of whether you know how to follow,” he said, and she could hear the teasing in his voice.

“That all depends on who’s leading.”

Keep your hips up, Abelia. She’d had no desire to touch her hip to Norman Barkus, who smelled like sweat and potato chips and kept pushing on her hands instead of indicating turns with his lower body like he was supposed to. But Parker’s hip seemed glued to hers, and she could sense him turning before she knew what was happening.

I’m leading.”

“I sensed that.” She tried to hide a smile. “You’re good at it.”

“I should be. I’ve had ample practice.”

With whom? Her mind demanded to know. Whose hips have you been touching? Those are my hips. She did not ask, but she was glad she didn’t have to make eye contact with him, lest he see her question there.

“My first sister loves to dance but often lacks what she considers to be a suitable partner. I have accompanied her and her book club friends on numerous occasions. Or I did, before I became intolerably busy.”

Her jealousy subsided with this new information and she felt a little foolish.

“You should still go. All work and no play makes Parker a grumpy Gus.”

“All work and no Abbie, you mean.”

The Un-Queen is out now! You can download your copy for just $2.99. Grab it today!