Paperback Purgatory: The Key, Part One

This is gonna be harder than I thought.

I read the first dozen chapters of The Key this week and it was… uh… educational, I guess. I learned some things I would have rather not known, and was exposed to things which should have remained forever hidden, least their eldritch evil encroach upon the unwary world.

I had no idea something like this could be published. Not just published, but a bestseller! I don’t really know what to do with this knowledge. I mean, I knew people were dumb, but I’d no idea there were so many folks out there with such a tolerance for this kind of thing.

I guess I’d better talk about the book itself. Sigh. I don’t even know where to start. The horrible plot? The freakish characters? The terrible writing? The bizarre non-sequiters? It’s difficult to know how to begin.

Characters:

Okay okay. Let’s start with the characters. The book is jointly narrated by our two romantic leads: Lady Whoever-the-fuck and Lord Duncan Dunbar the super-Scot. She’s all prissy and proper and ladylike, he’s a rough-and-tumble slob with a fondness for getting soused and fondling maidens. How will they ever make it work?!

Look, I wasn’t expecting much from this book. Regressive gender roles are, I think, pretty much to be expected in this kind of romance novel. Fragile little ladies and big tough guys. Sure, whatever gets you off. But this… this is just not right. Lady Blah is a complete waste of space. She spends half the book gnawing nervously on her lower lip. I swear, it must be like a piece of fucking beef jerky with all the worrying it gets. Nibble nibble nibble. Lynsay takes a stab at making her a STRONG INDEPENDENT WOMAN, but it’s undercut by her total lack of intelligence, personality, emotional depth… you know, the human stuff. She is a cypher, a blank space upon which the reader can project their own boring self.

Duncan O’Duncan, on the other hand, suffers from a severe excess of character:

  • Hobbies: Rushing off to whack shit with is sword, getting fall-down drunk, cursing in rage, exploding with lustful passion.
  • Dislikes: Bathing, chastity belts and English people.
  • Likes: Dunbar Castle, being dirty and hitting that.

His basic personality is that a very large child. Actually, everybody in this book is basically a child. Imagine the movie Big if everybody in it was Tom Hanks. Dozens and dozens of Tom Hanks… Hankses… maybe it’s Hanksi?

The supporting characters are your usual assortment of page-filling nobodies. Ignore them.

Plot:

Okay, so this is where things start getting weird. The plot of the novel revolves around the fact that Lord Dunkin’ smells like shit. I don’t think there is a single paragraph in which Lady Durr fails to mention the fact that her new husband reeks. She gags comically anytime he’s standing upwind, and Heaven forbid he attempt to touch her with those onerous hands of his. Okay, so he looks pretty sexy when he’s naked (if you like dicks that look like, and I quote “a soft mushroom”) but the smell! The stench of this guy is literally unbearable. Lady Ugh would be more than willing to fuck the shit out of this lunk if he’d only just take a goddamn bath. He refuses, of course. Refuses. Refuse! Ha! Because he smells like garbage. Oh puns. Anyway. He won’t take a bath, so she can’t screw him.

And that, ladies and gentleman, is our plot. Bath-time. This entire book revolves around whether or not somebody washes.

After the dismal wedding and equally dismal wedding night, the book goes on for, like, eight chapters before anything of consequence actually happens. Lady Hm does chores around the castle. That’s about it. She cleans the floor. She cleans the tapestries. She buys cooking supplies. She buys clothes for the servants. She plants a garden. I can feel my brain glazing over. Am I dead? Is this the afterlife? Who am I?

Eventually, Lady Nurg falls into a pile of horseshit (don’t ask) and decides, Hey! Perfect time to go sex up my stinky husband! So she tromps off and jumps him. He’s disgusted, the hypocrite, and orders her to bathe. Oh, the delicious irony!

This twist doesn’t work (obviously) for several reasons. First, if she’s so fucking worked up about his smell, shouldn’t she be, like, incredibly desperate to go wash herself off? I mean… really. In what fucking universe is it plausible for anybody, much less Lady Prissy-Britches, to go from picking clumps of shit out of her hair to let’s bone without a goddamn bottle of shampoo somewhere between the two! Is she a secret fecal fetishist? Did Lynsay Sands know how fucked up this was, or did it happen kind of accidentally? So many questions… no answers in sight.

So, she pulls him into the tub with her and, hey presto! they’re both squeaky clean. He soaps up her titties; she lathers his blood sausage. Bada bing bada boom. The only thing more purple than Duncan’s man-mushroom is Lynsay’s prose. Anyway, they fuck. Finally. And of course it’s weird and nasty, with Lord Dun Dun going on about “breaching her” and shit. Fortunately, it’s over quickly. Unlike this book, which is only half finished.

Damn.

Crimes Against Humanity:

There are a thousand reasons why this story makes for lousy reading, but here’s one big one: Smelly people are not sexy! They just aren’t! Nobody has a fucking fetish for stinky people.* You cannot continually describe your sex object as smelling and revolting and grotesque and still expect us to find him sexy! For 150 pages he reeks like an outhouse. That kinda stink don’t wash off, Lynsay, no matter how often you throw him in a tub, Dunkin’ Donuts is always going to be lord of the gag to us.

The other problem with Duncan is that he’s completely impotent. Not, you know, actually. But he’s supposed to be this big hulking brute, right? I mean, that’s the fantasy, isn’t it? Proper little lady shacked up with an uncultured barbarian warrior? I mean, that’s what this book is about, isn’t it? But Duncan totally fails to be in anyway commanding. Despite all his protests, he basically rolls over for Lady Illin’. The fabled chastity belt seems barely necessary. For god’s sake, it’s hardly even mentioned! I’m glad the book didn’t get all raptastic or anything, because it would have been really awkward and unpleasant, but there’s absolutely no sense of danger from this guy, and it makes the book feel weirdly at odds with itself. Ironically, it feels sanitized. Filthy, but stripped of anything which might offend. Like shit joke in a crummy a Robin Williams movie. Not sexy at all.

Worse still, Duncan spends the whole time being ordered around by his dad. He’s really more of a petulant teenager than a mighty warlord. Everything wrong with the book comes back to that one central flaw: we’re being asked to fantasize over what is basically a big stinky adolescent.

*okay, so there’s almost certainly somebody out there with a fetish for stinky people, but it’s not exactly top ten and I don’t want to think about it. You can’t make me think about it! No, fuck you! I won’t! AHHHHH, too late I’m thinking about it! It’s horrible!

Redeeming Factors:

Hm… not many. Still, I must admit that the book did get one intentional laugh out of me, though it was doubtless coaxed along by all the unintentional laughter. While the main characters and most of the supporting cast were unbearable, I didn’t actually hate every character. And the book never got unconscionably rapey, which something for which I was bracing myself. So that’s a big point in its favor.

Verdict:

Undecided, but not looking good. There’s still a lot of book to go, and much evidence yet to be heard. I have no idea where it’s going, since the entire conflict at the center of the novel has been resolved. Maybe the second half is all them gettin’ it on. Too late, Lynsay, too late.

Never fear, however, I’ve still got plenty left to say about The Key. Hell, I haven’t even talked about the accents yet. What’s that? Accents? Do you feel a chill, a cold hand moving along your spine? Perhaps you hear a strange silence descending, the chirping of birds cut horridly short? That’s right, accents. Thick syrupy globs of Scottish accents, just dripping with anachronisms.

Twill be ah thing tah behold, aye verily.

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