My first experiment to see if Twilight pulled-to-publish stories actually worked as original fiction failed. Not because the story doesn’t–I think it probably does–but it was so far from being my cup of tea that I gave up around the chapter 11 mark. I refer, of course, to Gabriel’s Inferno by Sylvain Reynard.
The Premise: Gabriel is a sinful, sinful man who sins a lot. He is also a Dante scholar who for some reason has more money than God. Julia is one of his students. They have a past connection that he doesn’t remember. He is rude and boorish, even while he decides that Julia is a delicate little wilting flower who blooms under kindness. The Jacob character is a perfectly nice guy named Paul who deserves to be in a story where he will not be the third wheel of this creepy, creepy love triangle.
At first I rather enjoyed this book. It was over the top and full of ridiculous amounts of cheese. If I stopped thinking of these people as even remotely realistic and started thinking of them as archetypes who lived on some other planet, I could get through it. Also there were manly tears in the first few chapters, and overwrought prose, and I felt a little like I was reading a bodice ripper of yore.
Then the Dante stuff started getting dropped in, and it’s not subtle at all. I read The Inferno once in high school and again in college. It was fairly easy to see where Reynard’s parallels were coming from, because a master of subtlety he is not. Clearly Julia/Bella was an analog for Beatrice, Gabriel/Edward was the Dante analog, and Paul/Jacob was the Virgil. And once we had our Beatrice, Reynard never failed to bring up how pure she was. Julia is a virgin. For some reason, this matters to everyone much more than I think it would in the real world. To put it another way, Julia is the very definition of a purity sue. And to no one’s surprise, along with that, there’s a whole host of slut-shaming.
Ultimately, it was the weird virgin/whore dichotomy that made this book unreadable. I could deal with over the top earnest crack. I was made uncomfortable for Julia, though, whose purity caused literally every man she encounters, up to and including the waiter at a restaurant, to put her on a pedestal. When I stepped away from the book, I found myself wondering what Gabriel would do after they inevitably got together and he discovered that pure, innocent and perfect Julia poops like everyone else.
Maybe it’s unfair to say this, but I was even more bothered by the benevolent sexism on display here because Reynard is a man. I think I could have put up a bit more with the purity nonsense if the book had been written by a woman. Then I could take it as female fantasy. But since the writer is male, it made the white knight in tarnished armor thing creepy rather than hot.
So yeah. I know this trilogy did well enough for itself, and I might see what Reynard is capable of if he ever gets ahold of a better editor, but I think I need to read a book where the heroine is allowed to get down and dirty without needing to put up with a guy who runs hot and cold and also puts her up on a pedestal.