Right from the start I was bothered by this small detail in the worldbuilding: when England wins the Hundred Years War, it's because Merlin beats "Jeanne of Arkk", the French witch. I get this almost physical feeling of revulsion over that, because, I mean, Jeanne d'Arc was burned as a witch. It's fucked up to ignore her work as a strategist and adviser and make her a witch "for real", the same way it's fucked up to write Anne Boleyn actually sleeping with her brother, Philippa. Also, "Arkk"?
When I think about it, the characters really have no discernible arcs. They're pretty static until the end (like the characters in teen soap/dramas), when Princess Marie-Victoire goes through with the arranged marriage she was trying to escape and Prince Wolfgang steps up because his older brother got killed or something. Aelwyn, the Merlin's daughter, also goes, "oh, I must assume my duties" at the end as well.
Really problematic characterization with the designated "bad girl", Isabelle - you could compare her to Santana or Cheryl Blossom. She's the last descendant of the Valois dynasty (seems like a very long time to keep going with no power but okay) and was initially the fiancée of Prince Leopold, Wolf's older brother. She's perved on by her older cousin and weakly defended by another cousin who's dependent like she is. It turns out that she sleeps with Leopold even though the reader knows he's kind of a rake, and she's bold about asserting her claims over Marie-Victoire. When the American hottie Ronan Astor makes her debut, Isabelle makes all kinds of catty comments about her. She keeps sleeping with Leopold even when it's obvious that he's not going to marry her. So basically, the conflation of meanness and sexuality. Then we get a lot of sympathy for her - it turns out that Leopold's initial sexual encounter with her was rapey af, and then she falls in love with her good cousin who seems to be in love with someone else. And then we find out that her pervy cousin has been raping her since she was a young teenager, which is clearly why she's clinging to Leopold, to get her away from there. The overall feel I get from the plotline, because it's so sex-focused, is that sex that isn't with The One You Love shows that you're a bad person and/or poisons you into being a bad person. And in the end, she gets with the good cousin, who is almost immediately murdered on the bad cousin's orders, and I don't remember how she gets away from him but she does - but she's pregnant with Leopold's baby and goes away somewhere alone to raise him. If you aren't pure, you don't get a happy ending!
Also, just in general the sexuality in the book is so modern. People are kissing and hugging everywhere, all the society girls are willing to have a good time with the princes at the drop of a hat. I don't know what the point is of setting a story around 1900 if you want to have everyone act like it's 2000!
Working from home allows me to put on mindless television, which has led me to watch Married at First Sight, a reality show where people submit themselves to be paired up with someone to marry, and they literally first meet at the altar. The show sends them on a honeymoon and makes them move in with each other, and if they decide they can't take each other they have to go through the divorce process. It's terrible but I want to know how the couples turn out (one broke up during/immediately after the honeymoon). Also interesting to watch around the same time as Unorthodox, a drama about a woman fleeing the Orthodox community in Brooklyn.
In more earnest entertainment, I've been watching The Princess Weiyoung, a Chinese historical drama on Netflix. With no knowledge of any Chinese history beyond the broadest possible strokes, I can never get hung up on inaccuracies, the costuming and most of the actors are gorgeous, and the story is full of delightful DRAMA. It's similar to Magnificent Century or Empresses in the Palace in that it's what I call a "harem drama" - lots of "she is hurting our position, we need to get her out of the way while appearing polite and kind, let us make her trip and spill tea on the most high-ranking woman, then she will be banished" kind of stuff, which I love for whatever reason. The basic story is: a prince from the Northern Wei kingdom kills the royal family of the Northern Liang kingdom except for the princess; she gets away and is helped by the illegitimate daughter (technically not illegitimate, but the daughter of one of his concubines - they just always use "illegitimate" in the subtitles) of the Northern Wei prime minister, who was sent years ago into the country and who gets killed by an assassin on the orders of the prime minister's official wife. She poses as the daughter and moves into the family home, falls in love with the brother of the prince who killed her family, etc. I'm trying not to binge it because the episodes are similar enough that it gets boring when you watch them back-to-back.
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