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You kids get off my lawn. 

The Talisman Ring - Georgette Heyer I used to watch the crap out of “Days of Our Lives”. I didn't watch daily; that's not really necessary with soaps. If you want to follow soaps, catch the odd Monday and Friday. Friday is when everything comes to a mini-crisis, ending on a maybe not so much a cliff- as a hill-hanger. Monday go-carts down the hill, resolving the mini-crisis and beginning the slow accent to the next Friday promontory. During my time watching Days, Marlena was possessed by Satan; the man everyone knew as Roman Brady turned out to be an ex-priest named John Black, resulting in the bossest love triangle known to man, esp. because the love interest was the aforementioned demon-possessed Marlena; Bo and Hope were abducted by Stephano, who was the source of all the brain-washing and mistaken identities; the guy who played Jack switched actors twice, finally coming back to the guy who liked to ad-lib lines from Shakespeare and other more-serious theater. Man, I loved him.

Anyway, the main reason I watched wasn't the plot-lines, fun as they often were. Despite the almost surreal insanity of the plot-lines, the fantastic was always played out in the most domestic of environments. Only during sweeps week does anyone go outside, and then it's usually to some Ed Woodish set with a bunch of artificial Christmas trees piled up with a mulchy looking path for our actors not so much to walk down as to slouch. All this drama plays out in a thousand kitchen conversations, not action but the consideration of action, and then a long, chit-chatting denouement once the brief drama has been completed. This was a mirror of my main enjoyment of the soap, which was the gossip I got to enact with the friends who watched this too. We'd relate story-lines when someone wasn't caught up; we'd squeal over plot twists; we'd argue endlessly over who was the best character. It was safe gossip, kind gossip, worrying the fantastic/commonplace ethical realities of people who didn't exist.

This is why I pretty much loved The Talisman Ring. It takes place in Regency England, but this is a bunch of Christmas trees piled in the corner. I don't mean this in a bad way, and I certainly don't mean to imply this is the RenFest burlesque of Pleasuring the Pirate. But when Eustacie pops in, fresh from the horrors of post-Revolution France, and starts swooning about what she was planning to wear to her guillotining, I was all in. Romance is the idle imagining of what we'd do in dire situations, and Eustacie's musings are both compelling and funny. Not much happens in The Talisman Ring and that's the whole point. People plan, and then they try to enact their cunning plans, and then the plans turn out to be a bunch of silliness, so then they plan some more.

I bring up Scooby Doo rather too much in my reviews, but this is Scooby Doo plotting: totally predictable, relying on slap-stick, secret passages & hidden cellars, with a Fred at the helm planning his stupid-ass plans that are doomed to go wrong until they magically go right. Guaranteed, you'll meet the baddie in the first act. Muhahahaha! The Scooby Doings of the plot weren't enough to secure my affections, but I also had some serious love for Heyer's sly commentaries and hilarious turns-of-phrase. This is a gendered piece, written by a women, and read almost exclusively by women. I'm having a hard time explaining why I found the following sentence worthy of much giggling and dog-earing:

“He had discarded his fur-lined cloak in the coffee-room so that all the glory of his primrose pantaloons and lilac-striped coat burst upon Miss Thane without warning.”

Ahahahaha! Maybe because women's fiction focuses as pornographically on clothes as it does on the, um, more obvious subject of porn, and this skewers that. (Think Sex in the City, people, although arguably, although Carrie & Co appear to be female, they are a collection of spray-tanned trannies whose sources of income are perversely, um, obvious.)

Like a Scooby Doo episode, every romance novel hurtles to an inevitable conclusion, the meeting of lovers or the hauling off of criminals to jail. If it weren't for you meddling kids! The romantic pairing of The Talisman Ring, the loudly telegraphed one that is obvious from the first freaking page, happens mid-book, a hill-hanger, and then we look around and chit-chat about less obvious happinesses, ones based on character and competence, not flights of fancy and romance. Romance is a conversation in a kitchen, with fake trees visible out a fake window, a series of stories we tell to each other about other people in kitchens in period dress who only talked about the great things they might do. The Talisman Ring is a conversation about romance in a kitchen, and that, in itself, is romance enough for me.