Those who have read a number of the monthly posts that delve deeper into the characters in each of my books already know that the first of these posts started way back in February. But what’s true about these characters is that there are so many of them, with interlocking little relationships over the (now 10!) books, that discussing just a few of them is like scratching the surface of one of those gift cards where you peel off the silver to see the redemption code. But—well, if you’ve ever owned a gift card and I have to say they are one of my favorite things—after all that scratching you find something you really want to see!
Anyway, the two characters highlighted for Victoria: A Tale of Spain today are the protagonist, this brave young girl who’s sort of a classic heroine in a picturesque setting like 1600s Spain. And of course the villain, King Felipe, who is set against her, and who grew from the idea of a similar character in “Millhaven Castle.” Like Lord Timson, he summons a girl to his castle to protect his throne and plans to set her up. And like Lord Timson he has his work cut out for him.
Victoria is the next-to-youngest of 6 daughters of a Spanish duke. It’s a family very, very much full of girls under the semi-watchful eye of their parents. One sister has run off to get married and the oldest sister kind of has a supervisory position at times. So it’s a bit reminiscent of Pride and Prejudice in terms of the family dynamic and this dynamic is extremely important to Victoria. It's her family that’s in danger and she’s the one who ends up finding a solution. She’s an innocent, spunky girl who proves pretty resourceful when this situation opens up in front of her.
King Felipe is the villain with a 100% chance of failure. And what’s fun about him is that he’s like a real person who's quite insecure. He’s not particularly handsome or interesting although he was born in high circles of life and he’s actually very aware of it. His hysteria over some long-buried factoid about the throne comes from his lack of confidence as a person and whether he deserves what he has. He’s also bad at scheming—fortunately for Victoria and her sisters. But he’s a really funny character and makes the plot zip along once he shows up halfway through.
And there will be more updates.
Throughout the process of retelling Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park into the 1930s, I continually realized just how good this book really is. This is something that you might not expect because Mansfield Park is about people who have a truly flawed outlook on life. The negative relationships of the Bertram set superficially look like Austen’s other characters, who socialize a great deal and have a great deal to say about each other’s mistakes. But actually, Mansfield Park is about a different group of people from her other work, so it greatly interests readers even though it has never quite blended with her other books.
In Mansfield Park, Austen ventured out of storytelling that had worked very well for her in earlier novels like S&S and P&P and that she would return to in Emma. Instead of people who are delightfully human and foolish, the Bertrams have a bad way of viewing the world. In short, they really need to rethink their lives. Their motives are different from Austen’s other characters, many of whom are shallow or struggle with the shallowness of others. The Bertrams have a lot more wrong with them than that. There are occasional characters in the other novels to whom a rooted outlook on how to live--essentially a belief system--is important. But they are individuals and don't reflect the entire book. In Mansfield, philosophy is a way of life and it's not a good philosophy either.
Mary Crawford mentions that she’s shocked how interesting she found these people and how relevant they are since they live far from London, a center of intellectual thought and trends. There’s something about the people of Mansfield that locks you into their orbit and their fascinating, but flawed relationships. Even Fanny actually belongs at Mansfield, as she learns when she is sent back to live with her family. It’s not adjusting to a different style of living that’s hard for her. It’s because she has nothing in common with her birth family. She is a part of the Mansfield conversation—just not the same part that the others are.
Challenging a flawed worldview and the people who hold it while not ignoring the complexity that not all bad people are irredeemable (which is hard to show without seeming soft on wrongdoing) is always a courageous thing to do. While this book is generally viewed as only fairish in execution—and so are virtually all movies, remakes, and retellings of it, including mine—the fact Austen tried to write it is one of the things I like about her. It made me have great respect for her and that is why I chose this book to retell.
And there will be more updates.
I almost forgot when I planned this post (1st post of the month will be in the Central Five Series) that it goes out to many of you on the 4th. Independence Day in the US! And that's actually great because the book for this week is a western and that's about as American as it gets.
The Test of Devotion is a story about danger and deception. The setting of the American West during the 1850s was perfect for telling this story of tough people, but behind the general surface of action-adventure are some subtle layers. It’s a surprisingly nuanced book. The Test of Devotion wasn’t the story it seemed to be several years ago and a lot of that goes right back to the people it is about. Its characters rise to the surface in unexpected ways, because in this story about deception most of its protagonists aren’t what they seem to be when you first see them.
So, the Central Five Characters that bring focus to this book are:
Arabella plays a big role in generating the entire plot. A brave and independent girl, she isn’t afraid to head out into the unknown. Although she is pretty and charismatic enough for the job, she finds she’s not quite heroine material just yet. Marrying a man who doesn’t wish her well puts her in danger of betrayal. But she comes through it all and earns the right to be the book’s protagonist.
Benito is an orphan with a delightful bad attitude. All spunk and spines, he takes care of himself although he has no money and no family except one negligent, adopted older brother (Viajero.) Benito always, repeat always, stands up for himself, whether you were challenging him or not, and he can singlehandedly start a rescue.
Governor Wallace achieved much in his past life before coming out to Texas to become a successful rancher. A wise mentor and a good friend, he’s viewed as invulnerable and noble by the young people in the story. He contributes little to the action since the others do so much for themselves, but pitches in when his authority is needed.
Jenny is the daughter of a missionary who bought a hotel in southern Texas. She’s a practical person who is up to dealing with anyone—even criminals like the sinister Hawk who shadows Arabella. She’d probably describe herself as nothing much, just a girl working in a hot, dusty place. And she’d be right—until she got involved in an adventure.
Lanmont brings all the intrigue to the story. As a smart man he is a natural for working in government and he’s a fast learner and takes quick action in everything he does. But he gets a little arrogant, a little full of himself, and starts a situation he can’t handle. Looking for an easy way out is rarely a good strategy—but it makes for a lot of twists and turns.
And there will be more updates.
Author of Science Fiction, General Fiction, Historical Fiction, and Anthology Fiction
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