Demian Katz (demiankatz) wrote,
Demian Katz

Book Review: Dainty's Cruel Rivals; or, The Fatal Birthday

So, in case you haven't talked to me recently, I should probably mention something. My chance encounter with Frank Merriwell has left more of an impression than I initially thought it would. I've become a dime novel addict. A lot of this has to do with the fact that we discovered a forgotten collection of them at the library where I work. And yes, at least one book in that pile was about dear old Frank.

I'm not here to talk about Frank Merriwell, though -- I'm here to introduce Mrs. Alex. McVeigh Miller, poet turned author of bestselling sensational romance novels. Included in Villanova's collection was a highly entertaining dual volume containing her classic The Bride of the Tomb; or, Lancelot Darling's Betrothed and Queenie's Terrible Secret; or, A Young Girl's Strange Fate. The contents are even better than the titles -- but that's another story; see Laura Bang's review (and my attached comments) for more details.

Anyway, the experience of reading this silliness left me a Mrs. Miller fan, and so on my recent trip to Code4Lib, I decided to read the only other title of hers currently available as an e-book: Dainty's Cruel Rivals; or, The Fatal Birthday. (Don't worry, by the way -- when I'm done, there will be more out there).

The short version: this isn't as much fun as the earlier titles I read -- it's a little less wacky and a whole lot less progressive -- but it has a few gems that make me glad I've read it. I'll conceal the details behind a spoiler tag just in case you don't want them revealed too soon....

[The gory details]
Plot summary:

Dainty is poor but beautiful; she lives with her mother and two cousins who are jealous of her beauty. Dainty and her cousins are invited to visit their aunt at the Ellsworth estate, where the aunt's rich and eligible step-son has just returned from Europe. Needless to say, Dainty falls in love with charming Lovelace Ellsworth, her aunt and cousins try to prevent marriage by various means and for various reasons, and general wackiness ensues.

Key highlights:

- A ruined castle haunted by the ghost of a consumptive monk (actually an evil Irish maid in disguise... somehow)

- A variety of attempted murders (it's sort of hard to come up with an exact count)

- An apparent death followed by resurrection in a dramatic thunderstorm (that's three for three on the "heroine killed and resurrected" formula in Mrs. Miller novels)

- An insane asylum containing an inmate who believes that he is a grain of corn and has fits upon seeing chickens (he was accompanied by the usual array of stereotypical madmen -- but this one was a nice touch)

- A deus ex machina ending in which a seemingly hopeless situation is resolved with the help of SCIENCE (a nice example of popular literature adjusting to reflect contemporary events)

- Lots of gratuitous poetry (good to see Mrs. Miller finding her joy while writing stuff that she probably wasn't especially proud of)

Obviously this is not for everyone -- indeed, I'm not exactly sure why it is for me. But whatever the reason, it made me smile a lot while I read it (in between the cringing at the unfortunate ethnic stereotypes). They don't make them like this anymore.
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