I don't often struggle to finish a book, but I did Blaze of Glory. Let me set the scene. Feisty girl Tea (I've always wondered how this was pronounced if you're not English, and the author helpfully tells us it's Tay-a), lives at a stables, brilliant rider, tricky family background, needs to raise money so she can get to the Royal horse show, and does so by riding exercise at the racetrack. This she is strictly forbidden by her stepfather, Declan, to do, because it's dangerous. Declan's glamorous, polo playing nephew Jaden finds out, and disapproves. First he yanks her off a rearing horse, and then:
"Jaden turned to me and grabbed my arm.He fails to get Tea to leave, so he grabs her, throws her over his shoulder and carts her out.
"Let's go," he said, his voice hard.
"No, wait...! I struggled to free myself and he tightened his grip, digging his fingers painfully into my fresh bruise."
I don't like this. I don't like it when as your honeyed words of persuasion have failed, as has your ordering Tea to do what you want, you resort to manhandling her. Tea describes him as "self-righteous, interfering and arrogant," and you know what? I wish she'd stuck with that view, stuck two fingers up to him and her ghastly stepfather, and found a way of getting her and her horse to the Royal without the lot of them.
This being a romance, and a romance in the Twilight mould, that doesn't happen. Tea is, entirely justifiably in my opinion, seething at this treatment, but of course it doesn't last.
There's an unsettling undercurrent of violence in this book. Tea's stepfather Declan is a piece of work. He runs the stables, and his family, as a military operation. Any defiance is swiftly, and brutally punished. After Jaden dobs Tea in over the exercising (he doesn't know about Declan's brutalities), she's whipped for her disobedience with Declan's belt. The bit where Tea and her twin brother Seth discuss the fact they know this will happen, but know that the stiller they are and the less they protest, the sooner it's over, is chilling. They are victims of abuse. And then Declan bans her from riding at the Royal, which she's been working towards for two whole years.
The abuse is explored, a bit, in the rest of the book. Eventually Declan sees the error of his ways, and realises he's way too strict on Tea and Seth, but no one ever seems to say "This must stop. You cannot treat people like this. The fact you love them does not even begin to excuse it."
More than this, I find the portrayal of Seth disturbing: that it's the romantic ideal to have someone who's prepared to sling you over his shoulder if you don't do as he thinks you ought. Even if he's right, and you are being daft, it is still not excusable. If you can get over that, then you are in for over 100 rather turgid pages on how he and the heroine get together, despite the fact they shouldn't because someone in the family will disapprove most frightfully. My goodness, it's a long drawn out process. We know they will get together, because it's that sort of book, but boy, do they string out their eventual getting together. And once they have, do they leap into bed and put us out of our misery? No. They do not. Not for another 100 pages or so anyway. It's interminable - the will they - won't they - will noble Jaden stop leading the wretched girl on before nobly saying no.... I didn't find this even remotely erotic, though I guess I was supposed to, in the Twilight tradition of vampire who doesn't want to hurt you but is quite happy to lead you on, and actually be a bit of a git as well. The whole thing drags on for so long without really getting anywhere that in the end I no longer cared.
And what of the horses, you ask, as this was at least some of the reason for my reading the book. I liked the horse bits, because I do like horse stories where I learn how they do things elsewhere. The Blaze of the title doesn't actually survive the book long, so be warned if horses dying upsets you. Tea of course does find another tricksy horse. She also gets to do polo; not a common subject for a horse book.
I actually think that if it hadn't been for Jaden, I'd have liked this book much more. After her horse dies, Tea sinks into depression, and she does stuff. Stuff that teenagers do - parties not wisely but too well; takes drugs, antagonises everyone around her. And who is there, the big strong man, the one who can lift Tea out of all this, put her feet on the right path, and yet love her? You've guessed it. Because she can't do it on her own, poor little muffin.
I guess that's what infuriated me so much about this novel. I'm absolutely sure Jaden is a lot of people's dream of romantic bliss: look at that stalkerish Edward Cullen in the Twilight books, for goodness' sake, but he's certainly not mine. I find the undercurrent of violence in the book frankly disturbing. This book is not a portrayal of a healthy relationship.
Blaze of Glory is the first of a series. If you like horses and teenage romance and are not particular about gittish, over-entitled men, this is the book for you. If you're really lucky, they'll bring the television series over here too. Dear God, no.
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M Garzon: Blaze of Glory
Age of main character: 16
Themes: sex, drugs but unfortunately no rock and roll. A horse dies.
M Garzon's website