Spoiler: They Make Babies

Ladyparts be good! (Part 2.)

Posted in Romance Review by firstmatejess on May 26, 2010

In my first post on this subject, I wrote about Anna Campbell’s Untouched. Here, I’ll be discussing Georgina Gentry’s Diablo. This book is even MORE ridiculous than Untouched. One thing I’ll note, before I continue, is that there’s a lot of sexual assault mentioned and described in this book.  I have to mention some of it in my review, since it’s essential to the plotline.  This book (and as a result, this review) is one of those ones that deserves a trigger warning.

Also known as "Jim."

You see now why I bought it.

An Indian Brave1 rapes a white woman. The white woman commits suicide after giving birth. So begins our hero’s horrifying-cliche-strewn life!

The child that results from this rape is given to the Indian Brave’s mother as a slave; the group to which the brave belonged apparently puts rapists to death, and the slave child is payback for losing her son. She calls him “He Who Does Not Deserve A Name.”  “He Who Does Not Deserve a Name” is kind of a mouthful, especially when you’re trying to scream it at a recalcitrant boy, but who am I to question Native Practices?2

Inexplicably tired of being beaten, HWDNDN finally runs away when he is still a small child. He is hungry and lonely when he comes across three cowboys who are about to kill a steer that does not belong to them.  They hardly ever do this!  They are just very hungry!  Unfortunately, since He “Bad Penny” Who Does Not Have a Name is around, they are caught by the man who owns the steer.  Even worse, the man has his friends with him, and they’re all rip-roaring drunk.  This band of miscreants consists of Hurd, three Evil Henchmen, and Swen the Misguided Guy Who Keeps Ending Up in the Wrong Place.3 Despite Swen’s pleas that they be a little nicer, Hurd and his Henchmen4 hang the three cowboys, then gang rape HWDNDN and brand him all over his face.

(That scene is alluded to throughout the book, but when the hero is shot by the heroine (no, seriously!  keep reading!) and falls into feverish reliving of his past (I shit you not!), we get to relive it with him.  He also conducts said fever dream in whispers (really!) so that the heroine gets to join in the fun, too.  Gentry takes exposition to a brand new level, my friends.)

Swen returns to camp, leading a horse and a mule laden with supplies.  He’s portrayed as a ridiculously poor rancher for the rest of the book, but I guess he had unknown resources.  HWDNDN doesn’t reveal himself to Swen, but he takes the horse and the mule and the supplies after Swen has left.  He leaves Wyoming on the horse.  He finishes off the supplies; when the mule dies, he eats it; and when the horse finally dies, he eats that too.  He proceeds to walk the rest of the way to Texas.  See, the cowboys told him great stories about Texas, in the two seconds they talked before Hurd came along.  HWDNDN walks there on the strength of that recommendation alone. Do not casually recommend a restaurant to this fellow!

The book opens with a scene of Kind White People finding the poor starved HWDNDN.  They, as Kind White People, take him in, show him love and kindness, and teach him how to shoot.  Despite all that Kind Whiteness, though, HWDNDN must leave them to seek his revenge.

And what a revenge it is!

HWDNDN becomes the fastest gun in the west, and is known by the name “Diablo.”5 When we see the adult Diablo, he’s just been brought into town with a whole passel of other hired gunfighters.  He, and the forty-nine other gunslingers, are intended to drive nesters off of Hurd’s ranching land.

Diablo manages to fade into the background after he arrives, despite his horrific facial scarring and super-badass reputation.  As a result, he never actually does the job he was hired for.  Instead, Diablo focuses on — what else? — revenge. He tracks down, isolates, and hangs two of Hurd’s henchmen from that night.  Then he zones in on the big target, Hurd himself. Diablo burns Hurd’s brand-new mansion — under construction — to the ground.  He takes Hurd’s horse, Hurd’s dog, and Hurd’s prize rifle from Hurd’s house. Finally, he takes Hurd’s bride.

See, Swen of the Poor Timing has a daughter named Sunny. Tptally a common Swedish Pioneer Daughter name!

Sunny, despite growing up in a rough and tumble hardbitten town on the brink of the frontier, is dainty and feminine and blond and obedient and sweet. Her mother died in childbirth, and Sunny has made it her goal to be tractable in all matters as a result. Unfortunately her father is Swen the Pushover, and obeying him gets her engaged to Hurd the Destroyer. She doesn’t like Hurd — he dyes his hair, he sucks his teeth, he’s kind of pushy, he keeps lighting things on fire  — but what Daddy says, she does. And Daddy’s dying wish was that Hurd and Sunny get married.

Well, that’s what Hurd tells her, at least; as Diablo knows, Hurd actually killed Swen when Swen refused to let Hurd marry Sunny. Hurd blames the death on the nesters, and secures Sunny’s hand.  Diablo’s intent on taking everything Hurd values, so Diablo kidnaps Sunny.  It helps that he’s strangely drawn to Sunny, though he (of course) denies his attraction.  We know better, though.  Diablo of the Stony Heart stole a tiny portrait of Sunny from Swen’s house, which shows that he’s totally in Boner City for her!  This theft of the picture is in no way connected to the plot, for the record.   There is no plot-related device having to do with this interlude. Stop reading into everything.  There’s nothing to see here.

The main storyline isn’t the romance between Sunny and Hurd, anyway, or even between Sunny and Diablo. Sunny is supposed to come into her own and gain Diablo’s affections, but her development isn’t all that interesting. (In her defense, she’s about as captivating as a dishrag.)  The real power in this book is the relationship between Hurd and Diablo. The author seems to know it, too.  Gentry describes Hurd’s efforts to run nesters off of his land in detail.  She spends a surprising number of pages on Hurd’s mental degeneration after Diablo begins taking away his things. When Sunny and Diablo are left alone on the page together, it’s just the same old same old Stockholm Syndrome. Sunny and Diablo find each other compelling for no particular reason, and they continue to hurt one another for only marginally more understandable ones. Sunny shoots him in the side when she gets the chance to reach for his gun — in a moment of tenderness, natch — but then inexplicably keeps him alive through the wound and his fever. It’s aimless, in other words, and has only TRUE LOVE as its means of rationalization. It’s only when Hurd and Diablo are caught up together that the plot has any force.5

That being said, there are some horrifyingly hilarious moments while Diablo has Sunny held hostage in a cave.  There’s the aforementioned shooting.  Sunny holds up a druggist so that she can get medicine to save Diablo’s life.  She escapes, and is nearly raped by two of the gunslingers; Diablo arrives just in time to kill them both and ‘rescue her’ (or ‘return her to captivity,’ but poTAYto poTAHto).  The portrait that Diablo stole is found by Sunny, leading her to think that he killed her father.  Eventually TRUE LOVE wins out, and she believes his protestations of innocence.  During the struggle over the portrait, it falls and breaks on the ground.  Somehow Swen, through Mysterious Swedish Arts, hid a thousand dollars in the portrait… exactly the amount of money that Diablo has said he needs to start a ranch!  WHOA.

Finally, in a move deserving its own paragraph in this summary, Sunny decides that “Diablo” isn’t a good name for him, and she rechristens him “Jim.”  Yeah.

…Yeah.

I’m going to call him “Jimblo,” instead of Jim, to note the change.  And indeed, that might actually be less offensive than the renaming!  I also considered “Diajim,” “Jiablo,” and “LOLOL ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME.”

Jimblo sets up a final showdown, which reunites Hurd, Sunny, and Jimblo.  Sunny and Jimblo are now devoted to one another, of course, and Jimblo’s got some cockamamie scheme where he’s going to get himself shot and killed and Sunny’s going to ride off to Boston.  I think?  His plan was constructed out of spit and asshairs, to tell you the truth.  It all works out, though, magically enough.  Hurd is lost to his crazed desire to regain Sunny.  He shoots the last remaining henchman by accident, right before the final showdown between himself and Jimblo.  His gunfighters and ranch hands have all deserted him, because he’s gone mad with his pursuit of Sunny.  He tries to kill Jimblo, and Sunny and Jimblo take Hurd down with a disturbing lack of effort. Before he dies, though, Hurd manages to confirm everything about Jimblo’s story.

Exit Sunny and Jimblo, who finally decide to — shocker! — ride off to start a ranch together.  They leave behind lots of rotting bodies, multiple now-ownerless houses, quite a few gunslingers who haven’t left yet, AWOL ranch hands, and nesters who have been driven off of their land to who knows where.  Texas got screwed in this deal.

Epilogue: two guesses, and the first one doesn’t count.  (Hint: it starts with ‘B’ and rhymes with ‘maybe.’)

This is probably what people refer to when they ask me whether or not there are good romance novels.  This is what they expect, and what they mock (to my face) when I mention that I read them.  This is the sort of book that people pick up to read out loud in a snotty voice.  What other genre is so often defined by its least worthwhile members?

For the record, however, I did finish the book.  I screamed with laughter several times, which has to count for something.  The relationship between Hurd and Jimblo was incredibly intense, and it was — believe it or not! — in part based on an episode of nester-rousting in the nineteenth century.  There’s something good in everyone.

Do keep this book in mind — I might make a separate post at some point about “disability romance,” or the scarred hero.  For now, though, I need to sleep.

1 – A stock character in Wild West romances, unfortunately.
2 – Of course, you might ask, who is Georgina Gentry to write Native Practices? But down that road lies madness and feminism, my friend.
3 – He’s Swedish. Let’s call him Swen for short.
4 – Start growing your ironic mustache, I’ve got the name for our indie rock band.
5 – It’s a classic example of a relationship that Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick described in Between Men. That is, two men express their homosocial desires (or in this case, murderous sexuality) through the proxy figure of a woman. The Victorian Age truly never dies.

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