Australian romance readers don’t really need me to tell them about Anna Cowan. Her first novel, Untamed, picked up the Favourite Historical Romance award at the 2013 Australian Romance Readers Awards and earned Cowan the Favourite New Author gong as a follow-up. Untamed has also picked up a litany of reviews on the vast majority of the romance review sites I follow, where it earns descriptions like polarizing, ambitious, and divisive, but still earns some pretty impressive critical ratings (check out the reviews from BookThingo, Dear Author, and Radish Reviews for a representative sample),
Romance Readers don’t need me to tell them about Anna Cowan. This #FollowFriday is for everyone else.
So, here’s my advice: go read Untamed. Start following Anna Cowan’s blog. Be very, very excited by the whatever is coming next, ’cause on the basis of the first book and the blog, I’d put money on her second effort being something phenomenal.
When you read Cowan’s blog you get a taste of the thinking behind her first novel. You get the feeling of a very savvy, ultra-aware reader of romance genre who genuinely likes genre and yet wants to take it in new directions.
The actual experience of reading Untamed is rather like encountering China Mieville for the first time as a fantasy reader – all the familiar tropes are there, but they’ve been arranged in a new and slightly unfamiliar way that makes you look at them anew. But where Mieville re-arranges fantasy tropes to examine their political underpinnings, Cowan re-arranges the tropes of regency romance in order to take a closer look at gender and sexuality.
On the surface the plot is going to be familiar to anyone who reads regency-era works: Katherine Sutherland is the pragmatic, blunt daughter of a minor lord who crosses paths with a flamboyant, manipulative Duke and attracts his interest. When she retreats from London to her country home, the Duke follows and manipulates his way into staying with the family, playing games and throwing her family’s lives into chaos.
And on the surface it’d be easy to believe that the narrative hook is the thing carrying the weight of the book’s themes of gender and gender rolles, given that the cross-dressing Duke of Darlington arrives on Katherine’s farm masquerading as a woman, and inserts himself into her world with no-one but Katherine aware of his gender.
Instead, the hook is perhaps the least-interesting aspect, although it does lend itself to some particularly awesome writing when Katherine and the Duke finally start getting intimate. What’s far more interesting is the way Cowan inverts and explores the gender roles of Katherine and her family, and the way gendered notions of social power is wielded throughout the book. What seem like characters inhabiting familiar archetypes develop surprising depth, particularly among the secondary characters such as Catherine’s sister and brother-in-law.
Untamed is one of those books I keep wanting to foist upon specific, SF-reading friends and acquaintances who are interested in books exploring gender, simply ’cause I’d be interested in talking to them about what’ going on in the text, but unfortunately I picked my copy up in ebook which, for all the merits of the format, isn’t well-known for its foistability.
Since I can’t physically hand over copies with enthusiastic raving, I have to share links and rave enthusiastically here, hoping it does the job.