MINI-REVIEW: Ruthie Knox’s ROMAN HOLIDAY: THE COMPLETE ADVENTURE With HEA and Epilogue, Or The Book Is Too Much With Us

Roman_HolidayMiss Bates embarked on her reading of Ruthie Knox’s “two-book bundle” of a previously serialized novel with trepidation. Though there was much she liked about hero Roman Díaz and heroine Ashley Bowman’s story, because there is much she’s always liked about Knox’s narratives, her fears, which lay in the words “two-book” and “serialized,” were realized. Don’t misunderstand, since Knox’s début, Ride With Me, her stories have consistently been worth reading and thinking about. It is no different for Roman Holiday: the same focus on  characterization, considered psychology, snappy dialogue, and good, good writing overall. Moreover, what Knox has been trying to accomplish with the Camelot series and now its offshoot, Roman Holiday, is most interesting. It is, when done well, something that the romance genre excels at: the creation of a roman-fleuve, a novel “stream, or cycle,” literally translated “river,” that harkens to the 19th century and, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica definition, is “a series of novels, each one complete in itself, that deals with one central character, an era of national life, or successive generations of a family.” The romance series never sounded so good! ;-) In Roman Holiday, Knox serialized a novel, as well as creating one more volume in her Camelot world, albeit a further afield one. She linked it to a country, a history of both race relations and the American thorn, Cuba, a community of friends and family, a quest-journey, and a coming-of-age narrative. Biting off more than she can chew? Definitely, but she had the scope and temerity to attempt and more power to her: the level of her success, however, is up to the individual reader. Be warned that here Miss Bates writes only a loose response to Roman Holiday; if you’re looking for a full-fledged summary and review … sorry. The length of the novel served as anti-dote to the length of the review, by Miss Bates’ standards anyway.

One would like to think that the serialized format of Roman Holiday would be conducive to the ambition of the project … but Knox set out, Miss Bates assumes, primarily to write a romance. The romance novel requires a focus on the main couple, not predominantly their hang-ups, neuroses, tragic pasts, interconnected lives of family, friends, all relationships as fraught with tension, unresolved and dominant, as what they’re building with each other. (This is particularly problematic for the heroine, Ashley Bowman, who is immature, petulant, weak, and really needs to learn to use cutlery.) Sad to say, after the cross-country journey (from the Florida Keys to Wisconsin), the travel disasters and encounters, hangers-on and memories and nostalgia, the romance suffers. On a basic reader-gut level, with so much going on, and a secondary romance (a pretty good one, Miss Bates might add) Roman Holiday, while containing some wonderful moments, pithy dialogue, and intense love scenes  … well, in the end, dragged. There was too much going on and, strangely, not quite enough.

Miss Bates thought that, juggling simultaneous threads, Knox wanted to create a sweeping tale, a panorama of America and a couple struggling to come to terms with their pasts and find a way of creating something new for the future, that, well, it was a mountain out of a molehill. Moreover, Knox’s wonderfully pithy humour was lost along the way; by the end of the behemothic novel, Miss Bates thought that some authorial finger-wagging was happening. You know that a narrative is in trouble when the narrative voice turns to the second person ;-) and that happened a lot by near-end of Roman Holiday. Miss Bates, in the meanwhile, wanted the heroine to grow up and get on with it. The prose and consideration of her dilemmas did not actually sustain what her dilemmas were. Hero Roman was lovely: he’d actually suffered AND risen above it in an admirable, courageous way, with odds so much more against him than the heroine’s. Love Roman. The heroine didn’t deserve him … but hey, it’s romance and she got him anyway. To give credit where it’s due, Ashley did some growing up, took responsibility, and rose to the Roman occasion. It’s only that by the epilogue heroine-Ashley got everything she wanted and more; and Roman, well, he’s still waiting for “everything.” Knox certainly does like to privilege her heroine’s life over the hero’s; other than the utterly loveable Cath Talarico from About Last Night, Miss Bates, conservative spinster that she pretends to be, always roots for Knox’s heroes.

Knox is always worth reading and that is as much for Roman Holiday as it is any of her works: even the experiments are interesting. Nevertheless, if it wasn’t for Roman, there would not have been any holiday for MissB reading this novel; it is, like its heroine, “almost pretty,” Northanger Abbey.

Ruthie Knox’s Roman Holiday: The Complete Adventure has been available from Loveswept since March 25th, in the usual formats in the usual places.

Miss Bates is indebted to Loveswept (Random House) for an e-ARC, via Netgalley, in exchange for this honest review.

What do you think of the serialized romance novel? Would you read one? Buy and read one in installments or, like Miss Bates, wait until it’s published in its entirety?

13 thoughts on “MINI-REVIEW: Ruthie Knox’s ROMAN HOLIDAY: THE COMPLETE ADVENTURE With HEA and Epilogue, Or The Book Is Too Much With Us

  1. I’m currently reading, episode by episode, Meljean Brook’s “The Kraken King” and enjoying it very much. This is the only romance serial I’ve tried. She’s doing an excellent job of balancing the relationship and the adventure, IMO. Yes, I will re-read it when it is published as a book, so I can compare reading experiences (and because it’s a good story!)
    However, I’ve read a number of SFF serials and enjoyed them–Ilona Andrews’ “Clean Sweep”, John Scalzi’s “The Human Division” are the most recent. The Scalzi was like watching a TV series in real time (no binge-watching!)–it took a while for the various story arcs to become apparent. Reading the book WAS the equivalent of ‘binge-watching’–the story flow seemed different, though none of the elements had changed.

    • It’s interesting to see how the serial has been a success for you with certain authors and narratives. Miss B’s penchant for immediate completion is definitely working against her; however, she read and enjoyed, very much, Robin York’s Deeper, (Robin York, BTW, is Ruthie Knox) and happily awaits the second part, Harder. Maybe that’s because Deeper has a definite end and beginning, though GASP, is HEA-less. But Miss B. holds out hope for Caroline and West.

      The serialized novel, of course, was very much a part of the popular Victorian novel: Miss B. thinks there was some Dickens that was serialized, maybe Mrs. Gaskell too? And certainly, her former addiction to the daytime soap, was thus. As for the TV series, since she spent two weeks one summer watching five seasons of 24, she’s is in the binge-watching camp!

  2. I think the only serialized novel I’ve ever read is Stephen King’s The Green Mile. This was, of course, in prehistoric times before e-readers and the joys of one-click buying. :-). I didn’t mind the cliffhanger aspects so much when I think about it now. In fact, I recall much cogitation in the “between time” of finishing one installment and waiting for the next. I wonder, now, if being so immersed in those six little volumes, one at a time, is the main reason The Green Mile is my favorite of all his books. It felt a little like savoring a favorite dish, one bite at a time, to prolong the goodness.

    I, too, have downloaded each installment of Meljean Brook’s The Kraken King, but I ,er, haven’t read them yet. I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I’m saving them up to read all at once. (The price seemed reasonable at $1.99, but I’ll end up paying about $16 for the set! I feel a little bit like the frog being boiled when I look at that total.) So I guess I’m doing both -buying and then waiting to read them all. I guess I justified/rationalized the expense because I love her Iron Seas series so very much, and it has been almost two years since the last full-length offering in this series. I’m not sure I’d do this again, however. :-)

    • How very interesting! Miss B. never knew that The Green Mile had been serialized. She’s never seen or read the “novel” (but it’s one of Mrs. Bates’s favourites). MissB’s too impatient and doesn’t deal well with delayed gratification to embrace the serial, though if she lived in Victorian England, Canada too ;-), she’d have to like it, wouldn’t she? On the other hand, Miss Bates won’t watch a television series unless it’s out on DVD and she can settle in and watch entire seasons at one go. She’s also likely to leave the ice cream for it to soften … tee hee … so it’s ready at the end of supper.

      I read the first novel in the Iron Seas series and quite like, but didn’t love, it; loved the world-building and atmosphere, but can’t say Miss Bates loved the characters: she didn’t.

      • Miss Bates
        I truly believe that you would enjoy “Riveted” (totally new characters, not featured in ‘Iron Duke’) and “Heart of Steel”. The world-building continues to be fantastic and, with different characters, I think your enjoyment will be greater.
        BTW, the heroine of ‘The Kraken King’ is the sister of the hero of ‘Heart of Steel’–which makes the serial just that much more fun.

        Oh yes, I can remember when ‘Green Mile’ came out in installments–Oh!! the outcry!!! But it sold like hotcakes…

  3. Like everyone else here in the comments I am also reading Meljean Brook’s the Kraken King. While I liked the journey of Roman Holiday, with all its diversions and sidetracking, I think Meljean has a much better sense of how to write a serial, with each installment having it own arc that simultaneously advances the over-arching story.

    I am currently re-reading Ruthie’s Camelot series and it was fascinating to go back there after reading Roman Holiday, armed with new insights into Carly and Nana. However to me that was probably the weakest section of Roman Holiday because it was so much more about Carly and Nana than Roman and Ashley.

    Did you follow Ruthie’s serialization of her novel Truly on Wattpad last fall? That was a traditional novel, released in 6 chapter chunks. It will be released in Aug and is up on Netgalley.

    • It’s interesting to Miss Bates that you noted Roman Holiday‘s unevenness in achieving serialization. It’d be interesting to read one that you felt was successful. Miss Bates is going to scurry off to read your take on Roman Holiday. Reading reviews after the fact is the best!

      Miss Bates thought that Carly and Nana just came across as mean in this. It was disappointing.

      MissB hasn’t followed Knox’s Truly, but she’s looking forward to reading it. While Roman Holiday wasn’t a total success for her, Knox’s books are always interesting in that she doesn’t let herself get stale. She takes risks and even when they don’t elicit a total “yea,” they’re still worth reading.

  4. I agree the Carly and Nana came across as mean, but that wasn’t inconsistent with their depiction in Along Came Trouble. Carly almost wrecked Caleb and Ellen before they got started with her careless words and fixating on a outdated impression of his character. While Ashley needed to hear some hard words about how she had related to men in the past, in order to appreciate some of the ways her grandmother failed her. Confronting the impression Carly and Nana had of her as teen forced her to think about whether that is how she actually was or wanted to be. I also appreciated the novelty of seeing former protagonists depicted in a less than flattering light. That is so unusual.

    The one things that Roman Holiday inspired me to think about was the belief/faith stories in Ruthie’s novels. I loved Roman sitting in the cathedral looking at mural, trying to make sense of what he believed in and to who he belonged.

    I’ve not read many serials in romance but I used to read dozens of them in comics. My favorite series for a long time was Fables. I read the first 100 out of the more 150 issues out there. Most issues where part of 6 or 12 issue arcs that tied together into a larger story, with a smattering of stand-alone single issue stories thrown in. The most successful to me where the ones with the clearest structure.

    • Miss B. agrees: it is unusual and in that sense, it was original and interesting, especially seeing that not all “little old ladies” are sweet. They’re hard and flawed, as Nana and Ashley’s grand-mother were. Miss B. just wishes they hadn’t ridiculed Ashley, but it’s true that it jolted her into seeing herself from a different perspective and it resulted in her understanding and change for the better. As for Roman, well, he was the best thing about the novel, really.

      Miss Bates, though always hyper sensitive to faith issues/expressions of belief, especially implicit ones, really needs to think about where they lie in Knox’s work. This is fascinating to her. She just wishes that she could remember that scene with Roman … but she’ll have to go back to the book, nay two books, before she can say.

      Miss B. didn’t read many comics as a child: she always went for the biggest books she could find in her meagre school library. :-) But she did read many Dennis the Menace. The serial, for her, that she followed for years was, of course, the soap opera … (oh, have you read Seidel’s Again, which is set on the set of a daytime soap?). Every immigrant family on her street, with varied knowledge of English, watched Another World. Remember that one?

      • I used to watch General Hospital and Days of our Lives in High School and college. I grew up watching tele-novelas which have less in common with American soap operas and more with mini-series with their pre-determined limited runs as they were often 4 to 6 month runs with structured arcs, not constantly evolving and organically growing soaps.

        I read strips and Archie’s & Disney comics as a kid, and was introduced to comics in college. So much variety in storytelling style.

  5. I read The Green Mile as it came out in six serialized parts, very tiny paperbacks, all those years ago. It was a magical experience, because no contemporary author I knew of had ever done that in my lifetime. I did feel like there were some narrative flaws to the concept, that I can barely articulate now. But I think I remember feeling like there where moments when King felt obligated to recap things that had happened in earlier episodes perhaps? In a way that you wouldn’t do in a novel, because you’d assume your reader was right there with you.

    And Dickens was definitely serialized. :) I remember reading that when the ships carrying the magazine or newspaper issues with episodes of The Old Curiosity Shop arrived at the docks in New York City, people crowded around shouting up at the sailors, “Is Little Nell dead?” because they were in such an agony to find out what had happened next.

    That story is likely apocryphal, but it makes me happy! I’m too impatient now to read serials (I think SFF writer John Scalzi is having success with them), so I just wait until they are all released together. :)

    Lovely review, thank you!

    • You’re very welcome!

      Oh, Miss Bates is going to hug that “Little Nell” story forever: she read The Old Curiosity Shop in agony as well, but only insofar as she whipped through the chapters. What a world: close enough to us for “mass communication” and accessibility to story and yet far enough away from our sped-up world to experience that kind of anticipation.

      Miss Bates is not patient at all, so the serialized novel is definitely not her thing either. A lot of readers, and commentators here, are enjoying Meljean Brooks’ The Kraken King.

  6. Pingback: REVIEW: Ruthie Knox’s TRULY Yourself | Miss Bates Reads Romance

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