Friday, January 18, 2013

Book Review: Jen Turano's A Change in Fortune and setting up parallel stories

A Change of Fortune
Jen Turano

Bethany House
c. November 2012
ISBN 978-0-7642-1018-1
Print: $14.99
E-book: $9.99

Finally, a historical romance not set on the prairie. It’s 1880, New York City, but it’s still the aristocratic side of town – Park Avenue, balls, dinners, carriages, the El, and shopping. Glasses and padding under her corset help Eliza Sumner hide in plain sight. She’s come across the ocean from her home in England when her late father’s fortune is stolen and no one, not even her fiancé in London, will help her get it back.

Eliza can’t pass as a peon for long, however, when she lands a job as a governess. Agatha, the eldest sister of her current charges, forces her to come clean, and the two of them embark on an adventure to recover Eliza’s inheritance and for Agatha, write an articles for the newspaper. They encounter the Beckett brothers along the way who have their own troubles with a man associated with Eliza’s thief, a charmingly chauvinistic investigator, and Hamilton Beckett’s scheming mother who may be the most dangerous of all.

Turano’s debut is as predictable as the genre is supposed to be, the fun is in the journey, and Turano doesn’t disappoint. From the moment Eliza puts on glasses in a disastrous dinner, loses her skirt in a break-in attempt and goes to jail in a prostitute round-up, to meeting the Beckett children, I enjoyed the twists and turns of the characters. Mrs. Beckett is an absolute hoot. The others were personable, with enough background subtly strewn about that their current actions and inactions made sense.
Mostly historically accurate with the exception of some pet phrases, if a bit rambunctious and occasionally over the top, the story line is emotionally satisfying, and thoroughly entertaining. A Change in Fortune is a sweet debut novel.

Setting up parallel stories

Parallel stories, not just sequel or prequels, are hot these days in grouped novellas, as well as series like the Women of Justice and Deadly Reunion series from Revell.
Unlike a prequel or sequel, parallel stories use side or peripheral characters or events from one book and turn them into the protagonists in another book of similar genre and setting. The protagonist from one book is not the protagonist in the parallel book. Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series was grouped in parallel stories in specific generations, exploring her fantasy world from multiple aspects of society, weaving familiar characters through each novel, though focusing on one main character or group of characters at a time. Fan fiction is famous for this technique as well.

Parallel stories are developed either with familiar characters or events. For example, the partner of the main character detective who plays a supporting role in one book may get his or her own role in a following book with either new or the same characters in support of him. If using an event as a parallel story, something like a group of stories revolving a natural or man-made disaster uses a similar template to explore the effects of the experience on individuals during/before/after.
To set up a future story, an author must

·        plant suggestions

·        use subtle innuendo

·        leave enough question or wonder but complete the current story

·        leave room for the reader to want to know what would happen if we were to follow that particular story line

·        must not overshadow or interfere with the current story arc, which also must come to a satisfactory conclusion for the reader

·        The hinted-at story line must leave enough question, but not too much that the character cannot complete his or her supporting task in the current story line.

·        The hinted-at story line must also fit like a puzzle piece in order to avoid being contrived.

Although Turano seemed to lose a bit of control toward the end of A Change in Fortune when a surprise character turned up, here’s where we sit up and take notice of how possible future parallel stories to explore are planted. NOTE: I don’t know that A Change in Fortune will birth parallel novels; I’m simply speculating at this time.

SPOILER ALERT: I’ll try not to give the story away, but if you haven’t read this book and don’t like to know what happens before you read, you might want to stop here and come back after reading the book.

The Male and Female Protagonists in A Change in Fortune were Lady Eliza Sumner, newly broken engagement, following her stolen family fortune, and Hamilton Beckett, widower with young children, investigating threats to his family business. It’s a romance, so the genre must follow particular devices and come to a happily ever after conclusion—no secrets there. However, these supporting/peripheral characters were introduced with “issues” of their own. Some were more developed than others.

Character/ Possible story to explore:
Zayne Beckett, Hamilton’s brother/mysterious fiancé alluded to by Hamilton, but had definite sparks with supporting character Agatha

Agatha Watson, Eliza’s friend/wanted a career in 1880 New York City, sparked with Zayne and with Theodore, a chauvinistic but charming investigator

Arabella Beckett/suffragette sister who didn’t make an appearance but was much referred to

And the last and most obvious is—
Grayson Sumner, mistakenly deceased brother of Eliza/his sojourn in China.

In this case, the side story was not necessary to satisfactorily complete the arc of Eliza/Hamilton and threatened to overshadow their romance. His appearance was not necessarily a shock since the character had been briefly referred to; however it did little other than cause the reader to speculate on his story instead of advancing and bolstering the main story.

How to avoid making your parallel story plant not look contrived? By planting a few more subtle clues along the way and make the plant somewhat necessary to the story. It could have easily been insinuated that the brother was not dead but missing and somehow involved in the missing fortune/Eliza’s freedom to marry someone she could freely choose instead of the idiot she had been tied to. That’s just one idea of many, and fun to think about.

Any of these characters and the accompanying storyline would be a delight in other accompanying books to A Change in Fortune.

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  1. Terrific review and a great analysis of parallel, prequel, and sequel stories. Thanks, Lisa!

  2. Thanks, Linda. I felt like I should give more details, but perhsps we can explore that more deeply in the future if there are requests.