Leopard in Exile
by Andre Norton and Rosemary Edghill
Tor, 2001, ISBN 0-312-86428-0
A book review by Elisabeth Carey
There's a perfectly adequate plot in here somewhere, involving the Holy Grail, the ex-Dauphin of France, and the Marquis de Sade. I assume Norton is probably responsible for the plot; I also assume she had nothing else whatever to do with the writing of the book.
The writing style is of course not Norton; as in all the Norton collaborations it's far smoother than anything she has ever written herself. The problem, I think, is mainly one of attitude.
This rather light alternate-history Regency is loaded with footnotes. Some of these footnotes contain genuinely interesting information, or clarify points that might need clarifying, when one is mucking about with early 19th century history, of which many readers will have somewhat fuzzy retention of even the real facts. Others, unfortunately, seem to assume the reader is barely literate, or seem designed to make the reader feel slightly off base, or to be intended merely to show off the vast amount of research Ms. Edghill has done.
Item: on page 95, we have Meriel picking up her ridicule--which is, of course, footnoted; it's footnote number 21. In the footnote we learn that it's a purse, otherwise known at the time as reticule or budget. Is there a reason, other than forcing as many readers as possible to look at the footnote and see all the research Ms. Edghill has done, to use "ridicule" rather than "reticule" or "budget", either of which would be confidently recognized in context by a far larger percentage of her readers?
Item: on page 344, we have the motto, "Piété, Justice, Liberté"--and also footnote number 67, helpfully translating this for the reader as "Piety, Justice, Liberty". Is there a reason for this footnote, other than assuming that the reader is barely literate?
On page 263, we have footnote 51, providing the url for a selection of jambalaya recipes, "Since no book set in New Orleans is complete without a discussion of the food..."
I could go on, listing foolish, gratuitous, or annoying footnotes, the places where I think she chose an obscure word or phrase rather than an equally correct but less obscure one solely to allow her to footnote it, or footnotes that provide far more information than the reader needs, but I think I've provided enough to capture something of the flavor of them. I should probably also say something about the numerous occasions when the characters behave like idiots, because behaving sensibly would cut short portions of the plot that Ms. Edghill wishes to spend more time on, but, as I write this, it's far too hot.