Review for Damsels in Distress, by Joan Hess

A Renaissance Fair is coming to town, and Claire and Caron get roped into helping by a purple-tights-clad Fool. But as they meet the local "nobility" and experience the fun and silly delights of the Fair itself, they realize there are numerous undercurrents. When someone is killed at the Fair, Claire tries her best to keep out of it for a while, but then, once again, delves into the mystery.

I had a harder time accepting Claire's brash actions in this book. She did more illegal things and seemed to care less about them, which, considering the issue her fiancé, Lieutenant Rosen, has with that, seemed especially out of character. Their wedding being only two months away and all. It felt like, to accomplish this plot, the author put Rosen out of town because he wouldn't have let Claire do what she did, and the only reason Claire had to do what she did was because the author purposely wants to portray Claire as Chaotic Neutral in this book. Mission accomplished.

The Ren Fair characters were all larger than life, as well as improbably horny. Sure, any good Ren Fair is full of suggestive jokes, but to imply that everyone involved is taking that literally, well, it felt unnecessary. SPOILER And it ended up being a red herring anyway. END SPOILER

The character set felt a little imbalanced. There were the locals, there were the Ren Fair folks, and there were the victims/murderer, who crossed lines left and right, but those who were involved in the crimes felt unnaturally close-knit and isolated. It felt like a letdown to have them feature so largely in the final details. SPOILER And unlike Sue Henry, Joan Hess does not seem capable of writing a sociopath. END SPOILER

Having attended the Renaissance Faire at Black Rock religiously during my college years, I was excited to get into this book. Probably too excited. The Fair portrayed in the book played a very small role, and most of the characters from it spent their pages in other locations. The plot focuses on their interpersonal relationships quite heavily, which made for a whole new set of mysteries, but I was sad not to spend more time goggling at the awesomeness of the Fair.

The writing was smooth, with only a sprinkling of errors, but, yes, I noticed them, as always. It baffles me that people paid to make sure books are flawless do a worse job of it than I do as a casual reader.

3 of 5 stars.

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