So Robert Burns said, in a far more Scots way, that ‘the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry’ (confession – thought it was Shakespeare til I looked it up. I’m a dumb-dumb). But in Qwen Salsbury’s hugely enjoyable novel, protagonist Emma Baker is no mouse, but she definitely has her eye on a man, and her plans to get him to notice her do not, of course, quite follow the path she expects.
Her boss, the wonderfully named Alaric Canon, is known for going through assistants like a sexy, alpha-male version of that fantastic fictitious sit-com journalist, and my childhood idol, Murphy Brown. (If you didn’t watch it, then that’s a random ref. Oh well. Find a box set.) Nobody seems to last more than a day under his strict demands, until Emma finds herself assigned the task – and going on a business trip with Mr Canon to boot. She’s been a keen observer or him, and his perfectly sculpted ass, and so is ready to do what needs to be done to reap the professional rewards that surviving the stint as his assistant will reward. Yes, what you think might happen does – but in a deliciously tense and compellingly sexy manner that had me keen to devour this Palate Cleanser in as few sittings as possible.
Salsbury tells the story through Emma’s eyes in a terse, self-deprecatingly funny journal-esque style, and our protagonist has a succinct, unique and evocative way with words, with punch lines that pay off fantastically. (The pineapple died in vain line is a killer – you’ll see). Emma is juggling law school at night with her number crunching job, and in a manner that perhaps many women do, finds herself changing her demeanour, her clothes, her behaviour, in order to appease the demands of Mr Canon. She holds back ideas and feelings and berates herself for it – but, when she finally snaps, she becomes more assertive than she could have imagined, and it’s a sexy thrill to experience as the story unfolds. The flip in their power dynamic is really nice to see after all the much-celebrated female subjugation of late. However, what Canon of course wants – what he’s always wanted and appreciated – is the real Emma.
If anything, it’s perhaps once the characters fully allow themselves to be honest and some of the tension drains away, that the story becomes a touch less driven and compelling. Occasionally the style of writing becomes a little harder to follow, and maybe Emma and Alaric become too deeply invested in one another too quickly – but these are only minor quibbles in what is a really engaging read. Plan to be entertained by this one.
Cringe Factor 1/5
Is it Hot in Here? 4/5
For the Love of Feminism! 3.5/5
Overall Tasty Goodness 4/5