Tender Wings of Insult, or: How Not to Do a Gentle Parody

Dear Gentle Readers:

In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I loathe and abhor Tender Wings of Desire.

For those who are not au courant in the literary scene, Tender Wings of Desire is a historical romance novella, put out by KFC—yes, that KFC—in honor of Mother’s Day, dedicated to mothers everywhere. It was “written” by Colonel Sanders and stars that selfsame colonel as a romantic hero set in 19th-century England. (Probably.)

No, seriously, it literally has a woman in jeans and a pink sweatshirt and purse in Col. Sander's arms. What?

This is the actual cover. KFC

Dear readers, my loathing for this work did not begin on the first page. The book starts a little rough, it’s true—our heroine hates embroidery and complains about the process, and then goes on to say that the only good thing to do with needle and thread is mending, which is of course a complaint about the actual result of embroidery, not the process, though I digress. But I could forgive that.

(Sort of.)

(Apparently not.)

It should have started when I saw the cover, which is clearly old-school Harlequin, complete with a woman in jeans and carrying a purse, but somehow I skimmed over that.

Oh, no, it started three percent of the way into the book, when the narrator informs us that we’re in a Taming of the Shrew scenario, in which the younger sister absolutely must not get married until the older sister has done so. I’m unaware of a period in English history when that was an actual literal requirement, but if it did exist, certainly it wouldn’t have been in the Victorian era.

Seven percent of the way in—after a tedious conversation in which Our Heroine (Madeline) expresses view in line with 20th-century women and not 19th—we hit another mistake, in which the author refers to her marriage prospects as “preferably some sort of baron, earl, count, or duke.” But as anyone knows, there were no counts in the British aristocracy at the time. The list should be baronet, viscount, earl, marquess, or duke. (As a note, the wife of an earl is a countess.) “Count” would have been a foreign title.

Also, it’s not entirely clear why people want to marry Madeline, other than the fact that she’s pretty and her father is probably well connected. That is, Madeline is referred to as Lady Madeline Parker, and the courtesy title means that her father is an earl, marquess, or duke—I mean, other than the fact that he’s only referred to as “Lord Parker.” So probably he isn’t well connected and he’s just expecting his daughter to marry a duke or other member of the nobility because she’s . . . pretty? Sure.

Eight percent of the way in we discover that Madeline’s older brother Winston is at Oxford learning about business so he can run the estate once he’s inherited it. Perhaps, but at Oxford in 2017 you can’t get a “degree” in business. (They offer a bachelor’s in economics and management, but that is Not the Same Thing.) Regardless of when this is actually set—and at this point in the book I simply don’t know—I’m pretty sure Oxford didn’t actually offer classes in something as low class as business, and in any event the heir apparent of a duke, marquess, or earl wouldn’t be caught dead studying business. Gentlemen don’t work for a living.

It’s going to take me almost as many words to explain how much I hate the book as the actual length of the book, so let me list a few (many) more of my complaints. These are taken from my actual notes, in order, as I was reading the mess:

  • The narrator keeps referring to Madeline’s potential suitor as “Duke Reginald,” when he should be referred to as, at the very least, “Sainsbury” (he’s the duke of Sainsbury).
  • “[C]orsets pinched and the wide hoops of her skirt . . .” When is this book set? When I started, I had assumed Regency, but this sounds like either mid-Victorian (1850s) or maybe Georgian (1780s)—but no one is powdering their hair?
  • “Dressed entirely in white (as unmarried ladies often did before their debuts).” One, un-debuted ladies wouldn’t ever be married. Two, debutantes often wore white at or after their debuts. Three, what?
  • “Oh, please call me Madeline, Duke.” Excuse me. “Your Grace” is the correct form of address for a duke. He at least correctly called her Lady Madeline.
  • Can someone please explain to me why this is set in England?!?
  • DEAR KFC: HIRE ME NEXT TIME. I COULD WRITE YOU A BETTER NOVELLA.
  • Also if she’s Lady Madeline and her father is a duke, marquess, earl, then marrying a duke is pretty cool but not like HOLY CRAP WHAT A MIRACLE. But then again, her father is “Lord Parker” . . . which would either be a courtesy title, in which case he’d be Lord Firstname and his daughter would be Miss Parker, or he’s the Earl of Parker and they’re all mistitling him?
  • Also this really feels very Regency in sensibility. If it’s meant to be Victorian, shouldn’t there should be some mention of classes and poverty and stuff—or a reference to the Queen? But hoop skirts and corsets? (Also, probably she’d call it a “crinoline.”)
  • “She was barely old enough to get away with drinking wine at dinner.” And then there are just mistakes. She’s 18.
  • And there her father just stood up at someone else’s party and announced his daughter’s engagement. I can’t even begin to list the ways in which that is incorrect.
  • Bridesmaids wearing lilac?! Bridesmaids did not exist by that name until the Victorian Era, and at that point they all wore the same color as the bride—which, if this is Victorian, is white, not lilac.
  • The commentary about “Only some people get to marry for love” is distinctly Regency or pre-Regency. And yet.
  • Why is her lady’s maid wearing a uniform? Regency-era ladies’ maids typically wore castoffs from the ladies themselves, which would have been of a much nicer quality than a uniform. This continued through at least a portion of the Victorian era, but essentially a uniform would imply that our heroine didn’t like her maid enough to give her her old dresses.
  • “[H]er simple dress made her breeding hard to determine . . .” Hello, her horse would make it obvious. (To be fair, this is at least in character. But the fact that she just sort of got a room at an inn and there is no mention of the innkeeper giving her the side-eye is not.)
  • This book has zero sense of place. In a day and a half of riding—so, 50 or so miles at most—she arrives at the sea, and . . . I have no idea where she was or which “sea” she arrived at.
  • Also, she’s continually referring to the duke as “Reginald” in her head. But she doesn’t even really like the guy?
  • How does she not recognize an Irish or Scottish accent? Like a third of their household staff is probably Irish or Scottish.
  • Ah, the woman is Irish and came to England for a “change of pace.” Yes, that’s how things work in either the restrictive Regency or extremely class-sensitive Victorian eras.
"That's not how this works. That's not how any of this works."

This meme correctly represents how I feel about this whole novella.

  • “[The local fishermen] asked polite questions about the ‘new worker.'” HAHAHA NOPE.
  • Our hero enters, wearing “glasses with dark frames.” Look, all right, I know the KFC colonel has to look like himself, but SET IT AT SOME POINT IN HISTORY WHEN HORN-RIMMED GLASSES EXIST OR GIVE HIM DIFFERENT GLASSES. Also apparently he’s white-blond now, not white-haired, so uh.
  • Madeline doesn’t know an Irish accent but she knows an American one and can differentiate between “generic American” (probably Bostonian at the time) and “a softer version” (aka Southern)?!
  • Also, seriously, he should not have introduced himself by his first name.
  • “His accent sounded too cultured for an American farmer.” Southerners were, by and large, farmers.
  • Also, in case you’re wondering, Ye Olde Irish Lass Tavern Wench (her name is Caoimhe and the text takes particular pains to point out that it’s pronounced “Keeva”) is acting completely out of time period andcharacter as well. Her particular method of calling Colonel Sanders back to poke fun at Madeline is rather irksome.

Here I had to take a break because of the headache this was giving me, but do not fear, gentle readers: I am not done.

  • KFC, when I said I could write you a better novella, I was in no way kidding.
  • “On the contrary . . . I think behaving is the last thing I want to do with her.” So, like, two seconds ago, Colonel Sanders, you revealed that you totally knew that she’s of good family, and now you’re talking about her like she’s a standard Tavern Wench? Cool, cool. (Not cool.)
  • Madeline’s hair is described as chocolate brown here for the second time. I, uh, don’t normally spend much time thinking about the exact color of my hair. Do you?
  • “A lady used to live here . . . it is only now that we’ve gotten around to replacing her.” Hold up. If she was a lady, she wasn’t working at the tavern; she was a boarder. And Madeline isn’t a boarder; she’s an employee. So . . . what?
  • n all honesty, she was pretty innocent . . .” I’ve read a lot of Regency-era romance. Less Victorian, but still. And, uh, I don’t think “pretty” is used as an adverb this way very commonly.
  • “[H]is hair was such a light blond that it almost appeared white . . .” YOU KNOW WHAT WOULD HAVE MADE SENSE? If this were Georgian era and people were powdering their hair! That would have given him a good excuse to have white hair! DEAR KFC: IF YOU HIRED ME YOU WOULD HAVE GOTTEN SOMEONE WHO THOUGHT ABOUT THINGS LIKE THAT.
  • “[H]is eyes were exactly two shades darker than the sea.” Um. What?
  • “She was the impulsive teenager.” Bzzzt WRONG. The concept of “teenagers” didn’t exist for 100 or more years yet at this point.
  • Also, are they just letting her stable her horse there for free? Because that seems completely unrealistic. (Pragmatism? Is that all you have to offer?)
  • “Once the thin and pale waifish look had become fashionable . . .” That’s Regency. Victorian women were usually more rounded? But . . . hoopskirts and corsets? That’s . . . ? WHEN IS THIS FUCKING BOOK SET?!
  • “[The kiss was] electric.” The online etymology dictionary says that electric was used in a metaphorical context as of 1767 and Mary Robinette Kowal’s Jane Austen Word List has “electrified” in it, but . . . I feel like maybe not.
  • “. . . tried to picture what it would be like kissing a boy . . .” This isn’t a mistake, but if I were editing this book I’d have flagged the word “boy,” which seems a little weird for an 18-year-old lady who was expecting to marry a duke who was probably 30 or older and who’s currently lusting after Colonel Sanders.
  • Three-quarters of the way through the book, Madeline decides (?) that she is somehow unfettered from literally all of society’s rules (?) because she has run away from her family (???).
"That's not how this works. That's not how any of this works."

So many things don’t work.

  • The possible-sex-scene is so vague and generally described that I’m really not sure if they didn’t just kiss in her bed and fall asleep. Like, she’s wearing a nightgown.
  • “. . . and looking as though the entire world had been laid at his feet.” Is this an intentional chicken pun?! I can’t tell.
  • “. . . feeling like every love song she had ever listened to was real to her now.” You can’t imagine the face I’m making right now.
  • he finally understood her sister’s preoccupation with love.” That isn’t quite how I remember it. (I still have that look on my face. It’s not entirely unlike the look in my author photo.)
  • “I took a lover . . .” All right, apparently they did bone. SERIOUSLY. IT WASN’T CLEAR.
  • (Please note that Caoimhe has been waffling between throwing Madeline at Colonel Sanders and warning her off of him this entire time so honestly this whole business about her taking up with a rake is awkward. Also, rakes were usually upper-class and he’s kind of a sailor?)
  • Ah, Caoimhe left Ireland because she wanted to see the world. That totally happened, all the time. (I’m making that face some more.)
  • Apparently they bone all the time. Countdown to pregnancy started.
  • Now there’s a weird subplot about the cook’s assistant, Liam, who was obviously in love with Madeline. I’m not saying it came out of nowhere, but I’m 86% done with the book, so where is this going?
  • “[C]ome back and take up the mantle of Colonel Sanders.” Okay, no.
  • Apparently Madeline was having her horse stabled somewhere other than the tavern and paying for it? With what wages?
  • And apparently Liam just had a backstory so he could . . . act strange?
  • “I am a magnate of the restaurant industry.” Which . . . didn’t . . . exist . . .
  • Also Madeline’s family is thrilled that even though she ran away, she came home betrothed to a colonel—even though he’s an American colonel? A British colonel would be a second or third son of someone with a title, but not so much the case for an American one, and it’s possibly just an honorary title because when would he have had time to earn the rank of colonel and have a restaurant empire and—

In all seriousness, gentle readers, the main issue I have with this book is that it was clearly meant to be a gentle parody, but in order to be a proper gentle parody the author needs to have a thorough understanding of the original genre. The author of this book does not understand the genre besides some of the major beats and put absolutely no effort into writing it in terms of style or historical research. Authors who write historical romance for a living also spend a great deal of time researching. Eloisa James—author of many best-selling historical romance novels, daughter of award-winning essayist Carol Bly and award-winning poet Robert Bly, professor of Shakespeare at Fordham University—got so many letters after she put a Regency-era hero in pajamas (instead of a sleep shirt or nothing at all) that it’s become a joke to her, but she never made that particular mistake again. She hires research assistants now.

Maybe one doesn’t need a research assistant to write a joke novella for a fast-food restaurant, but half an hour spent with Google might have helped.

Or, you know, hiring someone who actually knows what they’re doing. (HEY KFC I CLEARLY HAVE MORE THAN A PASSING FAMILIARITY WITH THE GENRE AND MY CONTACT INFORMATION IS BELOW IN CASE YOU EVER DO SOMETHING LIKE THIS AGAIN.)

Ahem.

Wings of Tender Desire is available for free on Amazon.

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