The Language of Flowers – by Lady Strange
The Basics: Half-Blood Prince Era, Regency, 140k (1/3 of it is Author’s Notes)
Warnings: Alternate Universe
Miss Hermione Granger and Lord Sterne (Severus Snape) hatch a plan to help their friends, Lady Ginevra Weasley and Lord Villiers (Draco Malfoy), court each other despite Duchess Mallefille (Narcissa Malfoy)’s disapproval.
When I read His Draught of Delicate Poison, I thought that it was a Regency fic. It wasn’t until I read this fic, The Language of Flowers, that I realized His Draught of Delicate Poison was only lightly referencing Regency romance. The author of The Language of Flowers exhaustively converts all of Harry Potter into actual Regency London; giving everyone proper titles and peerage related to actual places, converting all of the schools to real schools, converting all of the men’s clubs and stores to real Regency clubs and stores, and notating it all in the Author’s Notes with history lessons and citations. The level of detail here is insane.
When I told my husband I was reading a Regency SSHG fic based on the language of flowers, he joked, ‘is there a preface dedicated to you?’ because Victorian flower language, gardening, old England, and SSHG fiction are pretty much my favorite things in life. I was 100% sure that I would adore this fic and I was so, so disappointed to find out that I did not.
First of all, many of the characters are referred to by their invented Regency titles rather than their names, because that is the way it would have been in Regency England. Snape is ‘Lord Sterne,’ Draco is ‘Lord Villiers,’etc. I understand why the the author made this choice, but it’s jarring. Next, there are hugely extensive Author’s Notes that I had to give up on reading because they were extremely pedantic and boring. I thought I would love the little lessons on flowers and on Regency England, but they were overly verbose and never seemed to enhance the story. And again, I feel as though I should stress the idea that if ANYONE was going to enjoy these Author’s Notes and this story, it should have been me! These are my exact interests and I was bored to tear by both the story and the notes. What went wrong?
One major problem with the story are the characterizations, especially Snape in the latter half of the story. He is raging, irrational, and pathetic. He follows Hermione around everywhere and screams at her jealously for absolutely no reason. He’s acting jealous because he’s in love with her, of course, but…what a heavy-handed and silly way to express that. Aren’t Regency fics supposed to be about restraint, wit and subtlety? Why the temper tantrums? The Snape in the second half of the story does not even resemble Snape. If the character were supposed to be Ron, I would have written that the author did a disservice to Ron by making him such a jealous crybaby. Can you imagine Snape being more of a jealous crybaby than Ron? That’s what we’re dealing with in this story. Not sexy, not interesting, not intelligent, not Snape.
When readers complain about the characterizations, the author responds by explaining that it is a necessary part of the Regency conversion. Hermione would be cold and aloof because fill-in-the-blank Regency reason. Snape would be possessive and jealous because fill-in-the-blank Regency reason. In some fics, I will accept bad characterizations if I feel the author has ‘done the work’ to justify these character changes, but that is not the case here. As an example, Draco (I’m sorry, Lord Villiers) is shown to be a bit of a bad boy who is sincerely reformed because he wants to marry Ginevra. Things seem to be going well for him. Then, out of nowhere, he decides to go back to the gaming hall, get drunk, and duel-murder not one but TWO people. Why? Why would he do that? There is no explanation, not even in the 30 paragraph long Author’s Notes for that chapter. The author puts in plenty of work, but it’s all on Regency England and not on the characters or the story. I wish the author had focused more of her considerable intellectual prowess on portraying the characters accurately and writing a creative story.
Disappointment and a strange sort of dread filled my chest as I drew near the final chapters, realizing that the mild, boring scenes that were wrapping up were actually the climax of the story. That’s it? What about all of the flower stuff? What was this great mystery I was trying to piece together and decode? Was there nothing to solve, just floral references to the themes of each chapter? What was all of that build-up for? A little trip to France, a few tantrums, and all of the people we thought were going to be engaged in the beginning are now engaged?
I really want to muster up something positive to say here, because the fic is such a tremendous effort, but I am left with the overwhelming feeling that if I didn’t like this fic, which seemed to be made specifically for me, how could anyone else like it? I think the root of the problem is that the author is more of an academic than a creative. I had to come to the same conclusion about myself when my brief foray into creative writing ended with me crying into an empty notebook on a park bench in London (after a 6 month creative writing study abroad semester during which I wrote nothing.) I love literature, but I was not meant to write it. I do not have the electric spark of creativity. I feel that this author might have the same issue and I’m sure she could (and probably has) written fantastic non-fiction.
The bottom line: If I were grading this fic on its historical accuracy and academic merit, I might be giving it an A+. This site, however, is grading the quality of the SSHG content, which in this fic is mediocre at best. The author is extremely intelligent and well-studied; but when you take away all of the research, footnotes, history lessons, and Regency conversion efforts all that remains is a simple fic with serious out-of-character problems. Worth a read if you love Regency, maybe.