The Penwyth Curse
by Catherine Coulter, historical/fantasy (2003)
Jove, $7.99, ISBN 0-515-13436-8


Catherine Coulter's The Penwyth Curse is a nice book to read if you want to see how an author tries so hard to be smart, only to lose all control of her story altogether. Not to be mean or anything - heh - but it's quite amusing. There is an unusual premise in The Penwyth Curse that makes this book a very interesting read from start to finish, but I don't know if this is worth $7.99. The romance and characterization are not up to par.

For readers who like to keep track of an author's books, this one is related to Earth Song. Lucky you, Dienwald and Philippa even make unnecessary appearances, along with - unfortunately - that crappo jester guy and enough bad poetry to get the author banned for life from any decent poetry reading groups.

There are actually two stories in this book. Catherine Coulter kicks off the story with the one set in the "present", 13th century Cornwall. Our hero is the newly knighted Sir Bishop of Lythe. He has saved the daughter of the King in er, Earth Song? I didn't read that book, so I may be wrong. As a reward, the King will make Sir Bishop the new Lord de Gay. Stop sniggering, people. But first, he must marry Merryn de Gay. No problem, right? How hard can it be to marry an 18-year old girl and be Lord de Gay?

But as her father Vellan de Gay - please stop sniggering - will tell anybody who listens, there is a Druid curse on Penwyth, the de Gay holding. Any man who tried to marry Merryn in the past died under mysterious circumstances. Bishop suspects poisoning. He will do best to cover his tracks before he marry that gal.

As he and Merryn agonize over how they would divest her of her virginity - see later - he also begins to dream of an unnamed wizard prince of a distant time trying to bludgeon his love Brecia, a wizardess, into being his wife while trying to save them both from an evil wizard. Both stories are linked in a way.

The dream story is much more interesting than the main story, so as the book progresses, the Unnamed Prince and Brecia effortlessly hijack the story from Bishop and Merryn. Even so, the Prince and Brecia aren't very interesting characters. The Prince deserted Brecia a while ago, married someone else, and now he's back and he all but bludgeons the woman with "You're mine, spread those legs, spread 'em!" barkings. I'm not kidding, only I kind of make him sound more polite that he really is in this story. It is rather disturbing how there is really very little differences between the Prince and the evil warlock - both of them walk right in and demand the heroine to spread 'em now. Brecia doesn't even show me why she suddenly switches from being argumentative with the Prince to begging him to make love to her.

This is the same problem plaguing Bishop and Merryn. Merryn starts out a man-hating tomboy hellion typical of the medieval subgenre heroines, but apparently, the moment she has a handsome man in her sight, all she can think about is giving him hand and blow jobs and how he can take away her virginity. Bishop is a little better - he prefers to be fixated on "spilling his seed" in her as well as "taking her virginity" - at least he has more variations in the expression of his maidenhead fetish. No character development or even decent character motivation - this is strictly Babe and Jock Medieval Hormonal Beach Party 1278.

The only reason I say the dream story is more interesting is because it has some amusingly campy magic fluff going on in there. Bishop and Merryn are underbaked stock characters with very little else going for them other than overheated young loins pulsing bright and turgid.

As the story progresses, the dream story overwhelms the main story, to a point that Bishop and Merryn become annoying distraction to the Lurid Adventures of Magick Barbie and Ken. Ms Coulter tries to be smart, switching back and forth in what she believes in a Soderberghian-style of storytelling (to me, I see it as "disjointed"), upping the fluffy tricks and special effects at the detriment of relationship or character development. In the end, all four main characters are halfbaked and their romances have all the depths of a puddle. What The Penwyth Curse does have is a superfluous abundance of bad poetry, showy switching of settings, and lots of fluff and fanfare but little substance.

There're also some moments of disturbing humor, like Dienwald jesting to his friends that he is physically abusing his wife Philippa and asking them not to tell her father. Sure, someone can and will always pull the Historically Accurate Argument on me for this, but like I always say, your mileage and mine may vary.

The curse here, if you ask me, is the author abandoning substance for fluff. There's really no point decorating a story with pretty sparkling thingies when there's not much story to prettify in the first place.

Rating: 69


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