The Wisest Maiden
by Dahlia DeWinters, fantasy (2012)
Liquid Silver Books, $4.25, ISBN 978-1-59578-969-3
The Wisest Maiden is Dahlia DeWinters's take on One Thousand And One Nights, so the synopsis should be familiar to you if you know of that particular story.
In the desert kingdom of Al'eam, King Toridesh - not Sultan or Caliph? - decides that the best way to avoid a repeat of an unpleasant experience with his first wife is to marry a virgin, shag her, and then execute her. Meanwhile, our heroine Issalia, or Issa to you and me, insists on helping her father run the stall in the marketplace in the place of her ill mother. The King is said to be away, after all... or maybe not, as he shows up as one of the first clients of the day. A royal wedding is inevitable, but perhaps Issa can find a way to halt the execution after the honeymoon?
Now, here's the thing. If the author wants to create a monster of a romance hero and sell me a romance featuring this fellow, she has better work double time to convince me. There are several ways to do this. One, the heroine is as wicked and twisted as the hero, thus creating an adorably evil couple united by passion and mutual sadistic pleasures. Or, the hero does plenty of groveling - and in Toridesh's case, I can't imagine how groveling is going to justify his past actions.
In this case, Ms DeWinters decides to go with the conventional romance approach. Despite knowing that he holds her life in his hands on a whim, Issa realizes that he is so hot and he is so sweet to her, so oh, it is going to be so hard to stop thinking about him that way. And the serial-killing monarch falls in love with the heroine after some abrupt "I'm not worthy of you!" blues, and then it's a shagpile of happily ever after. Sure, this may work, despite the accelerated pace of the romance, if, you know, we aren't talking about an insane monarch who marries, deflowers, and kills off virgins because he's too big a baby to go through heartbreak again. Goodness, the author even refers to him as "Desh", as if he's some kind of adorable puppy to pet and pamper. Issa can't do much to escape her impending death, but she doesn't even try, instead she's all "Will he fall in love with me, like I've fallen in love with him, and maybe I won't die then?"
The hero is too much of a monster to be given the ordinary romance hero treatment, and yet, the author acts as if these two were nothing more unusual than the usual emo crybaby hero and the understanding and patient heroine who loves him.
Sorry, I'm not buying this at all. Thanks for playing, Ms DeWinters, but maybe some other time.
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