by Christina Dodd, historical (2006)
Avon, $7.99, ISBN 0-06-056118-1
I pity any man who reads Christina Dodd's The Prince Kidnaps A Bride because even I feel the cold blade of a knife against my non-existent testicles as I read this story. Ms Dodd sets out to deliberately make the hero Prince Rainger de Leonides not just colossally stupid but so cruel and manipulative that he comes off like a villain in a cartoon. Wait, don't cringe, people. After having set up Prince Rainger for the huge fall, she has every character in this book pile on Prince Rainger to the point that it's like I'm watching him being pelted with rotten vegetables in a public pillory. In short, this is the book you will adore if you are in an "All men are bastards who deserve to die" phase. Unfortunately, the payoff isn't as good as it should have been, as I will get into later, so The Prince Kidnaps A Bride never delivers a subversively enjoyable castrating fantasy that it would have if Ms Dodd doesn't chicken out at the last moment.
The conclusion to this author's Lost Princesses trilogy (the other two books are Some Enchanted Evening and The Barefoot Princess), in The Prince Kidnaps A Bride we have the story of the eldest princess and heir to the throne of the kingdom of Beaumontagne, Sorcha. Princess Sorcha has been living in the nunnery of Monnmouth Abbey all these years, waiting impatiently for something (the nature of which she isn't sure of) to happen to her. One day she encounters an apparently shipwrecked fisherman who calls him Arnou. Arnou lets the nuns believe that he's simple and even addled in the head. Don't worry, this is not Bocaccio's Decameron where he gets to make whopee with the nuns. At any rate, Arnou is actually Prince Rainger who wants to get Sorcha back. He engineers some threats on her life that forces the nuns to send Sorcha away from the Abbey but he doesn't count on the Abbess suspecting him of hiding something and sending Sorcha away on her own. The chase is on.
The title of this book does not accurately represent the story since Sorcha is already on her way trying to get back to Beaumontagne when Prince Rainger catches up with her. Now, Prince Rainger is a despicable hero, doing really cruel things to manipulate Sorcha without her knowledge. However, Ms Dodd is aware of this. She sets Prince Rainger up for the huge fall. But first, she also lays the foundation in this story for some Consolidarity of Women Who Are Strong and Independent thingie as Sorcha and every female character she encounters bond over the fact that men are such silly creatures who can break our hearts with their stupidity if we let them get away with it. Hence Prince Rainger being made a fool again and again as Sorcha ends up, contrary to his expectations, being more interpid, curious, and daring than his misogynistic psyche can ever imagine a woman to be. The author gives away her entire game early on when a brothel Madame (who, of course, turns out to be a Strong and Independent Woman who bonds with Sorcha) tells Prince Rainger in derision, "What masculine madness leads you to believe she'll wed a man who lied to her?" and sure enough, the second half of the book is Let's See How Many Rotten Cabbages We Can Toss At That Moron Prince Rainger's Face time.
Now, I admit that I do find the whole male-bashing trip going on pretty enjoyable in a subversive way at first but after so many chapters of this sort, the story becomes exaggerated and cartoonish. Prince Rainger keeps making really infuriatingly wrong decisions time after time that I don't know whether to look forward to his public castration or feel sorry for Sorcha because Rainger is clearly mentally unstable and he desperately needs therapy rather than a kingdom to rule. When everything blows up in Prince Rainger's face, I don't feel any satisfaction from watching everyone verbally rip him a new one because there's no joy in it. It's like seeing a bully finally getting his comeuppance - I feel more relief than joy when that happens.
Unfortunately, maybe because Ms Dodd or her editor realizes at the last minute that maybe some readers will prefer to see Prince Rainger retain some shred of dignity by the last page even if he doesn't deserve any, Ms Dodd chickens out. Next thing I know, the typical "He saved my life so I'm now forever ever loyal to him!" minion of his is spilling the beans about Rainger's sad, sad past to Sorcha and she predictably softens because it's okay if a man is a complete jackass as long as he is a mental headcase because we then know that if he acts like a jerk, he clearly can't help himself. A really good thing that Ms Dodd does is to have Prince Rainger take accountability of his stupidity instead of blaming the past, but the whole castrating fantasy Ms Dodd presents in this story is ruined by the fact that Sorcha is willing to forgive him even if he doesn't hold himself accountable for his actions.
I don't know what makes me feel more uneasy. The fact that Ms Dodd writes this book clearly with a "Gals rule and guys drool" agenda and executes the agenda in such an over-the-top manner at the expense of presenting a healthy and realistic romance or the fact that she chickens out towards the end, which to me suggests that she may be having doubts about the whole "Gals rule and guys drool" message she is gleefully spreading in the first half of this story. I guess it's up to the reader. Which is better? A romance novel with an agenda that doesn't necessarily include romance or a novel with an agenda that doesn't have the guts to present the agenda with full conviction?
Still, The Prince Kidnaps A Bride may make a good belated Christmas or birthday gift to anyone (not you, of course, but maybe a friend) who is currently not in the mood to be charitable towards men in general. Just be careful and check how secure they are about their manhood and all before allowing this book to fall into the hands of any male friends or family members.
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