by Sabrina Jeffries, historical (2004)
Pocket, $6.99, ISBN 0-7434-7770-7
Sabrina Jeffries kicks off her debut with Pocket with a trilogy revolving about the romantic intrigues of three illegitimate sons of the Prince of Wales. In The Prince's Bed introduces Alexander Black, Gavin Byrne, and a Lord Draker as three half-brothers who decide to work together to help each other get what they want from life. Alec is an impoverished earl who needs to marry an heiress to restore his estates to their former glory (not that he wants to use the money on himself too - he's not like that, oh no). As for what Gavin and Draker want, I guess I'll find out more in their own books.
In In The Prince's Bed, Alec decides to set his snares on Katherine Merivale, an heiress to a huge sum of money provided she marries as per the condition in her grandfather's will. Kate's father was a huge philanderer when he was alive so Kate is determined to marry for companionship and mutual interests. Who needs love? Pooh to love! But alas, in this case her childhood friend Sydney Lovelace seems determined to keep their relationship to strictly friendship, much to Kate's dismay. Alec comes in with a plan: he will press his attentions and hopefully this will make Sydney jealous. Kate is the typical don't-go-about-Society-much type which is unfortunate because she will otherwise recognize this scheme as the adolescent silliness that it is. Then again, romance heroines don't undergo emotional puberty, they tend to just spring out of their mother's womb a grown woman with the mind of a twelve-year old clueless girl, and in this case, Kate is far more interesting than the usual selfless martyr running rampant in the Regency historical subgenre.
She is still a martyr, of course, letting her mother bully her into marrying a man just to keep her sisters (and her mother, of course) floating in wealth. On one hand, Kate is smart enough to see through her mother's transparent antics but on the other hand, she willingly allows herself to be bullied into her mother's schemes for the sake of her sisters. Also, on one hand I can understand why she is angling for Sydney and I especially like how she decides not to let the man take her for granted. It's rare to find heroines that refuse to let a man walk all over her. But on the other hand, Kate lets Alec and her mother walk all over her. Kate is a mess of inconsistencies but I am still fine with that until out of the blue she plays the I Want Love card when it's convenient. How does Kate go from wanting to marry Sydney for friendship and mutual interests to wanting love from Alec? The fact that Kate's change of stance isn't explained well leads to suspect that her behavior is just a cliché introduced solely for the sake of conflict.
Alec can be an infuriatingly obtuse character. He says that he doesn't want to marry for love (bad parents, et cetera) but he wants Kate to be so drawn to him that she will magically overlook the fact that he is courting her all along for her money when they marry. Oh, Alec, history is littered with dead men who are sure that they will be forgiven because they are too important to their women. Some of his actions come close to crossing the line from charming to obnoxiously juvenile and even coming on too strong. Sometimes he's a charming alpha hero, sometimes he's the creepy bastard who won't stop pushing his hand up his date's skirts even when she tells him to stop it. His reasoning - that she'll like it if only she knows what he can give her - is unfortunately typical of those creepy bastards with Hands That Won't Stop.
Just like how Kate turns into a "I don't want love before I marry, but once I marry I'll get really angry when he doesn't marry me for love - how dare he doesn't love me when I realize that I love him!" stereotype, the resolution to Alec's less-than-honest intentions behind his marrying Kate is a cop-out that takes place in an uninspired formulaic manner. I'm hoping a little for Kate to be selfish enough to make Alec stew a little - he has been a naughty boy with some issues about self-entitlement and he deserves to be spanked, after all - but in the end Kate just to pull that magnanimous forgiving card on Alec.
Kate's mother is as inconsistent as Kate. One moment she's a tyrant pushing Kate into marriage with any man, another moment she's supposed to be trying to protect Kate from fortune hunters. Ms Jeffries can't have her cake and eat it too where Kate and her mother are concerned. Kate, especially, can't be expected to get away with wanting love out of the blue when she spends a long time chasing after Sydney for everything but love.
But almost tipping the book out of the dark side to the light, though, is the explosive sexual chemistry between Alec and Kate. Some of their scenes, especially when Alec is "courting" Kate, are laugh-out funny as well as too sexy for words. While their conflicts can be contrived and their characterizations tend to change according to the need of conflict, the chemistry between them feels genuine. From the scene where Alec makes Kate laugh at the poetry reading and he realizes that he enjoys seeing her laugh, for example, I can easily see why these two are made for each other. The love scenes are deliciously spicy as well.
Because of the wonderful chemistry between Alec and Kate, I enjoy reading about their courtship. It is a pity, therefore, that the payoff is meager compared to the build-up, especially considering that the pay-off consists of both characters behaving in clichéd manners to clichéd scenarios. I'm not saying that the book is not clichéd elsewhere, but early on, at least they are an entertaining sort of cliché that make me laugh. It's like Moonlighting, come to think of it. This book is so enjoyable until the main characters get into bed.
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