by Marianne Mancusi, time-travel/historical (2005)
LoveSpell, $6.99, ISBN 0-505-52633-6
It is interesting how smaller publishers like Dorchester and Kensington are determined to blur the boundaries between chick-lit and romance more and more with their contemporary romances. Marianne Mancusi's A Connecticut Fashionista In King Arthur's Court is narrated in first person and it is written in a chick-lit manner as our Manolo Blahnik-loving fashion editor heroine is sent back to the time of King Arthur by what seems to be a gypsy's curse. The very premise of this story means that one shouldn't take it seriously. There is no point in even bringing up historical accuracy because this is, after all, a tongue-in-cheek tale.
Katherine "Kat, Not Kathy Please" Jones isn't complaining that much when she is sent by her senior editor to survey the latest trends in medieval fair fashion by attending an actual medieval fair complete with people pretending to be knights and all. However, a hammy fortune telling session goes awry when Kat finds herself getting injured subsequently and finding herself recovering in the time of Camelot and King Arthur. Eventually she will realize that she has to stop Lancelot and Guenevere from having an affair and ruining Camelot as we know it, but is Kat falling for Lancelot is the solution to this dilemma?
Let's get this out of the way: if you don't like reading chick-lit stories, you may not want to read this book because Kat is very much the quissential chick-lit heroine, complete with name-droppings and bringing up of pop culture references. I personally like Kat as a character because while she can be a ditz at times, there's no denying that Kat isn't afraid of trying to take care of herself when she's in trouble. The only problem here is that Lancelot is such a one-dimensional character that the romance is flatter than a fly that has been run over by a steamroller. The romance is pretty much instantaneous attraction leading to wonderful sex with no depths to it. Lancelot is dull, dull, dull, memorable only for his potential Oedipal complex blues with the Lady of the Lake... until Ms Mancusi merrily assassinates her main characters for the grand finale in this story.
Which brings me to the biggest problem in this story: the author's blatant and contrived attempts to move her story along. For example, Kat has this annoying tendency to run off on her own (unarmed, of course) into danger whenever the author wants some excitement to be generated in this story. Kat has sass and she sure has some good one-liners in this story but egads, that woman seems incapable of learning from her mistakes. What are the chances that when Lancelot and Kat need a room to stay after he has rescued her from an ugly fat rapist brute knight, the inn happens to have only one room? And what is Ms Mancusi thinking to have Kat getting drunk and doing the obligatory dancing-and-singing sideshow in full view of the other customers in the inn? Does she want me to view Kat as braindead? If I'm sent back to the past, I'll be very wary of drinking anything handed to me, much less getting rip-roaring drunk in front of people in a time when women are burned as witches. Lancelot towards the end mutates into a sulky and petulant little boy which does not make me happy one bit, although I have to give kudos to Kat for getting everyone together to save the day at the end. Kat can be infuriatingly stupid at times in this story, but she isn't a passive one and she does her best and often succeeds in getting out of trouble on her own.
I like the idea that goes into this story. Underneath the pop culture references and the heroine trying very hard to be stupid so that the story doesn't end after a hundred pages, there is a very interesting story to be enjoyed here. Ms Mancusi gives Merlin and the Lady of the Lake interesting roles here and the resolution of this story, while somewhat predictable, is very well-drawn. While Ms Mancusi has Kat portraying the medieval era of Camelot as one pleasant idyllic romp, she on the other hand also introduces some subversive feminist elements to the mythology. Compared to the dull Lancelot, Guenevere is a much better developed and even sympathetic character and a part of me would prefer Kat and Guen getting together if there has to be a romance in this story.
Therefore, while the romantic aspects of this story is a dud (the author tells me it's love between the main characters instead of even trying to show me why they are in love), the elements of the plot that are driven by external conflicts are most enjoyable to me. Despite the fact that there are too many scenes in this book that are either very contrived in a cringe-inducing manner or too much driven by Kat's stupidity, A Connecticut Fashionista In King Arthur's Court remains an interesting and often entertaining if very uneven story in its own right. In a time when too many romance novels are too formulaic and tend to morph into one big bag of blah in my mind, the fact that this book is more interesting than most is a pretty good thing to me.
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