Royal Bride
by Joan Wolf, historical (2001)
Warner, $6.99, ISBN 0-446-60695-2


Critics have waxed most lyrically about Joan Wolf's graceful prose and elegant characters. I could scratch my head until all my hair fall off my scalp, but I am hard-pressed to see any decent material in Royal Bride. This story is half-baked and so sketchy when it comes to characterization that I can't help but to wonder if the author just cranked open her laptop and started typing while she was caught in traffic jams or something.

In fact, I pity the person who wrote the back blurb. The story is so leisurely and inactive that he or she has to give away two-thirds of the story just to fill one paragraph of blurb. Oh well.

The story is about 17-year old Charity Beaufort's ascendency from mere Princess' granddaughter to the new Queen of Jura (or Julia - the name of the country keeps changing in the edition I'm reading, talk about bad copyediting... or is it that Julia is the capital of Jura? Aaargh!). Hello? 17-year old jailbaits are like so 1980. And Charity - the name is a warning in itself of the nature of this heroine.

Prince Augustus of Jura is a War Hero. He led his countrymen in defeating that fat French frog Napoleon, and now he wants to ally himself with the Noble Upholder of Small Countries' Sovereignity, England, to ward off Austria's threat to his small principality. He needs a high-born blue-blooded British bride.

(Do keep in mind that this is the 1800s, and mind you, England is already digging its claws deep in India and every other independent sovereignity in Asia - when everyone says Augustus is wise in his decision as this method will ensure Jura/Julia's independence, I do wonder. Actually, I don't blame England. At least where Malaya and Singapore were concerned, the British were the smart ones. The greedy, stupid ruling powers accepted the East India Company's bribes fast enough, only to squeal like the pigs they were when they realized too late that their greed led to their loss of privilege to overtax the peasants some more or to rape more peasant women. Morons. Err... where was I again?)

Anyway, Royal Bride's potentially offensive political naivete aside, it is as dull as dishwater. Augustus has no character apart from starchy propriety. He keeps calling Charity "little girl", hence my skin crawls when he finally runs his hands all over the little girl's bosom. He wants to marry Charity's elder sister initially, but Lydia cares for fashion, money, image, and yes, money. Naturally, let us all pinch our noses and go "Eeeuuuuwww!" at such disgusting display of unfeminine greed, shall we?

In the meantime, Charity sighs. She knows everything - everything! - about Jura (or is it Julia?) and she thinks Lydia is the luckiest woman alive. Why can't that stupid, sorry, silly girl be nice to handsome, virile Augustus? If Charity ever have the chance... but she can't, because, oh, she's not pretty like Lydia, and ssssh, you know, she rides horses and reads, you know, not those silly girly stuff those dumb ninnies do. Charity doesn't care about money. She only cares about pleasing Augustus and upholding the honor of Jura/Julia to the point of keeping her mouth shut and letting the Dowager Ex-Queen dance all over her back.

Anyway, the smart Lydia elopes with Augustus' cousin. It's now up to Charity to save Jura. Despite what the back cover says about Charity's being "resistant to being a state pawn", trust me, she can't don the wedding gown or the made-in-Jura lingerie fast enough.

For Jura! For Julia! Charity starts to morph into a cross-eyed lapdog in my mind.

The rest of the story is predictable enough. Augustus decides to take it slow because he feels guilty for tearing Charity away from her family, and she takes this as a sign of his rejection. Some courtiers plan treachery.

I wonder if I can join Lydia in her shopping trip instead. There's only so much pretentious angsty pontification from Prince Moo and his Princess Monotone that I can take without seeing my life flash before my eyes.

Rating: 48


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