Once Upon A Rose
by Nora Roberts, Jill Gregory, Ruth Ryan Langan, and Marianne Willman; historical/paranormal (2001)
Jove, $7.99, ISBN 0-515-13166-0

Ah, winter, snow, the romanticism of it all! I quote this book: “Love blossoms like the luscious petals of spring’s very first rose…” Alas, not unlike an arid, blinding snowstorm that leaves everybody blind and frostbitten, Once Upon A Rose is a very obviously half-baked anthology celebrating female submissiveness, stasis in permanent girly-girlhood, silence, and resignation, it leaves me feeling more ill than the flu-ridden bag of bones that I was before I started this book. Once upon the picking of my nose, more like, bah.

Nora Roberts' Winter Rose starts out most beautifully. A wounded and dying prince, Kylar of Myrdon, is lost in a blinding blizzard. With his last breath, he falls before the image of this beautiful angel. Then comes unconsciousness, goodnight, bye bye, et cetera and he’s out cold.

Our angel is actually Queen Deirdre of the mythical Isle of Winter. Somehow Kylar has crossed the boundaries separating his world and Deirdre’s. She also has a special gift of healing, so it’s hands-on and cop-a-feel time for our Royal Majesty.

It’s quite touching.

"Live," she said again, and then leaned down to brush her lips over his brow. "Or die gently."

I actually sniffed a tear or two at that one.

Then he wakes up. And I call for an electric drill.

Gawd, what an obnoxious and bossy boor that Kylar is, grrr! He has no idea what is going on, but he bosses everybody around nonetheless. And shame on Deirdre for letting him. She’s the Queen, he’s only a prince, so damn it, he’s the one who should be wearing a doggie collar. Add in obnoxious matchmaking secondary characters – you know, the dumb types who see Kylar and immediately starts screeching, “He’s the one! He’s the one to have your baby!” - and I want that electric drill now, dang it! How do the annoying people know he’s the one anyway? Is it tattooed on his bum or something?

And I love this story’s portrayal of a queen. Deirdre’s responsibilities seem to be nothing more than finding the right sperm bank for her upcoming baby project and to heal everybody left and right.

Next, Jill Gregory’s The Rose And The Sword. I know I should’ve stopped and spared myself the agony the moment I read of how twenty-year old Princess Brittany starts wailing and clinging on to Queen Elysia, begging the Queen so as to not to throw Brittany here out of the palace because she loves Elysia and she will do anything – ANYTHING! – to make Queen Elysia happy, bla bla bla all the way to the puke bucket. I know pedophilia is a no-no, but please, adding seven years to an obviously hapless prepubescent heroine is not helping things.

Brittany is an exiled princess who must marry an evil brute, but not if she cries and stumbles most pathetically in an attempt to search for a “hero”. The hero, who will then boink our heroine and make me scream “Eeekkk!” in horror.

This one is perfect for those who love young, “innocent” (read: dumb as a box of nails), and pathetically helpless heroines (with a fake age ID, of course) getting schooled by Sugar Daddies.

Ruth Ryan Langan presents The Roses Of Glenross. This one is special. A wounded soldier, Jamie, arrives at a nunnery where to the approval of Mother Superior and all the nuns, he has PG-rated premarital bedside sex with sweet, innocent rose-tending and naked-wounded-soldier-healing Alexa. Alexa may have the usual men-are-killers hesitations, but she can’t resist the call of the Bedside Sick Guy Sex Appeal.

Alexa is a bit older than the brainsucked Lolita in Jill Gregory’s novella, but not much better. And what’s up with the nuns letting all this shennigans going on, and giving a wide grin of approval too? Dare I wonder what goes on at the annual Christmas mass? Nuns can be sporting and liberated, but come on, this?

Finally, Marianne Willman’s The Fairest Rose. Quiet, mousy heroine helps silly macho hero wins the hand of a princess, only she of course has love this hero like since, well, since she sees him in a dream, but what can she do but to keep quiet and does everything he asks her to? There’s some road trip to some phoenix thing, magic, and heroine Mouse’s “special gift” or something, but the heroine’s passive haplessness and clinginess ruins everything. Worse, to make the heroine come off smelling like roses when in truth she just doesn’t matter, the author makes the princess a shrew. Score one for the silent, submissive, and perpetually hoping and waiting. All you princess-wannabes out there, do shut up and start waiting and hoping while staying to the background. If you’re lucky, he’s stop banging that mouthy, fun, living, and full of opinions skank and hopefully notice you before he accidentally runs you over with his Daddy’s car.

I know, fairy tales are all about women hoping, waiting, and suffering. Maybe the authors want to be historically accurate. But I’ll just say this: if I want to read about lousy characters and inept plots and half-baked premises littered with clichés and other literary excreta, all with a forced smile because I’m to accept that all these are “historically accurate”, I’d rather sit on a broomstick handle. Once Upon A Rose can go pick my nose.

Rating: 50

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