Ransom My Heart
by Meg Cabot, historical (2009)
Avon, $14.99, ISBN 978-0-06-170007-1

Don't be fooled by the pretty cover into thinking that Ransom My Heart is a romance set in 18th- or 19th-century England. It's actually a medieval romance set in 1291. Meg Cabot decides to pretend that this book is written by her popular character Mia Thermopolis and coyly suggests in the introduction that Mia, now a published romance author, actually based the heroine on herself and the hero on that boring squeeze of hers. If Meg Cabot gets asked in her next two hundred interviews whether the heroes she writes about are based on someone who isn't her husband, I'd say she's brought in on herself for perpetuating the stereotypical notion that romance stories are vicarious onanistic fantasies of both authors and readers.

Oh, and don't worry, folks: while there are some mild love scenes that you may miss if you blink, there is nothing here that is too raunchy for teenage girls who for some reason assume that this book is part of the bestselling The Princess Diaries series. Besides, given that the series is coming to a close, it makes sense that Ms Cabot decides to lure those girls who must have grown up in the last few years into reading her "adult" romance novels. It's all about retaining your target audience, I think.

And really, an appreciation of this book hinges greatly on how you can cozy up to bratty heroines. Despite the comparatively small age gap between hero Hugo Fitzstephen who is 25 and heroine Finnula Crais who is almost eighteen, the hero is unmistakably an adult while the heroine runs wild and behaves like a rebellious thirteen-year old girl.

Hugo has just returned from the Crusades where he had spent his time killing and wenching. In the name of Jesus, of course, just like every Crusader skewering the folks in the Holy Land. He has decided to give up killing, although not wenching, so he intends to settle down into a more carefree lifestyle in his Stephensgate holding and assume the responsibilities that his title, the Earl of Stephensgate, comes with. Imagine his pleasant delight when he is kidnapped by a most charming young lady shortly after his return, held for ransom of all things. It's a long story, so let me just say that Finnula decides to aid her sister by kidnapping a rich man for ransom. Little does she know that she has the Earl of Stephensgate in her hands or that he is actually the most willing hostage one can ever imagine.

There is nothing here that is surprising. This is, in fact, a very formulaic medieval romance with only a touch of historical backdrop, with those details never intruding too much into the Walt Disney feel of the whole tale. Despite the uninspired familiar story line, this is a funny read, thanks mostly to Hugo's carefree and mischievous personality. Oh, he can be a ferocious warrior when he's provoked, so his dichotomous alpha male/merry rascal personality is actually a most intriguing and irresistible one. I like this fellow. He makes me laugh so often, he's adorable.

On the other hand, the best thing I can say about Fistula, sorry, Finnula is that she can shoot hapless animals with her bow and arrows. She is way too stupid to be even fit to lick the tip of my shoe, although I won't mind seeing her eat a shoe of mine or two. For a long time, I try to be patient and tell myself that this very stupid creature is just being naïve and I almost believe that after a while. When she blabs her entire life history as well as every detail about her family to Hugo, a man she is supposed to be holding captive for ransom, I press my palm against my chest and take a deep breath, telling myself to remember that we were all young and stupid once upon a time. When Finnula turns out to be another braindead beauty convinced that she's butt ugly and she stupidly refuses to marry the hero because she believes that he doesn't love her despite all evidence pointing otherwise, I tell myself that perhaps I can't expect too much from Finnula. This is, after all, an Avon historical romance.

But when she decides to charge out on her own to take on the bad guys, only to end up pretty much offering herself to them without a fight so that the hero can come save her, I finally snap. Fortunately the story ends quickly after that point or I will have ended up trying to chop this book into two using the biggest cleaver in my kitchen.

So, if you ask me whether you should buy this book, with "buy" being the operative word here as opposed to "read" as in borrowing this book from a friend, I'd suggest that you wait until the end of the year when this book is released in mass market paperback format. After all, you can buy two Avon historical romances to get twice the too-stupid heroines in even-more-stupid plots for $14.99, no? There is nothing unusual, surprising, or inventive about this story to justify the price, especially when it comes with that heroine. Sure, the proceeds of this book go to Greenpeace, but hey, you're supporting historical romance stupidity in the process. The trees will hate you, buddy.

Rating: 70

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