by Sabrina Jeffries, historical (2005)
Pocket, $6.99, ISBN 0-7434-7772-3
While One Night With A Prince is a very generic and formulaic story that doesn't cover any new grounds whatsoever, that won't be a problem if this story is enjoyable and engrossing to get into. Our proper widowed heroine Christabel, the Marchioness of Haversham, having to become a fake mistress to our literal bastard hedonistic hero Gavin Byrne to retrieve some documents that can incriminate her late father (DADDY! I'LL DO ANYTHING FOR YOU, DADDY! DADDDDDYYYY!) - now, this premise is published in about seven out of ten Regency historical romances every month. But this story still doesn't work well with me.
The author's scene of the heroine playing whist helps me come down with a reason why: in this book, Sabrina Jeffries is playing very badly in a game of cards with the reader. She tries so hard to second guess the reader to the point that she seems to forget that she should relax and just go with the flow. For one, Ms Jeffries is very reluctant to keep her readers in any kind of suspense. Therefore, while her plots can become a wee tortuous at times, Ms Jeffries always can't wait to break things down to the readers by having characters relating every detail of a Big and Important Plan to each other, with these characters exhausting every angles and possibilities so early in the story. The conversation stops becoming natural and instead becomes an obvious attempt by the author to tell the reader everything about her plot in the style of a schoolteacher lecturing her students to make sure that they don't miss a thing.
The author also plays her hand too early by having the secondary characters quickly telling Christabel about Gavin's sad and miserable past so that the heroine will always have this blind sympathy for the hero that will make her vulnerable to the hero's machinations. The cynical old me rolls up my eyes at this scene because Ms Jeffries is a very transparent author in this manner. She projects her tricks of her trade too obviously to me.
Normally this won't be a problem if the story is refreshing, original, or innovative. Since it isn't, the author has to make her story interesting. She has to keep my attention riveted. But since she doesn't want me to be confused or kept at the edge of my seat, she spells out everything to me early on in the story. Perhaps if she keeps the hero's background or the things Christabel is looking for for a little later in the story, there may be some things for me to discover and be intrigued by. But in One Night With A Prince, there is no suspense, no twist, nothing. This is just a generic and formulaic story that will go from Point A to Point Z with very little detours outside the straight line that this story intends to take.
Fine, so the story is predictable. But Christabel is a very frustrating heroine as well. On one hand, she is a very formulaic heroine from her past (ooh, lousy first husband, sob sob sob) to her susceptibility to the hero's machinations ("I have no choice! I have no choice!"). Adding to the annoying package that is Christabel, however, is her remarkable ability to be the biggest killjoy of the town. She is a martyr - that is a given, given that she is a heroine of a Regency historical - but she is also a whiny one. Every other word from her mouth is a protest. No, those dresses are too expensive and she can't pay him back! (But he tells her that she has to accept those dresses so she shuts up.) Eeeuw, people of the Ton are so skanky! (But the hero kisses her and paws her so she likes it, ooh - but she'll berate herself and him afterwards, of course.) Who is Christabel kidding? For all her pained protests to the contrary, she'll end up becoming Gavin's mistress for real. No amount of lip service whining will change that. Why not just be upfront and say that a woman has to do what she has to do to protect her father? All these annoying protests only make Christabel look like a fool.
A particular favorite scene of mine is the heroine, fresh from telling me how horrible her late husband was, then laments that surely she must be a bad woman to lust after Gavin when her husband died only recently! "Honey, your late husband was a bastard, right? So what's the freaking problem?" I want to ask her. If she's unhappy because she is attracted to a dissolute rake, I'll understand. But Christabel of course will always have her sympathy for Gavin's sad past to handicap her so that she will always view Gavin as some good guy who is just misunderstood, boo-hoo-hoo, so in this case Christabel really has no choice other than to be a fickle fool, constrained as she is so rigidly by the formula. If Ms Jeffries allows me to form my own opinion instead of beating me in the head about how Christabel really is a good woman, she is not happy doing this and that, et cetera, Christabel may not have protested so much about things that she ends up doing and she will not come off looking so poorly as a weak-willed twit easily manipulated by guilt, unrealistic tendencies to play the martyr, and her misplaced pity for the hero.
At the end of the day, the story is predictable but Christabel's irritating tendencies to go down protesting and whining about every freaking thing make this book a challenging chore to finish. Ms Jeffries has Gavin telling me again and again that Christabel is supposed to be "true" and "honest" unlike the other Society women that play bedroom games with him, but - come on! Don't tell me, show me.
One Night With A Prince may be a generic story but it is also an unfortunate kind of generic nature that exposes the inconsistencies and even illogicalities of the formula.
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