Jove, $7.99, ISBN 0-515-13619-0
Fantasy Romance, 2003
Christmas is usually a time when one is forced to attend stupid stage shows performed by silly kiddies and pretend that one is having a good time. “Isn’t that lovely boy who crashes onto the fake tree on the stage again and again such a darling? Pass me the Hennessey, I think I’ll get very drunk tonight.” In keeping to the tradition, Once upon a Midnight is the fantasy anthology that will be the mother of all horrific kiddie stage shows.
Nora Roberts kicks off the show with The Witching Hour. In a land where mumbo-jumbo magic and sorcery nonsense that still lives, there’s a stupid king and his stupid wife and the both of them got killed in a very special usurpation of the throne by a darling villain. But this is not before the Queen who may be a Queen but in Romance Novel Land, her role in this story is done after she passes off her daughter to some lovely common guardians before going off to join her husband in death because it is so romantic when useless weepy women die.
Today, that daughter, Aurora, is all grown up and armed with sword skill and horsewomanship, she is ready to take on the usurper. Meanwhile, the stablehand Gwayne, her “wolf” et cetera, will be the one to do all the dirty work. Because it is so romantic when a heroine claims to be kick-ass but she’s actually not. And then, because a villain that has run the country pretty decently is not worthy compared to a silly chit that has the right blood running through her veins, Aurora becomes the new Queen. I’m so disappointed that Nora Roberts still writes about silly damsels in distress when today is the age of kick-ass women in the fantasy genre. This story is a waste of time, but it’s still the best of the bunch.
Jill Gregory’s Mirror, Mirror is a tale of a heroine so stupid that she just has to be the romance heroine. Dumb Ariel (first Aurora, now Ariel – don’t tell me these authors are stealing from Disney cartoons now?) is the caretaker of the missing Crown Prince of Whateverland. The king is dying, so everyone that’s nasty wants the prince dead. So what better way for Ariel to take care of the prince than to heal a man she suspects to be one of the assassins hired to kill the Prince? She’s a healer, after all, and healers heal everybody, that sort of thing. Her suspicions waver because her instincts insist that Conor of Wor-thane is good and honorable. And what better way to make sure the prince is safe than to let the prince eat in her cottage when the stranger is just in the room next door? And when she realizes that Conor is who she fears to be, let’s carry out a jaw-droppingly stupid plan that sends the Prince right into the arms of the enemies!
Oh, Conor saves the day, marries the pathetic and appropriately grateful Ariel, and I am never more grateful to see “The End” on a page before. Let’s just skip the rant on oatmeal-brained heroines and move on to the next story.
Ruth Ryan Langan’s Dream Lover is a creepy story of a heartbroken American tourist finding love with a Scotsman whom she met on the plane and later keeps bumping into. It turns out that they are both interested in the same haunted B&B. Firstly, the hero Heath is creepy and borderline stalker. Every scene in this novella starts with he asking our heroine a question. What is our heroine Ally thinking? What is she reading? Can she tell Heath what she is thinking? Does she like this? What is she looking at? Why is she smiling? And on and on, to the point that I start to feel suffocated just reading about his relentless intrusion on Ally’s quiet times. But Ally really takes the cake as the really silly heroine. Late in the story, meddlesome paranormal plot contrivances will drive a wedge between Ally and Heath. Heath tries to explain and even apologize, despite the problem not being his fault actually, but Ally just loses it with her “All men are treacherous bastards!” act. Not fun at all. And oh yes, Ally at first is supposed to get the B&B and then let her company build a shopping mall or something over it, but of course, love and all that will see her changing her mind. How predictable.
Marianne Willman’s The Midnight Country is the perfect story to drive me to sleep. I’m not very sure of the plot except that it revolves around Jenna, another American tourist, coming to Beaumont Foret, Fontine, to discover her roots. Two very unrealistic coincidences brings her to find true love with Philippe. After Jenna has taken her own sweet time walking around and sampling local sceneries and cuisine, she learns that Philippe is a werewolf and marries him a few pages after. Because a werewolf hubby is the most natural thing in the world – to those sad people that send me those “ohmigod u r so sad to hate werewolv and vampire romanmce I wish my husband is a weerewolf they r like so hot sexy!!!!” emails, that is.
At $7.99, Once upon a Midnight is a way too expensive lump of charcoal in my stocking.