by Christina Dodd, historical (2006)
Avon, $7.99, ISBN 0-06-056117-3
Christina Dodd is not a consistent author. Since she started writing for Avon she puts out quite a number of books every year but most of these books are half-baked, as if they are rushed to the presses just to meet the deadline. Sometimes, however, she gets struck by inspiration. Books like The Barefoot Princess remind me why I really enjoy this author's work when she is having a lucid inspired moment.
That's not to say that the plot of the story is in any way inspired. The heroine with the aid of an old lady and a kind giant of a man kidnapping our hero to right a wrong isn't a new plot and most of the time the heroine comes off as horrifically birdbrained and out of her depths when she's not being an utterly inept creature. Not so in this book, however. Our displaced princess Amy Rosabel left her country of Beaumontagne with her two older sisters when their father died and the country succumbed to the fires of revolution. The eldest sister is hidden who-knows-where and Amy was separated from her sister Clarice after some disagreements that were covered in Clarice's story, Some Enchanted Evening.
Currently, Amy is now in the island of Summerwind, just off the coast of Devon, where she has befriended the friendly locals and is accepted as one of their own. Therefore, when our hero's uncle, who manages Summerwind on behalf of the man, steals a beading machine from dear old Miss Victorine and uses her stolen invention to manufacture plenty of profitable bead-thingies while Miss Victorine and the other villagers of Summerwind struggle to make ends meet, Amy decides that the only reasonable thing to do is to kidnap our hero, Jermyn Edmondson the Marquess of Northcliff, when he makes a stop at Summerwind and asks the man's uncle for ransom.
Jermyn and Amy soon find themselves in a face-off in Miss Victorine's cottage and attraction naturally flares between them. Amy and her partners-in-crime, however, may have played right into the hands of Jermyn's villainous uncle because the man wants Jermyn dead so that he can inherit everything before Jermyn's thirtieth birthday. On Jermyn's thirtieth birthday, everything will go to Jermyn and the uncle can't have that, not when he has slaved for years to make the lands profitable (he generously shares some of that profits with Jermyn, of course), oh no.
Jermyn is truly a piece of work. He is ridiculously proud of his heritage and title, scornful of everything he deems beneath his notice, and says some chauvinistic things about women. But that only makes it so much sweeter (and comical) when he falls hard for Amy. Amy's confinement causes Jermyn to reacquaint himself with Miss Victorine, his old teacher, again and rediscover some softer soft of him that he has kept calcified in his heart a long time ago. So while he lusts after Amy, he also gradually changes into a better person during his confinement. Also, he quickly learns to appreciate Amy in a quirky and unsentimental manner that I just adore - Amy challenges him, infuriates him, and makes him so aroused and kinked-up that he actually begins to enjoy challenging and being challenged by Amy. When he realizes that he has neglected his responsibilities to the people of Summerwind and that he has been a selfish self-absorbed twit for too long, he credits Amy for this, which only reinforces his desire to have Amy in his life as his wife. While one can argue that his attitude isn't the most historically accurate since he doesn't really know that Amy is of his same station in life, I personally love how Jermyn's apparently infinite supply of cockiness and arrogance allows him to just sweep aside social expectations and does as he please. Coupled to his intense desire for Amy and his surprisingly open-minded willingness to change and become a better person, this brand of arrogance from him is too attractive indeed.
Amy has her "No, no, I won't marry you even if I don't give anyone a good reason for my attitude!" moments because I suppose it isn't a genuine historical romance if the heroine doesn't pull off at least one harebrained moment. Nonetheless, she is a capable heroine who can match her sass and attitude with an actual ability to get things done. While she is in no way Jermyn's equal in terms of sexual experience, she nonetheless is his equal when it comes to being foolhardy, arrogant, confident of her own worth, and courage. She and Jermyn each gives back as good as they get - in this story, the heroine bites back instead of stammering or babbling whenever the hero looks at her. As a result, Jermyn really has to work to get the upper hand. Their relationship therefore is a genuine challenge for both the hero and the heroine - both characters are equally fired up in their verbal fencings because they each don't want to concede defeat to the other. I can, therefore, see how these two can progress from initial suspicion to mutual admiration to full-blown desire for each other.
The plot is the weakest aspect of this story, but anyone reading this book, I believe, will soon realize that Ms Dodd has her tongue firmly planted against her cheek when she is writing this story. There is a farcical feel to many of the scenes in this book. I don't think I am meant to take the plot seriously. In fact, Ms Dodd doesn't even put Jermyn on a pedestal. Jermyn admits that he is a fool many times in this book. Amy calls him a fool whenever he is being one. Jermyn has self-awareness that sees him admitting his flaws, apologizing to the people he has hurt, and actually thanking those people for helping him see the light, which is nice. It is even nicer when he does a few times in this book, heh.
On the whole, the relationship between Jermyn and Amy is a joy to follow because those two are equally matched where it counts, they have great chemistry between them, and the romance feels right in so many ways.
There are a few reasons why this book isn't a keeper for me, however.
The last few chapters of this book are very weak compared to everything that has come before them. There is a last moment internal conflict that comes right out of the blue to sock me in the face. Not only that, it exposes a nastier side of Jermyn: the man, it turns out, can make a flying leap into the worst conclusion ever about his wife's character after he has decided that he loves her. He subsequently overreacts and becomes deaf to reasons. He sobers up conveniently in time for the happy ending but I can only hope that this is only a momentary aberration instead of a regular episode in the future household of Jermyn and Amy. I hate to see poor Amy being accused of all kinds of nonsense every other Sunday or something because for all her immaturity (she is 19 to Jermyn's 29), I adore her. The cringe-inducing epilogue is a different story altogether: I nearly fall into a coma when I read the melodramatically saccharine epilogue!
I am also not too happy with the way the author has the characters beating me in the head about how I should "understand" Jermyn because he believes that his mother abandoned him years ago. When the author has even Jermyn using his past to excuse some of his more unreasonable behaviors in this story, that's when I get a little put off by the author's heavy-handed way of allowing Jermyn to avoid taking responsibility for his own actions.
The weak last few chapters of The Barefoot Princess weakens the payoff I could have received from reading this book, but nonetheless I have a really fabulous time reading this book. A lovable rascal of a hero being tamed and loving it, a heroine who can actually do something to help herself instead of being a martyr and waiting to be rescued, and plenty of laughter and sexual tension all come together to create a potent romantic adventure in The Barefoot Princess. I've had a good time. I love it!
This book at Amazon.com
This book at Amazon UK
Search for more reviews of works by this author: