Pocket, $7.99, ISBN 978-1-4516-4977-2
Historical Romance, 2013 (Reissue)
One of the most annoying things about making a trip to a Malaysian bookstore is that, often, the books are wrapped in plastic so there’s no way of me learning that a book is a reissue unless I bring a pen knife along and sneakily tear open the wrapping when nobody is around. My latest “Oops, it’s a freaking reissue?” mistake is Karen Robards’s Forbidden Love. I’m not a devoted fan of this author, so I don’t keep track of her past titles religiously. I know Dell used to reissue her historical romances back in the 1990s, but this one listed Pocket as the publisher, so I naïvely assumed that this one must be new when I bought it.
No, it’s not new, and more importantly, this one was first published in 1983. I don’t know whether it’s due to hubris or it’s something that is beyond the author’s control, but Ms Robards apparently didn’t change a single thing about this book.
And this is not good because this book is a very generic example of a historical romance back in the early 1980s, which is to say, the slapping of the heroine, the savage cruelty of the hero, and other jolly fun stuff that shaped the formula and tropes of romance novels of that time are all intact here.
Megan Kinkead, 17, is Irish, which is the short hand for “reckless, stupid, and incapable of rational decision-making”. Her guardian is her step-uncle, Justin Brant, the sixth Earl of Weston. He’s in his late 30s, and the age gap as well as Megan’s unapologetic selfish nature may be a culture shock of sorts to readers who are more familiar with the themes and tropes of romance novels today, but these things were pretty common back in those days. Anyway, Justin only sees Megan for a few minutes each year, after shoving Megan off to a boarding school as far from his life as possible, and Megan decides to go wild in order to get his attention.
When the story opens, her latest stunt is to run away from the school, catch a ride with anyone that crosses her paths, and somehow finds her back to Justin’s home without getting raped or murdered. There, she puts the employment of the household staff in jeopardy by persuading them to throw a birthday party for her, just in time for a very annoyed Justin to walk in and catch everyone going woo-hoo. In the following scenes where Megan screams, kicks him, and generally acts like a spoiled brat, Justin realizes that she’s making him get the biggest chubby in his life. As for Megan, she realizes that Justin is actually so hot, she just can’t help reacting to his threats to spank her. It must be true love!
You know what they say about being careful of what you wish for, because when Megan happily lets her true love seduce her and knock her up, she learns later that, oops, he’s already married and he somehow neglected to inform her of this. Alas, while Jane Eyre might benefit from a timely suicide of the other woman, here, Megan has to go through the whole nine yards of being an abusive bully’s play thing.
It’s actually odd how the author pulls an abrupt personality switch on Megan and Justin in this story. Early on, Justin is the somewhat likable long-suffering sensible man who has a childish brat to deal with. But once they consummate their attraction, Justin immediately turns into a cruel and insensitive monster that actually raises his hand to the heroine for no good reason, when she is eight months into her pregnancy. Oh, and he also rapes Megan, but Megan thinks that he’s so hot and she has an orgasm from the whole thing so it’s supposed to be okay. Meanwhile, Megan turns into this enabler of a woman who just keeps holding on for all the wrong reasons. When she does decide to leave Justin, it’s also for all the wrong reasons. Ultimately, Megan gets her man, but considering what a prize this particular man is, excuse me if I’m not throwing confetti at these two. She’s no prize either, but her biggest crime is being an immature idiot. He’s much older and supposedly more worldly, so he has no excuse for his actions.
Sure, I can work myself up into an outrage here, but the thing is, these tropes were the norm back in those days, and Forbidden Love is a by-the-numbers effort that go through those tropes like a clockwork machine. It’s not good because the author doesn’t bother to piece together the tropes well. Out-of-character behavior and dumb miscommunication problems are forced into this story solely for the cruel hero and idiot heroine to create more drama, so much so that the stupid drama, not the romance, becomes the focus of the story. This one lacks the over the top camp factor to make it a guilty pleasure, it’s just… loud and annoying and stupid all at once. So no, it’s not a good story, by the standards of those days or these days.
This brings me back to my question: what is the author thinking to reissue this book without revising things considerably to make this book less out of place in today’s market?