Harlequin Mills & Boon, £3.30, ISBN 978-0-263-87856-1
Contemporary Romance, 2010
Okay, listen up. Now that you have gawked long enough at the title of this book, you can now pay attention to me.
Forbidden or for Bedding? may be another in the long line of Harlequin Mills & Boon books with titles that are put together by failed stand-up comedians, but I have to say, the author Julia James is a pleasant surprise to me. I have never read her before this and I sheepishly confess that I picked this book in the first place because I mistakenly read the author’s name as Julie James. This book is a pleasant surprise because the author’s narrative style is unexpectedly introspective and complex – she paints her heroine’s emotions in colors that are hard to pinpoint using simple labels, but these colors are exquisite to behold, so to speak.
Alexa Harcourt is an artist who gets involved in an affair with the French billionaire Guy de Richmont. But you know these heroes: they have women they marry and women whom they sleep with, and you can guess which category Alexa falls into. Guy coldly tells Alexa that they are over and he’s getting married when the story opens, and things take off from there. He is marrying because of convenience – it is supposed to be a business deal, et cetera – and Alexa stupidly pines after him… until it hits her late in the story that he genuinely expects her to drop everything and be his mistress at his convenience even after he is married.
By the standards of the ironically named Modern imprint, Alexa isa harlot. No, it’s not because she puts out to the hero faster than you can say “Open up!” – most virginal farm girl heroines in this line do the same thing in pretty much every book in this series – but because she’d had several sexual relationships with men before she met Guy. I’m surprised the editor allowed Ms James to get away with her heroine’s decidedly abnormal past. Won’t someone think of the Baptist housewives reading this book?
This story is told mainly from Alexa’s point of view, so Guy is an underdeveloped character. He’s cold, he takes the heroine for granted to such an awful extent in this story, and he is devoid of any charming virtue. In fact, his mother pretty much pimps him out to the heroine late in the story because Guy is completely hopeless in telling the heroine that he loves her. Therefore, the romance in this story is a complete failure as far as I’m concerned. Alexa pines after this cold man who has hurt her so much, and because Guy is just not worth it, she comes off as an idiot as a result. The story is frustrating to read because after Alexa comes upon the appropriate conclusion with regards to Guy – he is not worth her time – the author contrives to set things in order in a rushed and unbelievable manner so that she is once again in love with Guy a few chapters later. Guy doesn’t have to win her affections back, it seems, because she’s in love with him still. Pathetic.
And yet, the author manages to reel me into the story with her prose. It is an odd comparison, but the author’s style reminds me of Susan Johnson‘s on a good day. There is a pattern of economy to the author’s concise and often straight to the point narrative, but at the same time, there is an elegant poetry to the narrative. Some scenes are laced with sly humor while other scenes are memorably choreographed without being artificial or contrived – there are times when I feel that this story is a literary work of romance pretending to be a Harlequin Mills & Boon story.
I won’t ask why the author is writing for this line, since I have heard wonderful stories about the amazing stuff purchased by authors writing for this line once they begin receiving royalty checks. I will however wish that there is a full-length story where I can enjoy discovering more of this author’s style and voice without having to deal with obnoxious Harlequin clichés.
Back to Forbidden or for Bedding?, I can’t say I like this book because the hero is a snake and the heroine is pathetic, but at the same time, I am very reluctant to give this book a low score. The imagery is too vivid to be dismissed entirely and the author’s voice easily gets under my skin. Oh, what the heck. Someone please get Ms James to write me a full-length romance at once.