LoveSpell, $5.99, ISBN 0-505-52601-8
Sci-fi Romance, 2004
On the surface, Forced Mate describes a chess move that the author Rowena Cherry hopes is a parallel of sorts to the relationship between her characters: in a game of chess where the pieces on both sides are reduced to a king and a few pawn pieces, the side who is the first to advance a pawn to make it a queen wins the game – this method of winning is called forced mate. In this book, the hero Prince Tarrant-Arragon (don’t worry, people, it gets worse – much worse) must deflower the heroine Djinni-vera (see, I warned you) before she realizes that he is not her betrothed Prince Djetthro-Jason (or JJ for short).
The author has her tongue firmly in cheek when she is writing this book but very early into the story she loses all control of her story and confuses humorous antics with bloody imbecilic moments. From the hero’s exclamations of “By all the Lechers of Antiquity!” to phrases like “Even if Djinni isn’t Djinn enough to be rut-rageous”, I have no doubt that this story is not meant to be taken seriously. But when the hero becomes a dolt keeping secrets like no tomorrow while taking advantage of the heroine while the heroine suffers from a terminal case of idiocy, and the author labors under the impression that he’s a sexy alpha rogue while she’s a feisty heroine, that’s when I’m no longer sure on whom the joke is upon.
Prince Tarrant-Arragon is, from what I gather, a prince of a distant space empire of a race of humanoids called the Djinn. He is a sex god of sorts because apparently he has this divine right to take the virginity of any virgin; these virgins of course so besotted by his beauty that they will beg him to deflower them with his royal scepter. However, the empire is dying (I suspect that it’s because of an outbreak of STD) and our Prince now has to marry his half-cousin and get an heir before it’s too late. Yes, his half-cousin. To make it better, his nineteen-year old half-cousin. Consanguinity and inbreeding are hot when royalty does it, don’t you know? This cousin is our heroine Djinni-vera (I suspect that her full name is Djinni-verra-verra-spastico) who is raised by her mother’s folks to (a) hate all Djinns, (b) destroy all Djinns, (c) fear sex, and (d) be terminally ignorant about sex.
Even if this story is set on an alternate Earth in 1994, I have a hard time imagining that any nineteen-year old in 1994 will end up so sexually ignorant as Djinni-vera here. Maybe a lobotomy is also performed on her when I’m not looking. She is a mind-reader trained to be a warrior, but she is so ridiculous in the sense that she is too honorable to read our hero’s mind and realize that he’s not her betrothed. This unbelievably thin excuse for the heroine to be in the dark about our hero goes on for so long that I have to wonder just how much Ms Cherry is taking her readers’ intelligence for granted. When the hero announces that it is more honorable to seduce her and make their marriage fait accompli before he tells her the truth because he is considerate about her phobia for his big penis (I am honestly not joking here), I start to worry that my IQ will start dropping drastically with each turn of the page.
This book’s biggest problem, plot-wise, is its overrealiance on the heroine’s unbelievable denseness when it comes to her sexuality. She isn’t just neurotic – she is actually frigid. When she’s not running around being a termagant in heels, she’s acting as if she’s completely lobotomized to the point that the hero has to spoonfeed her the concept of basic human sexuality. In this instance, there is very little to separate Djinni-vera from a blow-up doll, except that a blow-up doll is at least mercifully silent and it doesn’t run around getting into trouble. It is hard to get into a story where the heroine is marked by the author as a braindead moron from the get-go.
There are so many subplots in this book, all of them ridiculous, but at the same time, the author’s main plot is barely developed. Instead, she relies too much on tried-and-true annoying plot devices like big secrets and painful misunderstandings to keep the conflicts coming. That is, conflicts that don’t revolve around Djinni-vera’s hysterical terror when it comes to sex and big penises (fears that our hero’s masterfully dominant sexual prowess will of course sweep aside for blissful ecstasy).
Painful conflicts aside, the writing is hopelessly muddled. Nicknames that the author no doubt believes are cute and precious fly forth, so much so that for a long time I believe that Djinni-vera must be a nickname. Characters come and go, often existing solely for slapstick comic moments, but they are reenacting jokes only the author fully gets because Ms Cherry’s brand of humor is best described as overly frantic. Purple jokes about sex drip forth from every page, from Pleasure Moons to oversized penises, further muddling an already confusing plot of too many unexplained characters and subplots with too obvious jokes that only work if the reader is the type who will giggle non-stop at the mention of penises.
If the author’s vision for her story is a bawdy sexploitation romance set in an alternate present day, I can see what she is trying to do in Forced Mate but unfortunately, she tries to do so much more than what she is capable of doing at the moment. This book is a horrible mess. The conflicts are painful episodes of misunderstandings and unnecessary secrets, enforced by characters behaving monstrously stupid. The heroine is so sexually dysfunctional and ignorant that she needs a shrink and long-term hormone therapy, not forced copulation with a sex fiend obsessed with his own erection. The author writes as if she’s suffering from ADD – she cuts from scene to scene when the reader hasn’t even started to catch up with her and she introduces and takes out characters and subplots as if the reader is psychic and can read the author’s mind.
That’s the key problem here, I think: Ms Cherry writes in manically frantic pace and overly flippant manner without taking the effort to flesh out her plot and characters, to the point that she is unable to transmit her story in a coherent manner that can bring her creation to life in my mind. Painfully chaotic and unfunny, this book is an agony to finish. If Ms Cherry wants to carve a niche for herself within futuristic romance like she says in some online interviews I come across, she needs to slow down and allow the reader to catch up with her. Right now, the only niche she is carving out for herself is “Avoid like plague”.