Avon, $6.99, ISBN 0-380-81252-5
Fantasy Romance, 2002 (Reissue)
Dara Joy always has good ideas. But somehow, she never actually succeeds in executing them. As a result, most of her books are one-trick novelty acts. Strip away the initial “Ooo…” at the premise, and there is very little to actually savor. Knight of a Trillion Stars and Rejar – take away the hero’s ever-present erection and what’s left are flimsy characterization, flippant jokes, and very little plot. Her best book, in my opinion, is Mine to Take, but even then, I get flashbacks to science fiction novels of the 1970’s – you know, where heroes are barbaric brutes that sleep with every woman in the novel and where the heroine is always scantily clad in the cover snow or shine.
I’m hoping maybe this book, Dara Joy’s hardcover debut now reissued in mass market paperback, will change things somewhat. After all, her website claims that the people at Avon swung from chandeliers after reading a copy. (I hope it’s a lively sort of swinging, actually, not the Japanese sort – never mind. I’ll shut up here.) But Ritual of Proof again has an idea, not an original or good one, but again it ends up like some dime science fiction novel out of the 1970’s with its emphasis on sex, sex, sex, and sex. Not as in the act per se, but in sexual roles and politics. All that’s missing is a Boris Vallejo cover.
This story takes place in an alternate fantasy Regency period in a planet called Forus Moon where women are on top, with all the predictable follow-up scenarios. Ms Joy isn’t clever enough to create anything new. Shorter childbirth, check, men as house sitters, check, men’s purity tests, check. In short, this is nothing more than mere “Switch XX to XY and vice versa” window dressing. Except for the purity thing. Incidentally, how do you know whether a man is a virgin or not anyway?
Thrust into this time is the virginal bluestocking – no, he’s not a bluestocking, he’s more of a macho man waiting to burst out of his breeches – chaffing at his lot. Jorlan Reynard is his name, and he thinks that maybe, “women are equal to men”. Green Tamryn is our heroine, and she has a catfight with another woman over this attractive, virile young man, Good Lord, it is the 1970’s all over again. Conan, I mean, Jorlan and Green soon marry, and embark on many adventures even as they struggle to be on top of each other. Ultimately, Bad Ho Claudine will fight with Good Girl Green over Jorlan in a climax, er, plot finale that just explodes with vague, indecipherable mantra that uses big words like “source, destiny, heart,” whatever.
Okay, bad Conan the Barbarian 1970s novel aspirations aside, how does the romance fare in Ritual of Proof? Well, the sex scenes are pretty good in a slightly purple way. But strip away the equality talk, and what’s left is a pretty conventional romance. Joran ends up being on top, don’t worry, you fans who love your heroine willowy, and in the end, the first kid will be a son, and Green will make the son her heir. Thus, equality in this case means a hundred-eighty degree swing from complete, over-the-top matriachy to the more familiar over-the-top patriarchy, I guess. If I am oversimplifying things, it’s because the author is guilty of doing the same. She could have had the firstborn a daughter and have Joran and Green confront their issues in a more thorough way, but she prefers to use the old, trite “who’s on top on the missionary position” stuff to establish gender lines instead, thus dumbing down her story on her own accord.
For a romance novel, yes, this is something new, I guess. For fans of the author that haven’t picked up a decent fantasy/science-fiction novel, this may be a revelation of the times. But really, even at her best in Ritual of Proof, Dara Joy is channeling Alan Dean Foster and L Sprague de Camp in their 1970s-1980s heydays. It’s okay for a bad, cheesy fantasy novel, an okay romance, overall an okay read, but I can’t help thinking that this story could have been so much more. But the author doesn’t actually succeed in delivering what she promises.