Jove, $7.99, ISBN 0-515-13972-6
Historical Romance, 2005
Betina Krahn’s The Book of the Seven Delights is a romantic adventure calculated to remind readers of Romancing the Stone with some Indiana Jones thrown in here and there.
Abigail Merchant, having graduated from the New York State Library School as a qualified librarian from America, finds herself hired by the British Museum… as an assistant stuck in the basement cataloguing books and manuscripts. However, this job allows her to discover the detailed journal, documents, sketches, and maps of one T Thadeus Chilton, a much-ridiculed fellow who tried to discover the Great Library of Alexandra. She decides that it is only appropriate that she makes her mark in academia as the discoverer of the Great Library (she’ll acknowledged Mr Chilton’s contributions, of course) so she invests her money onto getting herself to Casablanca, and from there… Timbuktu!
Just to let you know how prepared Abigail is, she reads up all the books written by women explorers of the late 1900s and buys everything they recommended, including a gun that she is certain to be used on wild animals only. Luckily for her, she has the mysterious Apollodorus “Apollo” Smith who is the roguish guy with secrets and charm to go around.
This story could have been fun since there are certainly plenty of excitement going on here. Evil Frenchies! Scary natives! Oga-oga!
But your enjoyment of this story will have to depend on how much you like your Calamity Jane heroines because my goodness, this woman attracts danger like nobody’s business. There are enemies surrounding her and Apollo, looking for them as they try to hide? Oops, she “just happens” to speak a little too loud. The enemies are gone? Let Abigail go shopping without the hero and come back screaming as a million enemies are chasing after her behind. After the fifth consecutive time in about five or so chapters that Abigail invites all kinds of troubles onto her, I find myself thinking that perhaps Ms Krahn could have been a little more subtle when it comes to making Abigail such a tedious and annoying female stereotype.
It’s not that Abigail is stupid. At least, I hesitate to call her stupid because she can sometimes put two and two together in this story. I know, my yardstick for the measure of a heroine’s intelligence is really set low due to the abundance of heroines who need to the obvious spelled out to them or heroines who cannot make a sensible decision to save their lives, but Abigail sometimes proves that she can think for herself. It’s just that she’s out of her league in this story.
The hero contributes to the problem. He’s written as a stereotype as well, the Casanova explorer rogue character. The thing is, Apollo is constantly in his “on” mode: he seems incapable of treating Abigail with a decent measure of respect. He’s either mocking her or, if he wants her to do something, orders her in a challenging manner, as if he’s daring her to disobey him. This man has no sense of context at all because when he should be explaining why Abigail should take a certain precaution, he’s pretty much going instead, “Do this, toots, and oh, girls suck and boys rule. PS: nice rack, babe!” 24/7. The whole fratboy antic gets really tedious after a while because I’m actually groaning after Apollo, “No! She’ll defy you just to be petty and then get into trou – SEE? I TOLD YOU? SEE! AAARGH!”
This pattern of cause-and-effect continues throughout the entire book, punctuated by kisses and sex scenes that are given a treatment that are not much mature than that of the characters’ other behavior. As a result, this story quickly turns into a cartoon before my eyes, as the hero and the heroine will show their tongue at each other, she gets into trouble, he rescues her, they do what they have to do to remind me that they are supposed to be falling in love, and they repeat the whole cycle again and again and again until I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.
Even the whole banter system isn’t fun because Apollo is shockingly thin-skinned. He can call Abigail all kinds of disrespectful things but when Abigail tries to score some points back, he’ll sulk and act all wounded inside because he has a sad past and Abigail is a big meanie to bully poor tortured Apollo. Abigail will naturally feel bad, clams up, and Apollo in his next breath will resume mocking Abigail. That guy can’t take what he dishes out, so the “banter” in this story can be very one-sided with Abigail being too concerned about wounding Apollo’s feelings to kick him in the balls and tell him to shut up and back off.
So, on one side, there’s a hero who acts like a blabbermouth frat boy who can’t take what he dishes out. On the other side is a heroine who, flustered by the hero or not, just cannot stay out of trouble. Put these two together and I get a story about adventures and dangers that feel absolutely contrived, with the author too clearly creating scenarios after scenarios just to get the two characters on the run. How unfortunate that The Book of the Seven Delights doesn’t take long to turn into a Loony Tunes cartoon that seems to go on interminably.