Zebra, $5.99, ISBN 0-8217-7472-7
Historical Romance, 2003
To Charm a Prince is stupid in several different degrees. It starts out an enjoyable kind of stupid, the same kind of enjoyable stupid that one would get from watching – and laughing at – unbelievably bad and hokey B-grade movies, but it soon plunges into another kind of stupid that causes brain cells to die, but that is after these same brain cells have flooded my brain with loud and shrill cries of pain as they slowly dessicate in the morass of moronic that Ms Grasso is pumping into her story. I think my brain now hates me, and it’s all Patricia Grasso’s fault.
Samantha Douglas, whose sisters star in previous books by this author, is limp in one leg. She knows she is limp in one leg. At eighteen and already a professional martyr, she will make sure that everybody knows she is limp and even better, she will make everybody hate her so that she can prove to everybody that she is unlovable and unlikeable, just like she always thought. Oh, and good news: she makes it very easy to hate her. When her family talks of a Great Tragedy (how some evil bastard swindled Daddy and caused all the sisters to take up pickpocketing for a living), she immediately inquires whether this Great Tragedy is her being run down by the carriage. No, dear, the Tragedy is that the carriage only ruined her leg and nothing else.
The hero is a prince, Rudolf Kazanov from some Russian province. He meets our heroine, demands that she dances with him – which she complies – and then disappears. Our heroine is heartbroken – while she insists that nobody loves her, she seems inexplicably shocked to learn that she’s right. So she does what good and smart heroines do: get herself engaged to a man she considers boring and dull. The prince shows up just as she is about to get herself engaged, demands that she ends her engagement – because she doesn’t love this suitor, see? – so that he can “know her better”. Before they can go any further, villains hired by the true hero of this story, Rudolf’s evil brother, get down to business and capture both our hero and heroine. The fact that our Prince of Sexual Harassment and Potential Date Rapes tricks our heroine into his carriage only makes it easy for these villains.
Unfortunately, these villains are no smarter than our two main characters. How do you kill two idiots? Smash their skulls in? Feed them arsenic? A simple blade through the stomach? Listening to the audiobook of To Charm a Prince? Nope, these villains decide to kill our gruesome twosome by locking them in a room! Wow. In the sole act of intelligence in this story, Samantha pickpockets the key from one of the villains. For some reason, now she must follow the Prince as they flee together.
This book isn’t a romance. It’s a story of the hero demanding that the heroine spread herself open for him. Rudolf is a jerk in and out: he insists that the heroine sleep with him even as he openly refuses to marry her. At the same time his dead wife – blonde, naturally – is supposed to be this faithless bitch that he hates, hates, hates and the reason that he doesn’t trust women forever – oh give me a break. I wonder if Ms Grasso anticipates this reader sympathizing with the cheating dead wife who is stuck with this selfish, unbearably boorish jerk. The heroine is a little better than a doormat. She uses her limp leg as an excuse to believe herself so devoid of self-worth that she happily lets the hero mentally and verbally abuse her. Late in the story, there is a really stupid stupid S-T-U-P-I-D big misunderstanding scenario that sees the hero really turning into a brutal freak that makes Ike Turner come off like Prince Charming – if you can still find yourself respecting Rudolf and that pathetic creature Samantha by the last page, you have a higher tolerance for fools and jerks in your fiction than me.
The sole saving grace of this book is the many moments of unintentional comedy in the first half of this book. At one scene, Rudolf talks about how he shot a polar bear and he hates it. He can’t kill animals. Our heroine immediately thinks pleasurably of what a wonderful man this is because he cannot bring himself to kill animals. Then Rudolf tells her that he shot this bear by mistake – he was aiming for his father instead. Pure comedy, I tell you. Another funny scene is Samantha praying to God to preserve her – she pauses as she considers whether God should preserve her virginity or reputation. She decides what the heck, God, just preserve her reputation, thank you, and I really crack up laughing. Don’t forget that the hero is a walking justification for Russia to violently disembowel and behead their rulers and embrace communism. For a moment, I almost believed that the author is mocking stupid heroines and alpha heroes, because the timing of some of the more humorous scenes is really good. The second half of the book, however, is a humorlessly bad story of really mentally unstable heroes and the sad pathetic victims who love these men, devoid of any apparent self-conscious winks and nudges, that I soon suspect that I’ve been overestimating Ms Grasso all along.
I guess the moral here is: train wrecks may be funny in a macabre way for a few seconds, but at the end of the day, there are always people – or brain cells – who will get really, really hurt when the stupid train tips over and falls into the chasm of irredeemable cluelessness.