Leisure, $5.99, ISBN 0-8439-5045-5
Historical Romance, 2002
What the heroine Willa wants in this book isn’t much. In fact, she’s one of those medieval country heroines found strictly in the pages of a banana romance novel: simple, unbelievable selfless, naïve, all-giving, and putty in the hands of our hero. Such low-maintenance heroines can be kept on the shelves, taken out only periodically for the maintenance shag, and they will still be happy even if you attend a six-week orgy and forget to feed them. The catch is, of course, is that you must feed her Daddy/wolves/siblings* (please cross out where applicable) or she will be very, very angry.
Willa is raised by the local witch after some unpleasant family drama in her past (someone wants to kill her, only she doesn’t know it… of course). However, her uncle has betrothed her to Hugh Dulonget, and when Hugh inherits and learns that he is to marry someone who may be his uncle’s illegitimate brat, he is not happy.
But after learning that if he doesn’t marry he will get no money along with the title, he gets an epiphany and realizes what a mean baddie he has been, calling Willa names like that. Now, he genuinely wants to woo her. I’m still not sure how the epiphany comes about (maybe it’s true – only poor folks can afford a conscience) but hey, anything to get the story moving. Shoo, shoo, keep moving, people.
So now Hugh wants to woo Willa. But no one seems to know how Hugh should go about doing that. I say diamond rings. Someone suggests that Hugh stands in the rain and sun bodyguarding Willa like a stone statue outside her hut. I point at the latest catalog from Christie’s – look, Hugh, Marie Antoinette’s three zillion karat ring! Someone tells Hugh to be nice to Willa’s wolves and witch biddy and she’ll be putty in his hands. I sigh – true, that girl is unbelievably dense that way, but I still think Jackie O’s shoe collection is the way to go. And to think I once wondered why so many romance heroines were either starving, homeless, badly beaten, and addle-pated.
The main problem of this story is that it basically functions on a rather flimsy premise: Hugh jumps through hoops trying to please Willa. But the trouble is, Willa is no Kate to Hugh’s Petruccio. She is more like the braindead sister Bianca, so basically there’s no reason at all for Hugh to try so hard. Just get in there, throw some raw steak to Willa’s wolves here and a pat on Witch Biddy’s head, and Willa’s legs will part faster than you can say “Zoings!” Seriously.
During the second half of the story, Willa becomes a little bit more grown up, ie she no longer blinks like a deer staring at the headlights of Hugh’s erection. That half is much more readable, although Hugh and Willa still remain pretty much one-note characters, mainly because people aren’t acting so unbelievably dense anymore. (Of course, the fact that someone is trying his or her damndest to kill Willa may have something to do with the readability factor.)
Still, What She Wants isn’t too bad. It’s not the best, but certainly not the worst that I’ve read, thanks to the second half that actually gets moving. In fact, the second half of this story feels like a completely different book altogether. If the author has kept up the overall quality of her book and make Willa a little less of a naïve dingbat in the beginning, this one may just deliver. As it is, it leaves me wanting.