Sourcebooks Casablanca, $6.99, ISBN 978-1-4022-4848-1
Fantasy Romance, 2011
Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think Kristine Grayson’s Wickedly Charming is an expanded version of her short story The Charming Way, which can be found in a self-published anthology Geek Love that was released earlier this year. This one has a cute premise, which is why I plonked down cash for this book. We have a divorced Prince Charming, who now wanders the book fairs of our world after his divorce from Cinderella, and, in one of these fairs, falls in love with Melvina, the much-maligned stepmother of Snow White. Mellie is on a crusade, working with People for the Ethical Treatment of Archetypes (PETA, of course) to get the facts right about the poor archetypes that have been slandered and libeled by those scoundrels that wrote the original fairy tales. Charming, appalled at what he believes to be Mellie’s advocating of book censorship or book banning, decides to help her find a better way to get the word out.
It could have been a cute story, and I especially like the fact these are characters who look like normal mature people with physical imperfections instead of flawless physiques. Unfortunately, this story comes off more like the author’s personal soapbox than anything else. Ms Grayson lectures me about everything from book censorship to the objectification of women, and she’s not even pretending to be subtle about it. As a result, the characters come off more like sociopolitical strawmen than anything else. When she’s on the warpath about issues associated with women, Mellie comes off as one of those strident and irrational strawman feminists that set the movement back by a hundred years because, like Charming points out, she is such a bitter and jealous hag, bashing younger and thinner women just to make her point about how she is the wronged party. Charming is the strawman librarian, going on and on about freeing books from oppressive censorship and moral scrutiny when he’s not being the author’s avatar, lecturing me about the importance of good pacing and such when it comes to writing fiction.
The thing is, this work of fiction has some of the worst pacing I’ve come across, so I don’t know if the author is having a laugh at my expense. The characters are awful – they keep repeating and rehashing the same thoughts and details until my eyes begin to cross. Just read the first 13 pages if you don’t believe me, and count how many times the author explains why Charming chooses the name “Dave” when he’s on Earth, mentions why Charming loves books, brings up the fact that Charming is divorced and is currently unhappy, and how he’s just a middle-aged man with a paunch. Mellie and Charming don’t talk to each other – they lecture and narrate instead, as if they are on Oprah’s talk show and they insist on getting the last word. The romance is one of those “oh, they see each other for the first time and they really want to do it, woo-hoo, so it’s love!” things. Who has the time to actually fall in love when there are so many things to nag people about?
And really, for a story about dispelling stereotypes, this one is pretty generous about reinforcing them. Mellie is a bitter woman who is jealous of thinner, younger, and more beautiful women… until she gets a man of her own, and then the world is fine again. Ella, Charming’s ex, turns out to be the very stereotype of the self-absorbed and selfish too-skinny blonde whose cosmetic-enhanced beauty equals a lack of morals.
Slow and draggy, full of straw man rhetoric, and way too preachy for its own good, Wickedly Charming may as well be retitled Crazy-ass Filibuster Rampage. It’s bad enough that this is a soapbox pretending to be a romance story, but does it have to be so dull, dry, and embarrassingly hypocritical at the same time?