by: Eloisa James
This book is part of James’ fairy tale series – it’s (very)loosely based upon the story of Rapunzel.
Our heroine is Edie, a lady who plays the cello rather brilliantly. It is only her gender that keeps her from becoming a famous cellist, but Edie, only daughter of a wealthy earl is happy with her lot in life nonetheless. Attending a ball despite her illness one night, she makes the acquaintance of Gowan Stoughton, a Scottish duke (and yes, that first name does make some of the more erotic scenes just a wee bit confusing. Or, at least, it did for me.) He falls in love at first sight, proposes, and the rest, is well…
Quite complicated, actually. I really like James and I thought that this book shone in ways that some of her latest works haven’t. First of all, Edie’s parents (father and significantly younger stepmother) are the product of a fairy tale romance and they find themselves struggling after the happily ever after. Layla is unable to conceive a child, there’s a complete lack of communication, and there’s absolutely no understanding from either party of the importance of communication. (They just don’t work like that, you understand!) Layla and Edie are good friends, and depictions of female friendships are truly sets James apart from other romance authors. Though her parents’ relationship is a very secondary part of the story, it dramatically affects Edie’s love story.
Layla is also young and flighty and, though a good friend to Edie, not always the best source of wisdom, which does help create the major plot point. The juxtaposition of a couple just finding their happily ever after with a couple answering the age-old question of what comes after the HEA is rather brilliantly drawn. It also gives a sense of richness to the ending; that even though our hero and heroine may (do) find themselves back in wedded bliss, there are other obstacles that must be overcome. Takes away a bit of the tint from the rose-colored glasses, if you will.
The other absolutely amazing part of this book – truly wonderful, I loved it so much – is that the sex isn’t great.
In fact, it’s terrible. The physical attraction is there, mind you, but neither party really knows what they’re doing. And it’s a huge point in the book; it is the pivotal issue around which several major issues rest. James handles it beautifully – Edie’s feelings upon being unable to orgasm, when her husband so desperately wants to please her, and the choices she makes in response are realistic and, I think, felt by modern women still. Gowan’s reactions and emotions are equally well-depicted and I imagine very relevant, though I am less familiar with the social pressures men feel than with the ones women feel. (James has used bad sex before but neither so well nor so prominently.) And the solution to the bad sex is not, as it is in so many romance novels, more sex. Edie is thrust into the throes of passion by his magic manhood, nor does her magic womanhood suddenly endow him with the skills of a Casanova. This despite the fact that they’re both so very attracted to each other! In fact, sex only worsens the problem exponentially.
The solution, the reader begins to believe, is what Dan Savage himself would preach – communication. Do they begin to communicate? Does Edie ever orgasm? Does she come down from the tower?
I’ll quickly note that I did not much care for the epilogue – one could very well not read it and still be satisfied with the ending. In contrast to what I wrote earlier, it is a little too pat and happily ever after for my tastes; epilogues often are.
If you, dear reader, love romance, novel love romance, or are looking for an honest depiction of a common problem that is ignored in most of literature, you should read this book – even if you don’t like romance novels, you should give this one a shot. If you read romances for the torrid sex scenes or if you like stories featuring Casanovas, than perhaps this isn’t the book for you. Although it is excellent and everyone who wants to be in a relationship should read it. Just sayin’.