Tuesday, February 23, 2010

"The Perils of Pursuing a Prince," by Julia London

The Chick: Greer Vaughan Fairchild. To save her beloved cousins (or at least, herself) from destitution, she travels all the way to Wales, in order to claim her inheritance from a distant relation.
The Rub: The crazy, dark Prince of Powys seems convinced she's a swindler, and refuses to hand over the money until he sees valid proof of her identity - which means until she does, she has to stay in his castle. Unchaperoned.Dream Casting: Zooey Deschanel.

The Dude: Rhodrick William Glendower, Earl of Radnor, Prince of Powys. When his black-hearted, soulless cousin Percy pays him a surprise visit begging for a handout, he automatically assumes Percy's beautiful traveling companion is his partner in crime.
The Rub: While waiting for the proof to arrive, he can't help but enjoy Greer's company - but what if she's only conning him?Dream Casting: Clive Owen.

The Plot:

Greer: I want my inheritance!

Mr. Percy: I want to swindle marry you!

Rhodrick: Fat chance in hell, suckas.

Greer: Could you possibly be any ruder?

Rhodrick: Why yes. *drunkenly fondles*

Mr Percy: Still want to give me all your money marry me?

Greer: No - but we can make out!

Rhodrick: HELL TO THE NO.

Greer: Could you possibly be any crazier?

Rhodrick: Why yes. *locks her in a tower*

Greer: Hmmm, you know I'm actually starting to like you now, could you show me that strange white house just over yonder --

Rhodrick: A THOUSAND TIMES NO. It is FORBIDDEN! Totally bad! Evil! Not-in-the-cool-way-evil!

Greer: Could you possibly BE any more angsty and secretive?

Rhodrick: Anything for you, pumpkin. *reveals sordid past*

Greer: ... dammit. Let's just forget the creepy house and get married!

Rhodrick: HOORAY!

Romance Convention Checklist

1 Dark, Broody Colourblind Hero with a Dark, Broody Past

1 Noticeable But Still Sexy Facial Scar

1 Bum Knee

1 Evil Cousin

1 Inconvenient Inheritance

1 Inconveniently Dead Wife

Several Welsh Endearments

1 Mysterious Death

1 Unexpectedly Helpful Ghost

The Word: I was all set to enjoy this novel. I really enjoyed the two other works of London's I've read, particularly The Hazards of Hunting a Duke which slapped the crap out of its silly title by showing surprising depth and nuance (her novella, "Snowy Night with a Highlander" from the Snowy Night with a Stranger was also a treat). With The Perils of Pursuing a Prince, the second in her Desperate Debutantes series, I expected the same sort of thing. While the introduction was very enjoyable, despite the unrealistic plot (I like to call this effect the Lisa Kleypas High), it soon fled down Silly Lane, took a left turn at Crazy Street, and then jumped off the Stupid Cliff.

Greer, the cousin to Ava (The Hazards of Hunting a Duke) and Phoebe (the next book, The Dangers of Deceiving a Viscount), nevertheless found herself in the same pity-boat as them when their mother died and their turd of a stepfather claimed their inheritance. Good ol' Stepdad also informed the three girls of his intentions to marry them off to the first dudes who asked, so Ava and Greer came up with different plans to come into some cash to prevent that from happening. Ava decided to woo a wealthy duke, and Greer decided to head to Wales to see if her father left her an inheritance.

Ava's won her Duke, obviously, but Greer doesn't know that by the beginning of the novel. She hitched a ride to Wales by playing lady's companion to an elderly woman who has just now died, leaving Greer nearly-broke and stranded in Left Armpit, Wales with an over-solicitous and faintly creepy dude named Percy. Thankfully, she does discover she was left some cash, but it was passed to a distant, married-into-the-family relation - the same relation Percy claims robbed him of his inheritance.

The man in question is Rhodrick, the Earl of Radnor, also known by the hereditary title of the Prince of Powys. During their ride to his estate, Percy fills Greer's head with all sorts of sordid tales about the Prince's eeeevilness, and their first meeting with the Prince only confirms all her fears. Seriously, Rhodrick has the perfect Angst Trifecta for damaged heroes. Spooky castle? Check. Physical disfigurement? Check. Mysterious death in his past and/or long-dead wife? Check and check!

Worse - the Prince refuses to hand over her inheritance until she can prove her identity. Percy, it seems, is Not A Nice Man, and Rhodrick adheres to the "fly with the crows, and you're going to get shot at" maxim - since Greer arrived in Percy's company without a chaperon and claims him as a friend, Rhodrick assumes she's either a lying whore in cahoots with Percy, or as dumb as a box of hair. Their opinions of each other don't exactly improve when a falling-down-drunk Rhodrick catches her exploring his hallways at night, mistakes her for a sexy ghost, and makes out with her.

But wait! We're still in Pleasantly Silly territory! Greer's and Rhodrick's assumptions about each other aren't entirely unfounded. Yes, Greer takes Percy's word over Rhodrick's even though she's only known him for five minutes, but that's till four minutes more than she's known the Prince, whose idea of welcoming her to the castle involves shoving his whisky-soaked tongue down her throat and rambling on about magic.

Still, while Pleasantly Silly, the story's not exactly gripping - in the next couple of chapters Greer responds to Rhodrick's banter with limp-wristed exclamations of "Oh!" and "You are vile!" and "I hate you!" which moves Rhodrick's categorization of her from "Lying Whore" to "Box of Hair," to "Box of Sexy Hair" and eventually to "Box of Sexy Hair I Like to Sniff."

Then comes that left turn to CrazyTown. Percy starts puttin' the moves on Greer, and Greer finds herself enjoying a rather nice bout of tonsil hockey - a rare occurrence for a romance heroine, since most of them seem to come equipped with Lie-Detecting Naughty Bits that shrivel with distaste at the touch of anyone who is not the hero. Unfortunately, Rhodrick walks in on them sucking face and flies into a self-righteous Heathcliff-esque rage. After kicking the shit out of Percy, he drags a screeching Greer up to a tower room and locks her in. A few more pages of screaming, punctuated by the occasional "you are vile!", follow.

Ostensibly, Rhodrick does this because he suspects Percy of trying to compromise Greer into marriage in order to get two inheritances for the price of one, but it's also because his Angsty Lonely Prince Feelings are hurt. See, he's got a bum knee and a scar and isn't very pretty, and he's so broodily wounded that Greer would rather play mouth darts with scum like Percy than him.

After paying Percy to run away like a little bitch, he dutifully releases Greer so she can pull more Too Stupid To Live rebellious bullshit that makes her so insanely attractive to him. Things proceed from there. Greer wants to visit a little white house on Rhodrick's land because she remembers it from a dream. Rhoderick and all of his friends warn her away, taking into account her Box of Hair intelligence and using a lot of yelling, raised eyebrows, and loud hand gestures, taking care to trail off mid-sentence before telling her why. Greer will not be gainsaid - she must clean that house, it's part of her past. How does she know this? Because she saw it - in a dream! A dream with her dead mother in it!

Yeah-huh. Such is life in CrazyTown. Our protagonists lie and brood and have backdoor lovin' with each other, all the while continuing to distrust each other for reasons that should have been resolved chapters ago, and the story gaily trots over the edge of Stupid. The white house scandal (hurr) is revealed to have, gasp! Nothing to do with our protagonists and yet revealing that story makes Rhoderick and Greer hate enough other again, until a patently absurd intervention on the part of Greer's dead mum's ghost heals all wounds. Why? Because Wales, it is magical! That's reason enough!

As you may have guessed, Greer didn't really impress me all that much. She comes off as foolish and self-absorbed throughout most of the story, and she's not that clearly developed. She can't really hold her own against Rhoderick, even conversationally ("You are vile!"), and she doesn't really have any good motivations for her major actions in the story. I never got a sense of her passions or interests. Her "character progression" is "I want money. I can't have money. I'm going to mope about not having money. I'm going to scream about how vile Rhoderick is. Guess I like Rhoderick now. Guess I hate Rhoderick now. I don't want to marry him and move to Wales. Now I do want to marry him and move to Wales, because my dead mum said so."

Rhoderick was a different matter. I actually liked him for the most part - I have a soft spot for physically self-conscious heroes and Julia London's good at writing them. Yes, he sometimes jumps to stupid conclusions but there's always a reason why, and you can empathize with his loneliness. There's a scene close to the end of the novel (but not close enough, apparently) where he presents Greer with a huge-ass sapphire ring and asks her to marry him. When Greer refuses (because she's a moron who only now decides she's Too Strongly Feminist A Heroine To Marry On The First Go) Rhoderick is so hurt - not angry, not angsty, but genuinely humiliated and saddened, that I suddenly wished the novel was a hundred and fifty pages longer so he could find someone more sensible than this screechy twit.

I'm not going to give up on Julia London entirely. She imbues her writing with a lot of emotion, enough that even sometimes-silly plots can be enjoyable. There were elements of this story (mostly at the beginning) that I quite liked. However, emotion is nice but it needs direction and motivation, and that's where The Perils of Pursuing a Prince fails. Read this book as much as you like - it's still a frog in the end.


  1. Anonymous5:29 PM

    Hilarious as always -- hooray!

    I've noticed that authors who start out a series with 3 sisters (or almost) in financial straits have to go to ridiculous lengths to keep that plot going after the first one marries her wealthy Duke, as she always does. This series seems to be a prime example. -- willaful

  2. Anonymous8:04 PM

    i haven't read this one but didn't particularly like Dangers of Deceiving a Viscount...it was just m'eh, ok-ish. "silly" usually isn't my cup of tea, i spend the whole time rolling my eyes at the characters and/or plot.

    the only marginally "silly"ish romance writer i like is Celeste Bradley.

    also OMG i seriously lol-ed (i don't often) as this: "...moves Rhodrick's categorization of her from "Lying Whore" to "Box of Hair," to "Box of Sexy Hair" and eventually to "Box of Sexy Hair I Like to Sniff.""

  3. I am not 100% sure why but Julia London's historicals do not tend to work for me as much as her contemporaries do. There isn't another author that I can say that about.

    I did buy this book but took one look at the print size and promptly put it on the bookshelf to gather dust. The print is tiny in my copy!

  4. Vorkosigrrl1:18 PM

    You crack me up! I hope you never stop reviewing. You read these books so I don't have to. "Box of Sexy Hair I like to Sniff," indeed! Harharharharharhar!