Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Sold To The Enemy

When it comes to explaining the appeal of category romance I have a whole speech (most librarians have a "whole speech" about something - 'tis what we do).  I've regurgitated the highlights on this blog quite often over the years, but the take-away can often be condensed down to this simple fact:

When you read a good category romance, it's the purest form of the genre.

There's also the magic of finding an author who writes the format well, which is what Sarah Morgan does.  She's really smart with category.  She takes classic themes and tropes, populates them with interesting characters, and then peels her conflict back slowly, like an onion.  She's very good at what I call the "slow reveal," and Sold To The Enemy is no exception.

Selene Antaxos has spent all of her young twenty-something years living on an isolated, inhospitable Greek island with her terrorized mother and a monster for a father.  Selene's one goal is to get both her and her mother off the island and away from her father, who perpetuates the myth that they're a "perfect family," while secretly behind closed doors he smacks them around.  While her father is off the island visiting one of his many mistresses, Selene disguises herself, thwarts his security team, and lands on Stefan Ziakas doorstep.  Stefan is rich, powerful, and many years ago was nice to Selene at a party she attended with her father (you know, to perpetuate the whole "happy family" thing).  Her father's reach is so far that she knows if she wants to get her business proposal off the ground that she must go to someone who isn't under her father's thumb - and that's Stefan.  The two men loathe each other.

Stefans' not really sure what to think with Selene shows up at his office unannounced, but he does pick up on the fact that she's sexy and sweet, wrapped up in one forbidden delectable package.  What driven Greek tycoon can possibly resist that?  Sparks fly, Selene cuts loose, and a good time is had by all until reality intrudes with the harsh light of day.  Stefan may have just unwittingly unraveled Selene's carefully constructed escape plan for her and her mother.  Oopsie!

On the surface what we have here is your classic young, fresh-faced, virginal (naturally) heroine paired up with the ruthless, worldly tycoon.  This story is a staple in romance and the Presents universe, but Morgan takes it and infuses it with some fresh ideas.  Selene may be young and virginal, but she's got gumption.  You'd have to have gumption to defy her father, and she's smart enough to realize that if she wants to escape him, and save her mother, that she's going to need money, which means needing help.  Stefan has a long-standing reason for hating Selene's father that dates back to his childhood.  What I liked about him is that he uses his brain.  He does make assumptions about Selene and he does think he knows what's going on.  However when things go to hell, and he's alone thinking back on the turn of events - it hits him.  Selene's got a secret, and he's going to swoop in to rescue her.

A Rescue Fantasy is at the heart of this story, and you need a hero like Stefan to believably thwart a man as powerful as Selene's father.  What I really liked is that Selene is constantly pushing back.  She doesn't want to escape one prison only to walk into another, and she doesn't entirely trust Stefan.  Plus it quickly becomes apparent to her that Stefan is a man who is incapable of dealing with emotions and being honest about them.  She's spent her whole life tip-toeing around her father, saying one thing, meaning another.  She's not about to enter into a relationship with a man where she has to tip-toe around her feelings for him just because she might say words like "love" or "forever" and scare the bejesus out of him.

As quickly as this story read, and as much as I liked the main couple, I did have quibbles.  For someone who has been ruled over with an iron fist for roughly some 22 years, Selene's relentless optimism was a little hard to swallow.  Honestly she was a little too well-adjusted, which seemed odd given her monster of a father and a mother who was more wraith-like shadow than woman.  And speaking of Dear Old Mom, that aspect of the story could have used some help, although admittedly a big road block in the way is the category format itself.  Morgan does what she can with it, and certainly writing Stefan as fabulously wealthy with power and resources helps to grease the wheels.

However, quibbles aside,  it's still a good story with classic themes and a fairy tale twist.  If you like Presents, this one is a good one.  And heck, if you think you don't like Presents?  This is still a good one.

Final Grade = B-


S. said...

Such an interesting POV of an Harlequin book. I mean, by your words it sounds god to read, but my experience with harlequin books isn't very good. You see, I used to read them translated. I don't buy or read them anymore. The main reason, even bigger than the sometimes disappointing story is that, in my country they cut off text in the translation. It's quite bothering and rude an unethical and I don't understand exactly why, unless it's publisher's rules, which would be stupid and, again, unethical. But the publisher is always the same and people do buy them, so...I'm not sure why things are the way they are. But I've compared page numbers and people's opinions on certain parts and they are omitted, meaning a smaller text in the translation (when usually happens the opposite in a translation).
So, I got bored with all the apparent lack of structured information and even viable story following and stopped.
Still, in the middle of all this, I caught quite the good stories although there's a certain stigma too by buying those books in stationer's or news stands - only places where Harlequins are available here - and after a while it gets a bit tiring and uncomfortable to buy a book with people staring at you like you're a poor spinster only buying romantic and cheap books for fun...oh well. People's small minds and all that.
Sorry for the kind of rant, but I'm sure you'll get my words ah ah.
To this day I still keep my "good" harlequins books in my shelves but they're not what they used to anymore..sure I could get them in English but with so many things to buy and not that much money..selection is in order.

Wendy said...

S.: Stick around a while - I tend to read a lot of Harlequins. I love the category format, and until recently they were pretty much the only game in town here in the US.

That's so true that often books live and die by their translations. A good translation makes all the difference, and if you don't have one? Even the best book isn't going to survive that.

Brie said...

Wasn't this book great? I thought what she did with the themes was so interesting. She gives agency to the not-so-shy virgin, and in a way takes the vindictiveness out of the hero. That moment when he says that he won't blame her for the sins of the father was just amazing. And overall the way their relationship develops was interesting and surprising.

I also have my little pro-category speech, but books like this one speak for themselves.

I'm very excited to read her upcoming debut single title, and I hope the transition goes well. Fingers crossed!

Great review!

Wendy said...

Brie: You know, it flew right over my head at the time but you are so right re: the hero's lack of vindictiveness. In other Presents it would not be unusual to have Hero Logic jump in: "Well her father is an asshole ergo she's an asshole so I'll treat her like crap for the WHOLE BOOK!" Ugh.

I'm very curious about her upcoming single titles. She has such a strong category voice and works so well in that format. It will be interesting to see if she works as well within a longer framework.....