Monday, November 7, 2016

Review: A Christmas Vow of Seduction
It's interesting how reading tastes can change over time.  Harlequin Presents were not my jam when I first discovered romance.  I liked my romances to feature more of a "quiet intensity" and Presents, while intense as all get-out, are not quiet.  But these days I find that what Presents delivers is what I want to buy.  That intensity with just the right amount of angst and the older I get the more comforting I find fairy tales.  Maisey Yates is one of my go-to authors in this line precisely because she writes fairy tales.  But this one?  Yeah, this fairy tale was a little frayed around the edges.

Warning: Spoilers Ahoy!

A Christmas Vow of Seduction is the first book in a duet featuring two princes (brothers, naturally) of the fictional country Petras (vaguely Mediterranean).   Prince Andres is the spare and a notorious playboy.  He's rarely at the palace, choosing instead to reside in various penthouses around the globe.  He gambles.  He beds beautiful women. He leaves the pesky business of ruling and being respectable to his uptight brother, Kairos.

Kairos is trying to restore relations with Tirimia, a neighboring country that overthrew their monarchy in a coup.  The royal family was murdered - all except for Princess Zara.  She was six when rebels murdered her family, and a maid spirited her into the forest to be raised by gypsies (hey, I did say this was a fairy tale!).  Anyway, the rebels, now trying to be all "respectable government" find her and present her to Kairos as a "gift."  He's already married, he needs to open talks with Tirimia, and he can't send Zara back to her country.  So he figures it's high time his brother gets married.  Kairos is having no luck impregnating his wife (marriage in trouble alert!) and it's high time for Andres to grow up.

Andres doesn't want to marry Zara, no matter how beautiful or feisty she is - but he can't say no to Kairos.  Not this time.  Why?  Oh, there's the small matter that Andres got rip-roaring drunk, slept with Kairos' fiancee, thereby necessitating Kairos finding a new bride, the woman he's now locked in an unhappy marriage with.  So....yeah.  It's like that.

I will say one thing for this book, when Yates set her mind to writing a playboy ne'er-do-well hero, she didn't hold back.  However while I appreciated that, it also made Andres the most problematic aspect of this romance.  Naturally there are reasons why Andres is a manwhore.  Mommy didn't love him.  His father thought he was a screw-up.  He could never do anything right and finally when his mother finally concedes to bring Andres to an important event - he louses it up and Mommy leaves.  The only relationship he hadn't screwed up was with Kairos, but sick of waiting for the other shoe to drop, Andres decides to self-sabotage and sleep with his brother's fiancee.  Andres is a walking Poor Little Rich Boy wrapped up in First World Problems, and naturally his self-sabotaging ways come into play with Zara.

Zara is the truly interesting party in this romance, although the parts of her characterization never fully add up to a satisfying whole.
"I was born into royalty, in a position more vulnerable than I could ever have imagined when surrounded by stone walls of the palace.  Then I lost everyone and was taken away to the middle of the forest.  Then I was taken captive.  And now I have been delivered to you, to be your wife, and I have no choice, yet again.  Who am I? What am I to be? The pawn of whoever holds me in their hand at any given time?  I must be more than that, Andres.  I should like a chance to find out."
This is a heroine who won't go quietly.  She's very adversarial with Andres in the beginning (I should think! She's basically presented to Kairos like she is a fruit basket!) until, of course, she isn't.  There's an episode at an official function that ends with a frenzied sexual encounter and after that?  The sex temporarily declaws Zara. She's also one of those Romancelandia virgins who warrants acceptance into the Sexual Chapter of Mensa.

This would be where I started to get bored - until Andres falls back on bad habits.  Which would have been highly annoying if not for the fact that it allows Zara to open fire and not hold anything back.  The whole Boo Hoo Mommy Didn't Love Me nonsense?  Oh yeah, she totally calls him out. She calls him out on it all.  Andres isn't spared from any of Zara's wrath and it was glorious to read.  Simply, wonderfully, glorious.  Zara finds a backbone, makes a decision, and walks away.  She actually, truly, walks away.  And that's where I kind of wanted this to end.  Because Andres?  He's an emotional infant.  He's a child.  Zara honey, you can do better.

But alas, this is a romance.  So of course Andres has to win her back and of course he doesn't have to do too much other than show up and say "I love you" because Zara loves him and she's miserable without him and yada yada yada.

Other than a few stand-out moments, this one just never came together for me.  Andres is too problematic and the power dynamic between the couple is really (really) skewered (and frankly pretty icky for most of the story).   On the bright side, the author sets up a barn burner of a marriage in trouble story for brother Kairos that I really need to read soon given it's a New Year's Eve story.

Final Grade = C-


Nikki said...

Holy cow! There's a whole lot going on in this one. I'm the opposite of you in that HP was always my catnip, up until about 2-3 years ago. So I probably would have scooped this one up, but it sounds too much/too much to me. I do like her longer contemporaries, but I think I'll be passing on this one. Thanks for the honest review.

Wendy said...

Nikki: It definitely felt overstuffed for an HP. The book literally opens with the heroine being presented to the hero's brother. The hero doesn't show up until the second chapter! Then you've got the heroine's baggage and the hero's baggage and the set-up for the brother's marriage-in-trouble romance in the second book - it's a lot for a romance that clocks in at less than 200 pages!

I tend to really like Yates' HPs - but they're very high fantasy, low reality kind of reads. I like them as Calgon-Take-Me-Away reads, but for realism? Not so much.