Friday, January 31, 2020

Retro Review: A Thoroughly Modern Princess

This review of A Thoroughly Modern Princess by Wendy Corsi Staub (since reprinted under her Wendy Markham name) was first published by The Romance Reader in 2003.  Back then I rated it 2-Hearts (D grade) with an sensuality content rating of PG)

++++++

Prolific author Wendy Corsi Staub moves away from suspense stories to write a modern day fairy tale featuring a pampered princess and a playboy American businessman. While a well-written tale, the whole thing hinges on a plot that is so insulting that I actually felt myself losing IQ points.

Princess Emmaline of the fictional kingdom Verdunia is engaged to the dashing Prince Remi of the fictional kingdom Buiron. However it is strictly an arranged marriage, with neither bride nor groom feeling anything other than mild affection for one another. In fact, Emmaline is feeling trapped in her gilded cage the day she steals down to the rose garden to meet dashing American businessman, Granger Lockwood IV.

Like two ships passing in the night, Emmaline and Granger share a one-night stand. Several months later while at a royal wedding gown fitting, the princess realizes that she’s pregnant. Since she has only slept with one man in her life, that means the baby belongs to the American, not the Prince. What to do? Well how about panicking, calling up Granger demanding he rescue her, running away, and leaving her unsuspecting bridegroom at the altar on their wedding day? Ah, romance!

There is so much wrong with this plot and on so many levels. First, while Emmaline may not feel a deep passion for Remi, she is engaged to the guy. I couldn’t help feeling that she owed the poor sap a little consideration. I also had a hard time understanding how a spoiled, pampered, sheltered princess could toss her chastity aside so blithely for the first handsome American that came along. Since that crucial love scene takes place off stage, the reader never finds out.

Then there’s our hero who sleeps with a virginal, engaged princess – and knows it. He knows up front that Emmaline is engaged, and we’re told through a very brief flashback that he was informed of her virginal status. Yet he still sleeps with her, and it results in an unplanned pregnancy. Now I’ve never been to Europe, but I’m willing to bet that it is possible to buy condoms there. And while I’m willing to cut a little slack towards the virginal princess, a hero described as a dashing playboy should know better.

So what awaits the reader that somehow manages to look past that bit of distastefulness? Not much else I’m afraid. The author has chosen to give both her lead characters very privileged lifestyles. While I don’t think it’s necessary for readers to be able to relate to the main characters, they at least have to be able to understand them. These two are impossible to understand.

Original cover art
Granger is very much in a gilded cage like Emmaline, complete with matching silver spoon. He has been under his grandfather’s thumb for years, so he decides to leave the family business and forge out on his own. Then Emmaline and the pregnancy come along, so Granger finds himself apartment and job hunting. He somehow miraculously secures a studio apartment in one day in New York City. He then moves in the princess and goes grocery shopping. He comes home, shows the princess his spoils and says this about toilet bowl cleaner, “See how the bottle neck is curved? That’s so that you can squirt it under the rim of the bowl.” I swear to you gentle reader; I’m not making this up. This is about the time I started to lose IQ points.

Emmaline is so pampered and spoiled, that she behaves in an infuriating manner for the entire story. Not only does she sleep with Granger while she’s engaged to another man, leave her groom at the altar on their wedding day, but she also throws a hissy fit when Granger expects her to help out around the apartment. You know – cleaning, doing dishes, something other than lying in bed despondently or leaning over a toilet throwing up. How could Granger expect her to act like a commoner? And while Granger experiences some personal growth by the end of the story, Emmaline does not, and continues to show her true, spoiled, pampered, moronic colors right up through the climactic and teeth grinding finish.

For readers who can look past the spoiled characters and the distasteful plot premise, A Thoroughly Modern Princess is a well-written and fast read. The author can write, it is too bad her obvious skills were wasted on this unsavory plot and these unlikable characters.

++++++

Wendy Looks Back: A "romantic comedy" with a cartoon cover from 2003 that I wanted to burn with fire. What are the odds?  Um, pretty good actually.  My strong dislike of illustrated covers has deep roots y'all.  Anyway, Staub published several romances, but her bread and butter has always been suspense.  This book didn't instill any hope for me and to date it's the only book I've read by her.

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