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Book CoverLynneC’s review of Pure Princess, Bartered Bride by Caitlin Crews
Contemporary Romance published by Harlequin Presents 1 Feb 10

Sigh. Another stupid title, but this one doesn’t have a hero in it, so is this a new direction? I’m not a fan of the “listing” title, and I don’t think I ever will be. Harlequin, please, I know the authors have no choice in titles, but these are pretty awful. Caitlin Crews is a new writer to Harlequin, and I like to look at the new talent, to see what direction Harlequin is going in.

It’s well known in writer circles that for your first few books with Harlequin at least, the editing is fierce. You’re asked to rewrite, put a character in, take one out and so on until you get the hang of the house style and they’re pleased that they have a reasonably biddable author. After all, Harlequin is selling itself first, the line second and then the author. Very successfully, I might add.

This one does have some interesting new ideas. The heroine is a princess of one of those tiresome tiny European countries that seem no bigger than Rutland. Monte Carlo has a lot to make up for. I don’t usually read the royal stories, because my disbelief is suspended so high that sometimes it falls, and very often the royalty aspect isn’t really a part of the story, just an excuse for lots of paparazzi and fast cars. In this one it matters. Gabrielle has been raised like a princess, to abide by protocol, apart from her parents, used to being in the public eye. Her father does nothing but criticize, and however hard she tries, poor Gabrielle can’t please him. This part was interesting, particularly in the way that part of the story turned out. I can see a hypercritical parent in this situation becoming far too difficult to cope with.

At the beginning, I hated Luc. He wants perfection from his woman, even obedience, and during the wedding, which happens very early on, I want her to tell him to stuff it, and walk away. Preferably with a goth. I’ve always had a soft spot for goths. It took me a while to get over this, but since Crews is a new author, I wanted to give this book a good try.

The beginning is too abrupt, moving from unconnected scene to unconnected scene, and Crews doesn’t make the story flow well until it’s into its later chapters. There are some awkwardnesses, like, “Luc watched Gabrielle closely from across the small table at the famous Ivy restaurant in Beverly Hills…” Rly? He’s been rich and famous all his life and this is the way he thinks internally? I think it would have been better if it read, “Luc watched Gabrielle closely from across the small table at the Ivy restaurant…” He’s there to make a point, to get them seen in public together, so why not a sentence to say he’d picked the most paparazzi-friendly place, or something like that? But it reads like something out of OK magazine and it stopped me for a minute. Ick.

And he’s surprised when he finds out she’s a virgin? She’s given him every single signal in the book, from not knowing how to kiss to running away from him when he gets too hot and heavy. I’m surprised anyone with that lack of perception managed to become a successful squillionaire.

There’s a strong fairy-tale element in this story. I’ve noticed this in a few stories recently, and sometimes it works, sometimes it’s laid on with a trowel. In this one, it’s hinted at, with the princess in the tower theme, and the search for the perfect wife bit.

Bad stuff – all the backstory weight the hero has. His mother and father said they were deeply in love, but had lots of rows. As if a child is brought up without any other examples, and this affects him so much that he chooses not to fall in love. Until he does, of course. I just can’t believe that an intelligent human being would think like this. Linear thought is for trains.

The “bad woman,” one of his previous candidates for marriage who loves goths and a bit of rough. And he went as far as nearly proposing marriage before he found out? Doesn’t say much for his bedroom skills, that yells of “Spank me!”” and “Where do you keep the handcuffs?” went unnoticed. Also, since she professes to love goths, presumably Lady Emma has a tatt or too. No? I do get really tired of the experienced woman being done down in these books and sometimes I think the sophisticated woman is a far better match for the hero than the sweet, virginal heroine. Novelty isn’t everything and I’m afraid in this one, I give them six months, maybe a year.

The contractions are handled awkwardly. There are a lot of “would not”s and the like, that make the reading a little stilted. Even Prince Charles uses contractions these days, almost like a real human being. It isn’t consistent, either, you can get a “had not” or an “it is” in the same sentence as a “don’t.” As one of my editors said to me once, “Choose one and stick with it.” Perhaps a character can speak formally, and the use of contractions signals his or her change into a more relaxed person, or maybe sinking into intimacy, but it seemed almost arbitrary in this book.

On the whole, I think Crews has done a good job with her first Harlequin book. There are some tropes she falls back on, but this is a fresh, new voice that I’ll look out for in the future.

LynneCs icon Grade: C+


As quiet and dangerous as a jungle cat, achieving the impossible is one of Luc Garnier’s defining characteristics.
Princess Gabrielle is invaluable–a pearl beyond price. Yet Luc has defied the odds, and a contract for marriage is drawn up. This will be a union on paper first, and in the bedroom later….
Except Gabrielle is just the same in private as in public–well-bred, well behaved and a credit to her country. Luc is determined to find the wanton within and leave his pure princess in total disarray!

Read an excerpt.