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Book CoverLynneC’s review of Princess in the Iron Mask by Victoria Parker
Contemporary Romance published by Harlequin Presents 21 May 13

Like purple prose? This book is for you. While I prefer to give debut authors a lot of leeway, I couldn’t really manage it with this one. I remember what it’s like to get a bad review for your very first book. I got a lot of great reviews for Yorkshire and one stinker. Guess which one I could quote by heart? Yup, that one.

I tried to like this book, I really did, and it’s not without its merits. However, there are certain persistent faults, some of which should really have been corrected by a good editor, and some which are part of the author’s style. I have quotations!

So to the story. Princess Claudine, aka “Just Claudia” to the hero, is a scientist in London, finding the cure for the childhood illness that marked her own past. She is looking for funding for her project when the hero, or rather the male protagonist, shows up. He wants to take her back to the tiny kingdom that carelessly lost three daughters in the past, so sequel-bait abounds. He, of course, is commitment-shy because of an experience in his past.

Claudine had an illness that made her ugly, so her mother rejected her painfully. She’s allowed that experience to mark the rest of her life, so she’s a bit of a Poor Baby heroine, and there’s also the ugly duckling thing going on here. I find Claudine deeply irritating. As well as feeling sorry for herself all the time, she refuses to undertake her duty and go home. Princesses have no fun, I’m telling you. And nobody seems sure if she’s called Claudine or Claudia, or if Claudia is some kind of nickname.

The story follows its predictable path. Of course, Claudine (I think I’ll stick with Claudia, since she’s known as that for most of the book) is a virgin, and of course she gets to stay in Lucas’s house, so she’s convenient when it comes to deflowering her.

So here are some of the problems I have. This book is purple to the max. A few examples?

“I am very glad,’ he murmured, his fingers howling to stroke her silken cheek. Claudia’s face plummeted back to his and he realized he must have spoken out loud.

Howling fingers? Plummeting faces? More, I hear you cry?

“Sweat bubbled on his upper lip and he turned to pace, exorcising the demons.”

Bubbling sweat? And this isn’t a paranormal.

“The sight of her bending forward, her small hand pushing into her flat stomach, resurrected a dark tonnage of guilt that sat on his chest like an armoured tank.”

No, just no. Not in this day and age. We’ve gone way past this kind of hyperbole. It means that I laughed when I should have been absorbed into the hero and heroine’s dilemma. Similes and metaphors abound, some of them so wild they make me laugh.

Another repetitive error is one that none of my editors would allow, because believe me, I’ve done it too and been pounced on every single time. It’s the doing two or more things at the same time instead of sequentially error. Is there a word for that? Anyway, examples:

“Shrugging out of her coat, she let the sodden material fall to the floor in a soft splat and collapsed onto one high-backed stool.”

Athletic heroine.

“Flipping back one charcoal cuff, he glanced at his Swiss platinum watch.”

You flip back the cuff and then look at the watch.

The book has a strangely formal style. I like that the hero actually sounds like English isn’t his first language, but there are other examples.
Early in the book we get this:

“And now you’re going on like an interfering, dictatorial knave!”

A knave? Really? Did this book start as a Regency, mayhap?

At the beginning of the story Lucas blackmails Claudia by offering her the money she wants if she returns home for a time. What a prize he is, to stop important research into a childhood disease! Lucas only has one exclamation, which is “Dios,” something he says with tedious frequency when he gets upset. He is ripped, fit, dark, blue eyes, you know. Nothing really to make him stand out, and the Big Secret falls a bit flat for me. A “so what?” moment.

He turns into a complete jerk when he says this:

“It is just sex, Claudia. Meaningless. A short diversion with women I do not know. Woman who comprehend that I will leave and never, ever come back.”

To the heroine he knows is very needy and very insecure. She lets this prince have unprotected sex with her. The man who has “just sex” with women, as if pregnancy is the only thing they have to worry about. And he lets her. Doesn’t care what he might give her along with the orgasms. And as an aside, here’s another author who doesn’t know where the hymen is. He is well inside her before he breaks it.

The heroine has unnecessary glasses. At the start of the book, she takes her glasses off to “flay him with amber fire.” That means she glares at him. But later, the hero says she wears her glasses for reading. So surely she’d want to keep them on for close-up flaying?

And there are a couple of dangling modifiers:

“Swallowing hard, he could almost taste her flurried panic as she grappled with her purse.”

That is easily one of the worst sentences I’ve read in a published book all year.

The style, plus a jerk hero prepared to sacrifice the health of untold numbers of children and who doesn’t want commitment, although he’ll take the virginity of a young, untried, desperately insecure woman, and a woman who isn’t strong by any definition of the word, make this book a DNF for me. I did get to the big seduction scene about three-quarters of the way through, and then realised I didn’t care, so I gave up. We have the full panoply of pebbled nipples, a hero who laves, and a virgin who can have athletic sex twice a night.

I was reading this book in the company of another author, multi-published, very experienced, and just to check, I read her some passages. No, it’s not just me.

It might work for you. You might see the language as rich instead of overblown, the formal style refreshingly new instead of off-putting. If so, good, because I really didn’t want to write a review like this about a first book. This book really needs a much more thorough edit than it seemed to have received. One good thing. The only way is up.

LynneCs iconGrade: DNF


A princess in hiding

Dispatched by the king to retrieve his headstrong, errant daughter, Lucas Garcia thought this was just another day at the office. That’s before he meets Princess Claudine Verbault, who’s adamant that returning to the kingdom that banished her as a child is never going to happen.

A barely concealed attraction!

Hidden from the spotlight, the now-independent Claudia has learned the art of being the anti-perfect princess. But Lucas does not look like the kind of man to accept insubordination! If only she could bargain with this frustratingly immovable man…and give him something to distract him from his duty!

Read an excerpt.