Title: Beauty's Curse
Author: Traci E. Hall
Page Count: 479 pages
Genre: Historical/paranormal romance, mystery
Copy for review was purchased by this writer
50 words or less: 1193: when Galiana stumbles upon Lord Rourke Wallis almost killing her brother, she retaliates and temporarily blinds him. When it turns out that Lord Rourke has been sent to marry her the shit, as the saying goes, hits the fan.
I featured this book for Waiting on Wednesday awhile back and was happy to find a copy at Barnes and Noble when I supposed to be looking for Christmas presents for other people. I tore through this book in a day and, when I wasn't reading it, wished I was, and yet, at the end of it all I confess myself disappointed.
The setting for the story is good; Galiana is a likeable enough heroine and her situation puts a classic twist on the standard "plain sister meets a guy who loves her sparkling personality" story element. At the beginning of the book, Galiana would pay someone to notice her sparkling personality; all any dude can seem to grasp is that Galiana is a hottie. As a result, she's really turned off by the thought of a political marriage or one arranged for her, although this is 1193 and the prospects of remaining unmarried and unscathed are not good.
Enter Lord Rourke Wallis, who was sent by Prince John to marry Galiana in order to give John better access to her family's wealth and soldiers. Lord Rourke figures he'll just marry her and dump her in a castle somewhere; he's supposed to actually marry someone else in an entirely different political ploy. Rourke is a spy and a political animal, so when Galiana beans him with a rock to save her brother he is, suffice it to say, miffed.
Thus allof Rourke's men are locked in the castle with Galiana, her hothead twin brothers, and their servants and people; the sparks fly between Galiana and Rourke, so to speak; he's been blinded by the rock and so Galiana's beauty, which was such an issue with everyone else, is not in play here. Instead, Rourke has to fall in love with her personality and character and only at the end of the book does he discover that she's a total babe.
While all that was going on, it turns out that Rourke had yet another reason to be in Galiana's neck of the woods. Somebody has stolen Merlin's Breath, a magical object that allows certain people to see who will become king of England (which those familiar with the time period will recognize as a million dollar question) and Rourke's been charged to get it back.
And you know what? If that had been all of the threads being knotted together in the book, that would have been excellent. The setting for this book is interesting enough, and watching the sparring between the hero and heroine was a good time. There's an interesting supporting cast of characters, particularly among Rourke's men, that helped fill out the story.
There was just something about the book that didn't work for me. The more I think about it, the more I think it's that the politics and shady dealings of the royal court and the implications of Rourke's political dealings kind of soured the otherwise pretty sweet love story. Galiana is something of an innocent realist; she realizes that she's probably going to get the short end of the stick but tries to make the best of it anyway. Rourke, on the other hand, is nine kinds of douchey to her throughout the entire story. One minute he's nice, the next he's accusing her of lying and insulting her character, then he's trying to sweet talk her into bed and right after that, telling her that he's marrying her because he has to and then dumping her at the first opportunity. But don't worry, because he already had sex with her, he's going to give her some land and a house somewhere so she won't starve. And hey, now that she has an estate of her own some other dude will probably want to marry her, right? Isn't he a prince?
The situation only gets worse when they arrive at the royal court. Galiana gets treated firtshand to a lot of psycho bitches talking about her husband and making fun of her situation and Rourke doesn't really do anything to make her feel better (mind you, at this point he's supposed to have developed feelings for her so that should be bothersome to him, you'd think.) Even at the end of the book, he's still laying on the classic "I want to be with you but I can't so I'm going to leave you" line. Right up until the stunning conclusion, when Merlin makes a surprise appearance and a whole lot of plot elements get explained, Rourke is trying to figure out how to extract himself from the mess he made. I don't know about you, but if a guy was basically knocking on the nunnery door to get out of his marriage to me and it took DIVINE INTERVENTION in the form of a visit from a mystical wizard to convince him that he really did love me and want to be with me, I might take a raincheck on that relationship.
Oh, and it didn't escape my notice that it took Rourke getting his sight back and realizing that Galiana is totally hot to decide he really wanted to be with her. There's a lesson in there somewhere.
Coming up with a rating for this book was difficult, because even though I had a lot of problems with the book, I was RIVETED and wanted to know how it ended. I was decently satisfied with the happily ever after and I'm interested to know what happens to the other characters. That does indeed count for something, so I'll put this one at the middle of the road. It wasn't the best book I've ever read or even the best romance, but the unique elements are pretty neat.
Overall Grade: B-
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