Saturday, April 3, 2010

The Forced Bride

Emily Blake agreed to an arranged marriage with Count Rafael di Salis when she was 18, with the understanding that it would not be consummated (due to her age) and would be dissolved when she reached 21. The story begins 3 months before her 21st birthday, with Emily and Rafael about to get a divorce. She decides that she wants an annulment rather than a divorce, so that she can marry her childhood sweetheart in her local parish church; the vicar will not agree to the wedding if she has been divorced. This sets the stage for Rafael to show up and force Emily to consummate their marriage.

Sara Craven likes her rape fantasies. She has written a number of very good romances that don't have coercion or rape, but it's something you need to be aware of when picking up one of her books. I have seen a number of negative reviews and strong reactions to The Forced Bride due to the whole rape issue. Personally, I think Rafael's actions are closer to coercion than rape. After the first time they have sex, Emily admits to herself that if she really didn't want to do it, she could have tried harder to stop it because Rafael would never use violence to make her have sex with him. Now, I won't get into the whole issue of whether or not violence is necessary for something to be rape - certainly coercion is not pretty, but remember this is romantic fantasy not reality.

Emily was ... odd. A big deal is made of her youth and unreadiness for a physical relationship, which I find pretty absurd. She's not that young. Emily's fiancĂ© is Simon, a flaky jerk who is obviously just using her. She is not particularly broken hearted when faced with his betrayal, and admits that she probably always knew what he was really like but didn't want to admit it to herself. Does that make her seem any less stupid to the reader? Not really. She finally concedes that she has been in love with Rafael since she was 17, and that is what has made her freeze him out and reject him all these years. What? Did that even begin to make sense? I've noticed that many category romance heroines follow up the realisation that they are in love with the hero, with the immediate decision that he must never know (again, "What the...?") but this is taking it to absurd levels. Not only that, she repeatedly feels degraded by Rafael for the strangest things. On the morning after their wedding night (which they didn't consummate) he gives her a ring which is traditionally given to brides in his family as a thank you after the wedding night. Although they both know the marriage hasn't been consummated, he understandably would rather not have everyone else know. She finds the ring degrading. Why? It's meant to be given by husbands to their wives on their honeymoon. How is that degrading?

When they meet up again, Rafael tells Emily that he is also thinking of re-marrying (she assumes he is talking about the Evil Other Woman, Valentina Colona, but the reader knows he means Emily). He tells her that the man who loves her would never have sex with another woman because she would "fill his heart to the exclusion of all others". He assures her that he will keep his wedding vows to the woman he marries and that "there will be no other - ever". Oh, such lovely words that gave me the hope it would be revealed at the end of the book that he has indeed been faithful for Emily for the last 3 years. Alas, the hopes were dashed. During the big loving resolution of the story, he admits that he did indeed have sex with Valentina and this is what led her to telling lies and trying to break up his marriage with Emily. Then he has the gall to be mad that Emily believes the hurtful things said by Valentina over his own profession of innocence. Sigh. Heroes that rape (or coerce) really need even more redeeming qualities than other heroes, and fidelity would certainly have helped soften me towards Rafael.

The bottom line is the forced sex didn't really turn me off, but the story is not particularly engaging. Emily is just too stupid for words, and Rafael is very average. If you have a problem with forced sex story lines, don't bother reading this one.

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