Friday, March 02, 2007

Only a Duke Will Do

by Sabrina Jeffries
pgs. 1-End

Romance, the bastard child of literature, never gets the respect it deserves. It’s purely pleasure reading, and, of course, we should never read for pleasure. We should educate ourselves and expand our minds as we examine our lives or lives of others. And while there is nothing wrong with reading for any of those reasons - I read for those reasons myself - there should also be nothing wrong with reading simply to feel good about being alive, and few things are more life-affirming than love. It’s true that romance novels rarely have a greater philosophical point, unless it is the universal point that love can overcome any problem and that happily ever-after endings are possible, but whenever I need to escape a circumstance that threatens to plunge me into a sea of depression, a wonderfully-written romance novel never fails to lift me out.

Which brings me to my next point: there is a such thing as a well-written romance novel. Sure, the romance market is flooded with mediocre or even less-than mediocre writing, but then so is the market for any writing genre, even the prestigious “literature and fiction” fiction. So, why then do those who call themselves “serious” readers sneer at anything that comes in glossy paperback with lovers thrown across the cover? Because it looks like trash and often it is but, just as often, if you’re adventurous enough to look beyond the cheesy covers, you’ll find some surprisingly readable writing.

Sabrina Jeffries is one of those writers. The covers of her books are horrendously cheesy, although they have gotten better since she’s grown more popular, but her writing is wonderfully well-done, her characters exquisitely crafted. She, like any great writer of any genre, creates characters to whom you feel intimately connected; characters whom you shall wish to revisit time and time again. While Only a Duke Will Do (a misleading title since the Duke’s status has nothing whatsoever to do with the plot) is not her best novel - To Pleasure a Prince and Pirate Lord tie for first place in my book - it is, nevertheless, a breeze of a read sufficient enough to lighten any dark wintry day.

On the other hand, though Simon and Louisa come vividly alive on the page, I found their story the least satisfying of all of her books. There are perhaps several reasons for this, one of them being that my expectations were unreasonably high after having waited for their story since reading To Pleasure a Prince. I reject that theory, however, in favor of the theory that the “trouble” with their relationship - Louisa’s inability to trust Simon, Simon’s consuming ambition, and his fear of love (a common theme in Jeffries books) - despite Jeffries’ effort, hardly seems like trouble at all.

After having been banished to India for six years by the king at the behest of Louisa, Simon returns to England and his ill-feelings are suddenly forgotten in the face of Louisa’s beauty (it sounds cheesy, I know but hey, it is a romance novel after all). Louisa, of course, puts up a rather perfunctory resistance, and that’s exactly how it feels, perfunctory, especially since two paragraphs later she’s getting married to the man and happily at that. Indeed, Louisa’s easy capitulation in every argument they had was the most bothersome. For someone who had supposedly learned from her mistake of trusting Simon six years ago, she is certainly easy to get around.

But I nitpick. My annoyance with Louisa’s easiness, in no way, or at least, in a very little way, affected my enjoyment of Only a Duke Will Do. A quick tour of Sabrina Jeffries’ website will find you these words, “I believe reading should always be a good time, with lots of wit and sensuality and laughs and even the occasional sigh or tear.” Thus far, all of Ms. Jeffries books have accomplished this feat, which is why I look forward to reading the upcoming release of Beware a Scot’s Revenge. In the meantime, I think I’ll work on my own novel, which shall be titled, Beware of Judging a Book By Its Cheesy Cover.