The Runaway Princess by Christina Dodd
Avon, 1st printing, 1999
Genre: Historical romance, Regency romance, nonsense
Jacket Copy: Masquerade
English orphan Miss Evangeline Scoffield has spent her life contenting herself with dreams. But with an unforseen inheritance, she can afford one perfect summer–a summer she will spend the rest of her life remembering. She buys herself expensive clothes, travels abroad, and presents herself as a lady of mystery.
But she quickly discovers her mistake, for a darkly handsome man appears at her bedroom door, claiming to be a Crown Prince–and her fiance.
Or the Ever After of Her Dreams?
One look into her eyes, and the prince recognizes her. She is his betrothed, the runaway Princess of Serephinia. All her denials cannot change that, or alter the passion that burgeons between them. To fullfil their destinies, the prince will do anything–abduct her, coerce her, or, best of all seduce his reluctant bride into his royal world of peril, promise and passion.
Book Report: Some of the earliest adult books I read were trashy romance novels. For some reason, I found them endlessly fascinating in elementary school, perhaps in part due to the displeasure expressed by adults who caught me reading them. Forbidden fruit, and all that sort of thing. When my sister Malia would take me to work with her at Jelly’s, I’d hang out at the book counter helping out Shirley the Book Lady–and reading trashy romances (Captive Bride was one of those I read at Jelly’s!). I eventually lost interest in them, until just after high school, when I had a sort of nervous breakdown. Not that being mental was a requirement for reading romance novels, those were just my circumstances. My eldest sister Heather introduced me to Jude Deveraux, who she read voraciously, as well as Catherine Coulter, Amanda Quick, Judith McNaught, and others, and I found them pretty entertaining. But again, I pretty much lost interest again after a year or so, and went on to other things. But hey, every once in a while, I’ll feel like reading one; the trick, though, is to find one that I’ll enjoy. But the same goes for any book, really. Why does any of that matter? Because I want you to understand when I call a romance novel total crap, it’s not because I dislike romance novels in general, or think that they’re total crap, or that I think their readers are total idiots, but that that particular romance novel is in fact, total crap. And that’s pretty much how I feel about The Runaway Princess.
Just after my little car accident, I was suffering from whiplash and was also rather depressed, and some romance novels seemed like just the ticket to cheer me up. From Heather I borrowed a couple of old favorites, and a few new ones by popular authors. Now, I kind of had a feeling that TRP might be too unbearable silly to interest me, but I decided to give it a go anyway. The first paragraph of the jacket copy had promise, but what followed seemed ludicrous, and that’s pretty much how the entire book went: a promising premise that quickly devolves into outright lunacy. A personal peeve of mine is the generally shitty treatment Ruritanias get in romance novels; they undoubtedly are the most preposterous sorts of countries, with history that develops for the sole purpose of providing plot points. And TRB has not one, but two Ruritanias, Serephinia and Baminia (stupid names, too), complete with revolutionaries depsite a benevolent monarchy. One must not only have one’s cake, but eat it, too.
I nearly threw the book across the room several times, but restrained myself since it doesn’t actually belong to me. Our two protagonists, Prince Danior and perhaps Princess Evangeline, are numbskulls. She gets herself into one scrape after another, while he doesn’t bother, well, I won’t spoiler it, but it will drive any reasonable person totally mad. The plot lurches from one outlandish twist to another, relying on lunatic coincidences (and a sheltered English girl who was trained in obscure languages and kung fu) but despite all the contrivances and attempts by Dodd to obfuscate the issue, the “surprise” ending is clear by a quarter of the way into the book for anyone with the critical thinking skills that Danior and Evangeline lack.
Even with those flaws, TRP could have been a lot of fun. In a way, it reminded me of the sort of story in a blood-and-thunder tale or sensation story, such as those written by Louisa May Alcott and her alter ego Jo March before they turned to children’s lit and more “worthwhile” stories. Had Dodd fully committed to that kind of story, rather than trying to walk a line between that and the highly stylized Rengency-esque romance novel, it would have improved the novel.
There’s also a great deal of food porn that seems incongruous. I understand the point of it, how it is supposed to refer to the hunger Evangeline experienced as an institutionalized orphan, but it just didn’t fit in very well. The food porn wasn’t bad, though, though. I’d eat that soupe de poisson.
A resounding BAH. I doubt I’ll ever try another Christina Dodd.
Cover: Typical cutout cover with a mask, because GET IT, she’s MASQUERADING. I guess that passes for subtle.
She’d seen pictures of princes in her books. Lots of them. Princes wore capes lined with robin’s egg blue silk that they threw carelessly over one shoulder. They wore velvet caps trimmed with soft feathers. They trod so lightly that the ground was grateful to hold their weight. They were slender, graceful–and charming.
A prince did not wear unremitting black and white, like any gentleman of fashion. He did not have thighs as thick and sturdy as Roman columns and arms like a Roman centurion. He certainly did not stomp like a giant staking out his territory, so that the floors groaned and the crockery rattled.