Monday, December 1, 2008

Beast by Judith Ivory ***

I'm conflicted by my reaction to Beast. It reminded me in many ways of The Indiscretion by the same author, which is a true keeper for me - the 2 people meeting under unplanned and less than ideal circumstances, with secret identities, then meeting later as they should have and coming to terms with their new relationship. And the heroines are similar - young, rich, spoiled, intelligent, insecure.

But somehow, the more Louise held on to her feelings for the man she thought she met first, and the worse she treated Charles, the less I liked her and the less I liked the story.

Louise - as I said - is a rich young American woman who is betrothed to Charles in her absence by her parents. She is uncommonly beautiful, and also willful and spoiled. Their concern for her well-being seems to be the real reason behind their convincing Charles, Prince d'Harcourt of France, to marry her, rather than a real greed to have someone of royal blood in the family. Well, that is also a nice benefit, and to convince him, they offer him quite a lot in return: a large shipment of ambergris, used in his perfume business. After the betrothal, the entire family travels by ship from America to meet Charles in France for the wedding.

On the same ship, however, is Charles who is pursuing his married mistress. Both to keep her husband from discovering he is there and to keep his fiancée's family from the same discovery, he hides in a luxury suite onboard the ship and has a cousin in France send telegrams to the family from himself. But he is intrigued by sight of his fiancée onboard, and manages to interest her in a little dalliance with him, as a prank. To hide both his identity and his physical scars and handicap, he insists on meeting her only in the dark, so that she never sees his face. He speaks in English with a slight accent that she decides is Arabic, and she develops the fantasy that he is her pasha.

Once he has seduced her, he realizes he too is seduced by her - but he cannot now reveal himself without making her the fool of his prank, so he decides never to tell her. Unfortunately for both of them, she has fallen in love with the pasha. When they meet for real, he speaks only French to her, knowing she will recognize his English. But she has created such a fantasy of her Arabic lover that she doesn't even see the real Charles for anything beyond his physical disabilities - a blind eye and a limp. She refuses to even let him kiss her, and forget about sleeping together, because she longs for the Arabic lover instead and finds Charles repulsive.

Now, maybe some would feel that since Charles did make a fool of her, duping her that way, that he deserves her treatment. And maybe he should have come clean earlier. But when he finally does, she won't listen - and then once it sinks in, she refuses to forgive him unless he does say out loud to her that he was the shipboard lover. WTF? He DID try to tell her and she wouldn't listen!! I found her willfulness petty and immature (well, she was only 18) and frustrating beyond belief from the moment she refused him on their wedding day. So while I truly enjoyed the first half, it just slid downhill from that moment on, and then it dropped into 3 star territory when she refused to forgive him until he told her he was the shipboard lover - not that she ASKED him, she just waited for him to admit it. Sheeesh.

I read this as my first book in the Winter 2008 Reading Challenge for the arranged marriage category. 3 stars and grrrrr, I wanted a more satisfying ending! Interestingly, author Sherry Thomas wrote the AAR DIK review for this book - she obviously was not put off as I was by the exceedingly annoying and petulant behavior of Louise after the wedding.

And there was a pet... but not really a Notable Pet - he should have gotten higher billing all the way through to warrant Notable Pet status, I think.

No comments: