Darling Jasmine Bertrice Small
Bertrice Small (Kensington, $12.95, R) ISBN 1-57566-208-6
*
I did not like this book one bit.

Now, before any Bertrice Small fans think I'm just jumping on the "I Hate Bertie Bandwagon," you should know that I have never before read any of her works (and doubtless never will again) and I actually volunteered to read this book. All I knew beforehand was that this was another in Small's Skye O'Malley series and that she supposedly writes really wicked purple prose. I went into it all with open eyes and an open mind that slammed firmly shut on page two.

On page two, the author gives us the roundup of characters from previous novels. Judging from the five or six pages it takes, there must have been like 20 of them. Paragraph after paragraph listing the names and titles of Skye O'Malley's kin -- who they're married to, how many children they have, where they live. Who cares! I don't know these people! I had no clue as to who was who. I literally re-read the same page about 4 times in an attempt to understand the family tree. Then I realized, "Hey, wait a minute. That's the author's job! How presumptuous to assume that every reader is life long fan who will instantly know these folks and be able to place them within the context of the story!" Then I thought, "If this chapter is a legitimate attempt to get new readers up-to-speed in the series, then it has failed miserably."

Okay, so that was the first chapter…

Oh, I suppose I should tell you that this book centers on the oft-married Skye O'Malley's granddaughter Jasmine and her relationship with James Leslie. A royal decree was issued (in a previous book, I suppose) that Jasmine marry Leslie, a man with whom she once shared a one-nighter. But the decree follows the death of Jasmine's lover, Prince Henry, so she takes Henry's lovechild, and the kids from her two previous marriages, and heads for France. That is where James Leslie catches up with her. Jasmine is not pleased. When Jamie suggests they get reacquainted, she scoffs.

"What is it you do not know about me that you need to know? I am beautiful. I am wealthy. I am royal. I have had two husbands and a princely lover. I am a mother of four children and I pleased you in bed those many years back. Is there more?"

Why yes, Jasmine, you forgot to mention modest.

Not wanting to be outclassed, Jamie drops a few names:

"Long ago in the reign of King Malcolm and his saintly Queen Margaret, my ancestor, Angus Leslie, the laird of Glenkirk, wed with the Queen's sister, Christina. The sisters were the daughters of the heir to England's king; but he died before King Edward, and it was their brother who was then to be king but that Harold Godwinson usurped his right, and then William the Norman conquered the land. The mother of these sisters was Agatha, a princess of Hungary. My great-grandfather, Charles Leslie, was born Karim, a prince of the Ottoman Empire. His father was Sultan Selim, his brother, Sultan Suleiman. My great-great-grandmother, Janet Leslie, was Sultan Selim's favorite wife. I have as much, if not more, royal blood in my veins, Jasmine Lindley, as you do."

If anyone out there reading this understands one word of this paragraph, or why the hell I should care, please drop me an e-mail.

Anyway…

It isn't long after this incredibly romantic speech that Jasmine has a change of heart and, finding herself in love with Jamie, agrees to marry him. So off to London they go to say "Howdy" to the crazy king who just can't keep from meddling in Jasmine's life and introduces a villainous suitor named Piers St. Denis (which I must admit, is a pretty cool name) into the mix.

"Ahhhhh! Ahhhhhhhh! Ah!Ah! Ahhhhh!" How's that for dialogue? Page 324, I believe.

After the preceding chapters, there was little hope left of liking this book. But had there been any kindness left, it vanished abruptly when I read the phrase, "She was suddenly behaving like a bitch in heat." Bitch in heat, huh? Hmmm. Sorry folks…them's fightin' words. Taken in another context (a contemporary book, on the street, in a movie), I would say, "Okay, fine, it's just a crude expression." But in a romance? I don't think so. I don't care that my mother drilled into me as a kid that a bitch is a female dog. That expression, whether used in the sixteenth century or the 21st, reads only one way.

Thinking I might be overreacting, I read the offending section to my sister Carol, she of the even temper. I could hear her teeth grinding across the room before she finally shouted, "Oh yeah, that's REAL romantic!" What's more every time Jasmine and Jamie make love, or should I say, every time he "spills his seed into her secret garden," he spits the word "bitch" out between his teeth. That is some term of endearment. As a rule, I don't have a problem with the aforementioned word. But in this case it's not so much the word itself but the context in which it is being used. It's used as a nasty, degrading word, not a cute little, "Oh you bitch!" toss off. That is what I found so offensive.

After that, there was no going back. Crude statements couched in Old English, ala "Does he enjoy entering a woman's portal of Sodom…" are still crude, even more so if the character voicing them is someone you have absolutely no feelings for. There was nothing at all about these people that interested me. Jasmine was on her fourth man and I had no reason to believe there wouldn't be a fifth or a sixth. As heroes go, Jamie's a whitewash who spends most of his time congratulating himself on his "woman". It's only the evil Piers St. Denis who captured my attention, but even he was straight from central casting.

After I read my sister Carol numerous portions of this book, she asked the question I've been asking myself for months: who publishes this stuff and why?

Anyone with an answer can feel free to e-mail me.

--Ann McGuire


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