Thursday, October 9, 2014

Swept Away by Vanessa Riley

Note:  Reviewed for Romance Reviews Magazine
My Experience:  C+
Synopsis:   Charlotte Downing, the Duchess of Charming, wants what she wants. Today, it's a fine pair of lacy slippers crafted by the renowned Ella's Establishment. To be picture perfect for her presentation to the queen, Charlotte will survive crashed ceilings and falling bricks. Yet, has she met her match in the conservative merchant, whose autumn-colored eyes make her pulse race, especially when he says no? 
Caught between the glittering world of the ton and the respectable profession of selling shoes, Edwin Cinder can't understand the lady's persistence or the fire lighting her blue eyes when she's challenged. With his lack of pedigree, there's no chance for this common God-fearing man to win her hand, but he'll risk all to save the duchess from the ravages of a London gale.

"Swept Away is a Regency retelling of Cinderella with a twist."

Overall, I believe many weary evening readers will enjoy this short fairy tale.  Swept Away follows the [by now] familiar pattern for inversion of gender stories.  We all know how hard authors work to make sure heroines are strong, independent, fully functioning beings with beauty unsurpassed.  That is, they don't *really* need anyone; therefore it takes a fairy tale, or incredible sexual prowess, to make everlasting love believable these days, snuggling with your stuffed bear and / or eating too many M&Ms is optional.

The writing was pleasantly free of grammatical torment and sentences joyously complete, making this an easy read.  Usage of terms wasn't overly modern just ... nudging it a bit here and there.  For those familiar with fairy tales but not the Regency period, there is a mini-glossary found at the back.  There are enough little surprises to lead a reader on to the next chapter and a gentle amount of tension. Subliminal faith-lite italics are not random insertions; they do fit the characters/story and were well handled. Secondary characters are not distracting and the happily-ever-after no more unbelievable than the original tale.

Charlotte is slightly spoiled, beautiful as an angel, conflicted but determined [this description is surely trending in the top 5 somewhere].   I confess I had difficulty hand-waving the Duchess thing since the character spent much of the book in angst over both the title and responsibility of "a girl with a man's title.  How much did the duke pay the Mad Kind to keep his legacy."  At the end of the book, Ms. Riley explains the character's title is based on the 2nd Duchess of Marlborough.  [Anyone slightly familiar with the Regency period will know this took an Act of Parliament, not the King's whim; gossip and disdain notwithstanding, there was a reason for this singular exception] Money does not buy everything, not even in fairy tales, or so I used to think.

Regardless of the manipulation to create a young, unmarried Duchess, the character was too modern to reach me.  She was all about her delayed teenage rebellion to a man she adored in one chapter, resented as a tyrant in another [perfectly normal for the modern miss].  Most of her frustration would never have occurred to a young woman of the time.  Fathers were expected to rule and run a daughter’s life even from beyond the grave, that’s what a guardian, dowry and marriage settlements were for, to safeguard a daughter’s interest for *her* lifetime, not just her parent’s.   Yes, it is a fairy tale, but if the tale is set in Regency England, then there are certain parameters that apply to assist the reader in remaining in the story, fairy tale or not.   Modern woman angst just doesn’t exist there, at least not for me.

As a third in the Triad of Determined Duchess and Slippers, I found Edwin Cinder endearing in a Beta Hero sort of way. He has a step family that is, thoughtless and self-centered but hardly wicked.  Maybe I was raised by wolves or I am incredibly thick skinned but if verbal slights and jabs from your family are the worst thing to cope with in life I say - WOW! how blessed you are.

He certainly did not need rescuing from his sad life.  He was not sleeping on any hearth, was in fact supporting his step-family in style while maintaining a business and his own home - an amazing accomplishment in any century.  Neither was he treated disrespectfully by the world or especially unhappy, just busy, too busy to fuss over stylish attire.  What on earth he found charming about the Duchess of Charming, in the brief time they spent together, I never quite grasped.  What type of help mate she'd make him, or vice versa was left to the ethereal mist [no doubt sprinkled with dust from fairies, not coal].   In other words, as a Cinder[feller] he was pretty much a flop for me.  As a hero in any other romance, I might have adored him if he'd been given more page time.

Of course, it is a fairy tale with a twist. The twist being there isn't one, not really, except for the reversal of genders and the strangest proposal I've ever read.  It made me sigh, in an old biddy sort of way because the final twist was how the power to purchase triumphed.  Therefore, I am as conflicted as Charlotte about recommending this book.  I think it will appeal to many readers and annoy others, the middle ground is probably best advised to read the sample pages.

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