A Kingdom of Dreams (Judith McNaught)

2 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
The ending was actually well-written and emotionally compelling… but by then, I’m not positive how much I cared. I found the prisoner-captor romance to be not-particularly compelling, and though the main protagonist (a war veteran/general) is well-drawn as a soldier who’s more than ready to lay down arms, our main heroine is only kind-of interesting (she keeps trusting her family/father despite how abusive they’ve been, she often seems to willfully misunderstand the hero). There are also continued power differentials between our main hero and heroine, as well as (major spoiler) the accidental killing of a probably-innocent-and-well-meaning man by the main hero… all of which kept me from connecting more deeply with these characters.

Greater Detail (major spoilers):
This is the pre-pre-prequel to Whitney, My Love and Until You in that it’s the story of the ancestors of The Duke of Claymore and his brother Stephen. Our main heroine is a Scottish duaghter of the local ruler/earl/laird depending on whose titles you’re using. She’s the headstrong, independent one, who wishes nothing more than to be allowed to rule her people. Her father has more conservative ideas, and would rather her stepbrother (described as a fairly stupid, malicious fellow) rule… just because he’s a man. There’s a failed marriage arrangement with another lord, and she’s eventually sent to a convent for training.

From there, she more or less literally stumbles into the hands of The Wolf, the English conqueror/soldier about whom terrible tales are told, and who has come to finally battle/defeat her father’s people.

This undercurrent of English/Scottish history aside, what we mostly see are two headstrong people who are drawn to one another, but also prone to misunderstanding each other’s intentions and motivations. Though there’s plenty of “action” in terms of battles, side characters, even eventually a jousting tournament, there’s not enough of an emotional/romantic tug to make us invested, and unlike other escapist novels where the hero/heroine are not-allowed to make errors, the ones in this one do (major spoilers warning). The heroine, in an attempt to escape, gets the magnificent horse she’s stolen killed and then gets spanked for her mistakes. Similarly, the hero later kills the heroine’s brother (the one who’s always been nice to her), mistakenly believing that the brother was going to attack him. There’s also the fact that the heroine agrees to sleep with the hero in exchange for her sister’s freedom, and there are kind of rape-y undertones (not to mention a certain ew-factor) to the bargaining there.

Now, though there’s a part of me that’s impressed with a romance that pushes at boundaries… I generally like my regency romances to be a little more light-hearted, and not have quite so much death, near-rape, etc.

Comparison to Other Authors:
Parts of her writing are so clean and crisp that it’s very Lisa Klepyas, Sherry Thomas, Loretta Chase. The problem is that those authors (except for Sherry Thomas who sometimes toes the line to the point of crossing) have characters that seem capable of growth. The rape-y-misogyny is very Catherine Coulter-esque, or, if you prefer, a Stephanie Laurens hero on steroids. What would be seen as over-protectiveness that the hero at least sometimes tries to rein in from a Laurens-esque Cynster male becomes totally overdone, let’s-punish-punish in McNaught’s story. Two of the three books I’ve read by her had spanking, two had near-rape (rape-because-she’s-not-a-virgin) type of scenes and I think that’s enough for me…

Posted in Romance

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