Josephine Evans and Cole Dumanski, the protagonists of Prince Charming, hated one another on sight. She thought that he was a crude, loudmouthed chauvinist. He thought that she was a prissy snob. I heartily agreed with both of them.
Cole is a Mississippi River towboat captain who desperately needs a cook for his next New Orleans to Minneapolis run. Josephine is a teacher at a bankrupt charm school who desperately needs a job. Through a series of very unlikely events, she becomes the cook on his towboat, and it’s not until they’re well under way that Cole realizes that Josephine has never cooked anything in her life.
At first, I was deeply annoyed by this book and the clichéd love/hate relationship it had set up, but at about the midway point it gets a lot better. That’s the point at which Cole fires Josephine as cook, and then, surprisingly, hires her to be etiquette coach for himself and his obnoxious crew. It’s all part of Cole’s nefarious plan to avenge himself on the upper-class snobs who wronged him. See, he’ll pass himself off as one of them and humiliate them, and he needs Josephine to teach him everything she knows in order to pull it off. Meanwhile he manages to discover the passionate woman behind Josephine’s aristocratic facade.
It’s completely silly. It’s also unexpectedly funny and enjoyable. Robin Wells consistently takes scenes that should have been boring clichés and gives them a twist. For instance, there’s a scene in which Josephine, with stunning predictability, trips over a bulwark and stumbles into Cole’s arms. Wells turns this ancient situation into a giggler by having Cole ponder the breasts that “nestled against his chest like a pair of soft, warm honeybuns, honeybuns just begging to be tasted.”
I give Prince Charming points for getting the towboating life right. My husband has been a mariner all his life, and he okayed the details. Points must be subtracted, however, for Wells’s descriptions of orgasms, which she makes sound like a crazy acid trip: “she was rocketing into space, past a million sparkling stars, into a brilliant, far-flung galaxy spinning wildly through the universe.” Never happens to me.
Cole and Josephine never rise above the level of stereotypes: the princess and the bad boy. They’re never going to shake the world with their incisive intellects, either. Even people who don’t know how to cook know better than to put plastic trays under the broiler, don’t they? In a doomed effort to make Cole sound like a foul-mouthed sailor, Wells resorts to having him say things like, “Ain’t that too dorkin’ damn bad?” In spite of all this, these two grew on me. The progress of their relationship is tender and touchingly evoked, and the end is nicely satisfying.
Prince Charming is lightweight. But after the irritating first half, I was unwillingly charmed. The plot gets pretty cute, the humor goes from hackneyed to hilarious, and Prince Charming turns out to be a fairly fun read.