Tempted by His Secret Cinderella
When I think of romance novels, a few adjectives come to my mind: ‘sexy’, ‘funny’, ‘cute’, ‘heartwarming’, ‘happy’. Rarely have I ever thought of ‘ludicrous’ or ‘eccentric’, but I can describe Bronwyn Scott’s Tempted by His Secret Cinderella in no other way.
It starts with the Author’s Note. In it, Ms. Scott says that while her story can function as escapist enjoyment,
“Beneath the first layer there is also a story here about human nature, morals and ethics, hard choices and much more to appeal to our inner philosopher.”
Oh dear. Now, let me say that I do not object to the idea that the romance genre is ‘serious literature’ – in college, I wrote an entire term paper on how romance novels were inspired by nineteenth century Russian literature. But it seems the height of arrogance to inform the reader of the profundity of your work.
But wait! There’s more! Sutton Keynes, our hero, is a man who “came home smelling of camel and horse and manure.” You read that right. Our hero is a camel and horse breeder. Now ‘romance with a hero with cute critter’ is practically a genre of its own, but if you can name a less sexy animal than a camel, please, let me know. Did you know camels recycle their urine? I didn’t until I read this book. Sweet, smelly Sutton is an independently wealthy man who’s just found out his uncle has left him all his money if he promptly marries a titled girl. Otherwise, the inheritor will be Sutton’s cousin Bax, who is – dramatic pause – a rapist and human trafficker. Shudder. More on him later.
In a scenario that shares ties with the Bachelor-style premise of Sarah MacLean’s Day of the Duchess, Sutton has a house party to assess the personal and physical merits of some of London’s best single ladies. At the party he encounters Chiara, an Italian princess, who is in fact Elidh Easton. Elidh is the child of a widowed actor who has the bright idea to use the house party to solve their financial problems with a little gambling, a little networking, and, if necessary, marrying his daughter to Sutton under a name, title, and nationality that are not hers.
One of my major problems with this book was the writing. It’s not particularly engaging and Ms. Scott can take the creative writing admonition to be as detailed as possible to an extreme. An example: “Sutton headed towards Ludgate Circus, pausing at the public urinals to relieve himself before he caught a hansom cab to Mayfair. Too much damn tea.” I have absolutely no interest in hearing about the bodily fluids of the hero unless it’s something like ‘oh, he’s bleeding profusely and our heroine must staunch the blood, inadvertently pressing her body close to his’. I felt I needed to reread some of my favourite rom-coms after this book as an antidote.
Ms. Scott also chooses to include three (third person) PoVs in this book – Sutton’s, Elidh’s, and Bax’s. I have read romance novels which have heroines pursued by men who hurt women, but in those books, I don’t recall ever getting inside the head of the villains (and the women are of course always kept safe by a well-armed hero). In Tempted by His Secret Cinderella, you get to read Bax’s every detailed thought about the rape and assault he wants to commit. It’s genuinely grotesque. The inclusion of his PoV was also completely unnecessary as I had no reason to disbelieve Sutton when he said his cousin was a terrible person. To those who read romance to inhabit a better world: do not read this book.
Finally, the writing and the main characters lack sensuality. For all Elidh’s thoughts of how she and Sutton “could burn each other with kisses”, the book does not have any real charge to it. Sutton and Elidh are both portrayed as ‘pure’ people in contrast to everyone else in the book, and unfortunately, their purity seems rooted in their relationship to sex. The sexually dominant male in this book, Bax, is a rapist, and the women who make innuendos and display some familiarity with sex are the titled ladies at the house party, who are depicted as worthless women in contrast to Elidh. There is an estrangement between the romantic and the sexual in this book, and it sometimes feels as if the characters lack any distinct anatomy below the neck. Sutton and Elidh are attracted to each other more as friends than lovers and they think about each other mostly in terms of character and disposition. There is eventually a physical component to their relationship that they both find satisfying, but it is as subtle and quiet as Sutton and Elidh themselves.
While on the shorter side, the book drags on, full of croquet games, boat rides, and an extensive storyline involving a pregnant mare that brings Sutton and Elidh together, which is heavy-handed and not remotely endearing. My overriding sensation at the end of this book was exasperated boredom. Tempted by His Secret Cinderella is not tempting in any good way.