Three Nights with the Princess
(NOTE: This book was previously published in 1993 as The Princess and the Barbarian)
It’s interesting how a person’s keeper shelf can change over time. When I was fourteen, Betina Krahn’s The Princess and the Barbarian was one of my favorite tales, kept alongside Johanna Lindsay and Catherine Coulter. I’ve still got a number of Krahns on my shelf, including this one, republished by Zebra this month as Three Nights with the Princess. Though upon re-reading it, it’s probably going to be joining my Lindsays and Coulters at the used book store.
Thera of Aric, Crown Princess of Mercia – a fictional and magically pristine kingdom close to Brittany – has endured a series of unsuitable suitors with growing annoyance. She must marry to fully claim her crown because her kingdom is bound by the rules of heteronormativity I mean Celtic laws that require a sacred balancing of the male and female, but Thera isn’t here for this whole co-ruling/balancing of the yin and yang thing. She wants to rule alone, which is why she’s been putting off her marriage for so long. She finds her latest prospect repulsive, and in a show of rebellion takes her friend Countess Lillith and heads out the back door of the palace kitchen and into a nearby town with light escort. There, Thera is immediately exposed to the big cruel world outside of Mercia, where she demands a group of barbarians release a maiden they insist upon raping while sacking the village – which only leads to her discovery and immediate kidnapping.
Saxxe Rouen is a mercenary/journeyman warrior who desperately wants to settle down in one place after years of travel. He and his buddy Gasquar LeBruit save Thera and Lillith from assault and kidnapping at the hands of a Mongol-Slav, and immediately feels lust as he undoes the bindings of her clothing. She won’t tell him where he can claim his reward, he demands a kiss, their senses are scorched… y’know where this is going. Thera realizes that she needs to leave the city, which is being overwhelmed by the Mongol-Slavs, and – you guessed it – along the way runs into yet another rapine threat. Cue Saxxe running to the rescue. Instead of a kiss, he demands she sleep with him. Thera agrees, if he’ll dump her on the nearest road to Brittany the next morning. But Thera manages to hold him off – and steal his horses in the morning. The pattern repeats itself, and soon Thera is in hock to Saxxe for another night of hopefully orgasmic bliss. She sleeps beside Saxxe for two nights, and is bound to him for three more by the time they finally reach Mercia. The foursome travel slowly back to Mercia, encountering danger and lust along the way. When they finally reach Thera’s kingdom, she’s slept next to Saxxe for three nights and is in debt for four more – which means their partnership falls under the strictures of Mercia’s seven-night marriage law. Who will be in debt, who will be conquered – and who will be tamed – by the end?
You know from the names, the themes and quotes like “You would rather quench your firey lance in a woman’s sweet well, aye?” what kind of story you’re in for here. Yep. We’re definitely back in the early nineties here, and bodices are being ripped left and right.
The characters are super cartoonish. Thera does All of Those Things that TSTL heroines did in ye olden bodice rippers so that the hero has to rescue her; ‘spunky’ translates to ‘angry and stubborn’ in her case, so she’s always wandering into situations she’s unprepared for, and Saxxe, who always uses her helplessness/nudity to leverage sex out of her, happily takes advantage of that fact. Again. And Again. Seriously, take a shot every single time she gets kidnapped – you’ll go into a coma before the book ends.
Our hero is the kind of man who listens to a woman’s screaming in amusement until it hits the danger point of four screams – which means she must be a victim of violence. He’s just a prince – well, compared to the rest of the men in the novel, though I will give his companion Gasquar points for being occasionally humorous with his tall tales. He also hates Mongol-Slavs. (Wanna hear about how much he hates Mongol-Slavs?! CAUSE YOU’RE GONNA. A LOT.) There is also awkward commentary on the Spanish Moors and Islam, for those who want some squirmworthy not-quite-racism-but-still-awkward-social-commentary tossed into your 90s throwback novels).
You have read Thera and Saxxe’s relationship a million times before. He manipulates her into bed and tames her shrew. She complains and fights but keeps getting herself into danger, which gives her a case of the old meltypants. In between, they act like two children who can’t communicate without pushing each other’s buttons. Somehow this makes her a better woman, the yin and yang of the cosmos balances out because orgasms and soaring fireworks, etc., etc. The imbalance on Saxxe’s side is so obvious that the author actually pulls out third act whisper-talking about a prophecy that shall doom them all if Thera marries Saxxe. And then there’s all of the coded gender men-and-women-must-balance-one-another-weapons-good-sex-good-peace-and-female-leadership-weak-and-bad stuff that’s going on in the periphery of the narrative, which is extremely outmoded and antiquated. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to want my heroes and heroines to actually like one another before touching their various parts together, and for them not to have to obey strict gender codes.
If you’re still into this old-fashioned stuff you may enjoy revisiting this book (which, yes dear reader, was RITA nominated) much more than I did. I, however, have improved since 1993. So has Ms. Krahn. The book, sadly, has not.