I read romance novels obsessively for more than 20 years. I’m not entirely sure why, but I suddenly lost interest. A few days ago I was in a grocery store and saw the new Eloisa James, and thought, “hey, I liked her. Let’s try another one.”
This review is not appropriate for children or people with delicate sensibilities.Once Upon a Tower is about sex – how bad sex can tank a marriage and great sex can save it. The main characters are Gowan, Duke of Kinross, a ridiculously wealthy Scottish lord (because of course) and Lady Edith Gilchrist, a sheltered, cello playing, English lady making her debut. They meet at her debut ball, where she is so ill all she can do is smile and look pretty. Naturally, he falls madly in love with her and asks to marry her the next day. Still feverish, she agrees. Classic romance trope – strangers who must get to know each other after being engaged or married. There’s an exchange of letters, they develop a mutual passion and are married shortly after their engagement.
And then things begin to go horribly wrong. They are both virgins. But he is well endowed, and she finds penetration painful. She’s ok with that happening the first time, but sex remains painful for her after that as well. The pain diminishes her enthusiasm for sex. Young Gowan may be inexperienced, but he apparently grew up with a library of smutty books. Gowan expects to be able to bring Edie pleasure in bed and equates her pleasure with his manhood. He doesn’t want to stop thrusting until Edie orgasms. Edie, knowing this and not wanting him to feel bad, while also not wanting to continue feeling bad herself, fakes orgasms. Their sex problems lead to other problems.
There is a lot of drama. Things are said. People storm off. Other people get involved. On the verge of loosing her forever, Gowan makes a last ditch effort. They finally connect honestly and then have amazing sex. Everything is perfect. Ahh! The magical power of sex.
And then we get to the happily ever after. I think this is where my impatience with romance novels began. I know people don’t read romance novels for the realism, but some of these happily ever afters are just fatuous. “Are you kidding me!!” ran through my mind at least three times during the final chapter. I won’t spoil the ridiculousness for you. It’s all predictable and improbable.
Here are a couple of things I appreciated about this book. There was no external villain. The story was entirely about people getting to know each other, self-acceptance, communication and trust.
I won’t say it was a bad book. It wasn’t. Eloisa James is still one of the better romance writers. I don’t think I’ll ever be a regular romance reader again, not because there is anything wrong with the genre, or because I “grew” out of it. I changed. I still read genre books with ridiculous amounts of drama, tropes, etc. I just read a different genre now.