The Taming of Ryder Cavanaugh by Stephanie Laurens is verbose, redundant, high on exposition, uses the adjective ‘lionesque’ way too much, has a gaggable amount of hero worship…And I loved it.

Normally, I would tear this sort of thing to shreds, leaving nothing but blood spatter and a few distant whimpers in my wake – and I was about to. This book is 415 pages long, and I was unhappy until about page 201. Before that point, handholding is inordinately sexy, she’s a dwarf and he’s a giant, he stalks her in a way you might need police for today, he’s slammed with a surprising number of animal metaphors, and there’s a bunch of crap about virginity. The biggest laugh of the book was a cruel one on my part:

“He also hadn’t risen because, in this setting, with the pair of them alone in the dark of the night in a relatively confined space, if he stood he would sexually overwhelm her.” (48) (Emphasis mine.)

It’s exposition (because we already know the two of them are alone in a gazebo, away from the party inside), it’s badly structured, and because…yeesh.

Somehow, the book changes drastically. I can actually believe that she is strong-willed because she acts like it: when he gets stabbed, she maintains pressure on his wound (which was gushing with blood) and directs the people around her. She doesn’t scream, faint, or care that her clothes could be ruined.

But she’s not just stubborn: she knows when to argue and push the point and when to let something go. She doesn’t make conflict for conflict’s sake, something not many heroines do in these circumstances. She also breaks into his house in order to lose her virginity (post-engagement and pre-wedding); when asked why she’s prepared to commit a B&E for sex she says it “’is not the sort of thing one does on a whim’” (201). I screeched in joy. The paramedics were called and were made to read the book upon breaking my door down. They left quickly.

He’s no slouch, either: while he had a thoroughly unprepossessing start (have I mentioned the stalking? I really ought to mention that), his single-mindedness wore off and he became, like, a real person. Sure, he tries very hard to be emotionally distant – even though he is the instigator for their relationship – but he doesn’t succeed. What I really enjoyed about him was his ability to see their marriage as a partnership, right from the vows: he is honest with her about his mistakes, he considers her advice very seriously, and he does what he can to smooth his staff’s transition to their new mistress.

When push comes to shove – when they are trapped underground and survival seems like a long shot – he cries, he cries in front of her, and he admits his feelings. Triple threat. This so rarely happens: a macho man in a stable and mutually beneficial partnership who is able to express all of his emotions and who feels secure enough to cry. If I hadn’t been on board before, I would have been at that moment.

Of course, neither of them are perfect. He should have called in for reinforcements when he walked into a trap; she tended to steamroll over people; it took being locked in a de facto dungeon in order for their feelings to be aired. While neither of them are what you’d call ‘real people,’ they are the sorts of people who, despite being idealized, are still fully dimensional. It’s an oxymoron, but in this case I believe it works: they aren’t quite real, but they do have flaws. They are believable in a way you don’t usually find.

In all, this is the sort of book that needed a better editor. The ideas and much of the actual writing was there, but in the end, what needed to be smoothed out…wasn’t. I’ll still read more by Laurens, but the natives are getting restless. Up on a shining hill somewhere there’s a decent romance novel, one that won’t make Jane Austen’s crusty bones shiver in consternation. For now, though, I’ll happily settle for a story with good characters who happen to be good people who happen to be truly in love with one another. It’s a start.


For reference: 8, 14, 16, 22.

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