REVIEW: Awakened by a Kiss by Lila DiPasqua
Dear Ms. DiPasqua:
I placed a recommended note by your book after I read it because I appreciated the freshness of the location (France), the spirit of the stories (that woman are often oppressed during certain time periods and must find their own ways of gaining agency), and the clever mirroring of the fairy tales. What actually didn’t work as well for me was the sex scenes. The foreplay was so much better than the actual consummation because it dealt more with the head space which was nearly abandoned in all the sex scenes. So while I did enjoy this story, I almost enjoyed it in spite of the sex.
The collection is a retelling of three fairy tales by Charles Perrault and the idea isn't so much to mirror the story but to encapsulate the moral of the fairy tale. Each story begins with the "moral of the story" from Perrault.
Sleeping Beauty: the concept here is one of love deferred. Adrien Christophe d'Aspe de Bourbon, Marquis de Beaulain, is being cajoled by his half sister to seduce Catherine de Villecourt who is to marry Philbert de Baillet. His half sister wants Baillet for herself. Adrien is intrigued when he sees Catherine. Five years ago, someone had spiked his burgundy with an aphrodisiac and awakened him with a kiss. That someone was a virgin but had taken him on a sexual ride that he remembered five years later. Adrien concedes this boon to his half sister but only because he is determined to discover whether Catherine is indeed his mystery woman.
Catherine is resigned to a safe marriage to Baillet. He won't embarrass her with his paramours and he won't treat her poorly. So what does that he doesn't fire her passions? This is a good marriage in Catherine's time. Before her affianced arrives, Catherine and Adrien embark on a rediscovery of each other yet Catherine is still promised to Baillet and Adrien is out of favor with his father, the King, and another scandal will not suit him.
I liked the duality of the characters both being awakened, first Adrien five years ago, and then Catherine now. Their love connection was more believable as they had connected five years and neither had forgotten the other. The surrounding cast of Adrien’s uncles and Catherine’s maid were a bit unnecessary and, as I said in the beginning, I found the tease and foreplay between the characters hotter than the actual sex which involved a lot of references to fluids and anthropomorphic sex organs. (If I never read another pussy weeping again, I will be thrilled). B-
Little Red Riding Hood: Beware of sharp claws behind those tender looks.
Nicolas de Savignac, Comte de Lambell, desires to be a Muskateer, at least as good if not better than his revered and deceased brother. He has been sent by the King to ferret out the anonymous author of pen portraits. Ordinarily pen portraits are favorable but this particular author is mocking powerful men and the King is demanding that the secret press be snuffed out. The King's Guard believes that it must be an embittered woman writing these nasty things about men. Nicolas has narrowed down one of the three de Vignon sisters.
Anne de Vignon and her sisters are writers whose patroness is the Contesse de Cottineau. Contesse just so happens to be Nicolas' despised grandmother. Nicolas arranges for the Contesse to be called away with a family emergency and he descends on the house to expose the villainous and bring her to the King.
We then get three stories of how greatly ill used de Vignon sisters were, mostly because they loved unwisely and the men they loved turned out to be assholes. Thomas, Nicolas' investigating partner, and Nicolas take turns talking about how bitter the women are but I thought a good job was done to show how helpless women were during that time. A man could do anything and still be praised.
As master of the household, a man had absolute authority. His actions were above reproach. Uncontestable. It mattered little to him or his male peers if those very actions caused a woman humiliation. Hardship. Heartbreak. Expected to endure it, a woman was without recourse of any kind.
So the women get their revenge through the pen portraits. A misused woman comes to the sisters and tells her tale of woe. There is no justice enacted for the misused woman. A woman sent to a cloister, a woman beaten, a woman destroyed verbally cannot be rebuilt through revenge of the pen, but it did provide some payment in kind for their actions.
Problematically, Anne and her sisters require no proof and act as judge and jury. Perhaps in a novella this kind of issue can't be explored. I thought this story dragged quite a bit and wavered between distaste for Nicolas’ seduction of Anne for investigative purposes and wanting him to JUST GET ON WITH IT. But I liked the symmetry with the wolf theme for Anne and her sisters were a bit of their own wolves in sheep's clothing. C
The last entry was my favorite although I really didn't get the Puss in Boots moral as well as I did the first two. I really liked the sexually progressive heroine who schemed to not only get disfavored Tristan de Tiersonnier in her bed, but in her life forever. It was a heroine in pursuit and I loved reading that trope after so many of the reverse. Also, I loved the hero's named and wondered if you did as well because the whole name was used repeatedly throughout the short.
Elisabeth is one of the King's favored daughters, using her wits and guile, she has managed to stay in power by being a favorite for many years. After one unhappy marriage and a few lovers, Elizabeth has set her sights on Tristan de Tiersonnier. Until a recent injury, Tristan was Master of the King's Guard, the head of the Musketeers and she has watched him and lusted after him from afar. Hearing that her father intends to marry her off once again, Elisabeth sets off to ensnare Tristan but she must convince her father that Tristan is a good match for her as well as convince Tristan that he should marry her.
Tristan is moping from being discharged from the service to the King and when Elisabeth arrives, he wants little to do with her because after years of watching her, he thinks she is a tease who never delivers on her sexual promises. When she comes on to him, he tells her that she better leave or expect to be bound and penetrated. Elisabeth returns with a trunk of scarves.
I heartily applauded Elisabeth’s machinations at getting exactly what she wanted. I thought the sex scenes in this story were the best of the lot. Erotic romances are tough to write. I know this because I’ve read so many crappy ones. Thus, as a historical set outside of England, dealing with issues of female agency, I thought it was different and enjoyed by time reading it. Overall, I would give the collection a B-.
This is a trade paperback published by Berkley, a division of Penguin. Penguin engages in Agency pricing.