So a while back I went to this used book sale and right at the entrance to the sale there was this shelf of misfit books that nobody wanted with a big sign that said “FREE!” and on the shelf were a bunch of romance novels that looked AMAZING, if you know what I mean. I immediately lost my composure and started screaming and tearing my hair out and making a scene in this church basement while the sweet old ladies running the sale looked on and nodded knowingly to one another. What I wanted to do of course was fill my arms and my purse and my pockets and my boyfriend’s pockets and the trunk of my car with books glorious books, but I ended up demonstrating some real restraint and only grabbing four of the free books – which I think we can all agree is a feat of almost unbelievable selflessness. Of course I made my selections based entirely on the cover art and how much I thought the novels would enhance my quality of life.
Uh, anyway! The first romance novel! The leading lady, Caroline (Caro if you’re nasty – and you are, we all are, of course we are), gets into enough trouble for six or seven novels. Less than 50 pages into the damn book and here’s what she’s done to herself: been forcibly engaged to an old man, run away from home, been kidnapped by a dude who was married to her friend who KILLED HER FRIEND and was fleeing the country and figured hey I’ll assault this chick before I go, was saved by the hero, taken back to her parents in disgrace, unengaged from the old man, sent to India to live with her sister, pumped full of opium because she got sick on the journey, gone to visit an opium dealer with her new friend the opium addict while they were stopped in a port in the Middle East somewhere, while she was dressed up as a boy because of course, told to stay in the carriage to wait for him BUT OF COURSE SHE DOESN’T STAY IN THE CARRIAGE, almost sold into sexual slavery, rescued AGAIN by the hero, and finally delivered back to her boat to continue the journey. Whew. I am EXHAUSTED. This girl is ridiculous. And the hero – oh, the hero. His name is ROWLAND STEEL. I could not even make that up. Rowland. Steel. It will not surprise you that this book was published in 1977. And the back cover seriously looks like Aladdin was re-imagined with romance novel characters. IT’S A DOOZY. Indigo Doozies.
Sooooo Caro and her opium addled friend get back to the boat in time, blah blah blah, the boat leaves with ROWLAND STEEL on board and she proceeds to run into him a lot. And then he kisses her, because that’s what one does when one is a big manly man with a hairy chest. One kisses ladies. Obviously. The whole kissing bit came out of left field for me, but I guess that’s just how ROWLAND STEEL likes to do things. By surprise. (I wonder if they’ll have surprise sex later? Ick.) There’s a line about her OAF (opium addict friend) that implies that he likes boys instead of girls, but he also acts really possessive and jealous around her, so who knows what that’s about. He wants her for a beard maybe? Hm. Then finally they get to India, and it’s just like Caro imagined! New smells! Palm trees! Slaves in loincloths! Mmm, historical! Honestly the setting feels pretty un-romantic to me (I swear in every scene there’s some kid fanning Caro and her friends, ugh) but oh well. Caro’s sister throws a ball and Caro is so hot and nice and everyone loves her and she dances all night long. Then her OAF acts a fool and gets all jealous and ROWLAND STEEL has to step in and put things right. And later, blah blah blah, Caro is talking about her new horse and how fast she is and ROWLAND STEEL is like, I also am in possession of a steed! And the OAF is like, good for you, asshole. And instead of whipping out their dicks to compare, ROWLAND STEEL and the OAF decide to test their manly man skills in a bout of pig-sticking, which is exactly what it sounds like. The OAF wounds the pig but ROWLAND STEEL kills it (of course) and at first Caro is all mad at the OAF because he made her horse bleed from the mouth with his terrible riding, but then she forgives him for reasons completely unknown to me. Hopefully later ROWLAND STEEL goes all fists of fury on this guy because he’s a jerk (BLEEDING FROM THE MOUTH, people).
Oh, and also, I AM NOT EVEN 100 PAGES INTO THIS FREAKING BOOK.
Then Caro continues to play the two dudes off each other and get them all hopped up on their own testosterone for her amusement or whatever – whatever – and then it’s time for her and her sister and brother-in-law to leave the big city and return to wherever he’s stationed. By now her sister is preggers and super excited about it, but also not feeling great, and she’s kind of whiner about having to be carted about and bounced around all day and Caro is soooo worried. So they eventually catch up to ROWLAND STEEL who’s also on the move and they camp out and then this other dude comes and he’s all, hey guys! I’m a prince! Come visit my palace! Now, ROWLAND STEEL and one of the other men (a native Indian, not one of those Brits) in their little troupe are sort of iffy on this invitation, because the rajah’s a cool dude but this prince guy, ehhh. Right? So of course Caro’s bro-in-law does the sensible thing and completely ignores the advice of others because HIS wife is going to have a BABY and she needs her REST. The first thing Caro does is get kidnapped and almost burned alive, but luckily ROWLAND STEEL is there to save her again. And then at the palace she runs into the same guy who kidnapped her and has to swim across this pond filled with crocodiles and then hide in a well so he doesn’t chop her in two with his big knife. And then of course the nice rajah dies and the prince gets all “fuck the British!” so he poisons his guests and Caro gets dragged away, thinking her family is dead. But they’re not – a servant of theirs (one of the few Indians who isn’t pure evil – I’m just saying) manages to smuggle them out, but he tells them that Caro is dead so they won’t try to save her. But obviously ROWLAND STEEL has a Caro Tracker 5000 in his peener so he’ll know that she’s been enslaved in a harem by the evil prince and he’ll come to rescue her, so I’m not even concerned about her fate and I don’t even care anymore because, sweet baby Jesus on a muffin, this has already happened THREE TIMES and I’m sure it will happen ten MORE times before the damn book is over.
India: super dangerous. Indians: super evil. Caro: super endangered. ROWLAND STEEL: super savior. I get it already and it has ceased to be exciting. I GET IT.
So, Caro gets kidnapped and handed over to the evil prince, who gifts her to this OTHER super, super evil dude, who almost immediately rapes her. Hm. Then Caro bludgeons him and gets shipped off to a brothel as punishment (run by ROWLAND STEEL’s dad’s ex-mistress, huh!) and Caro has sex with a bunch of dudes for awhile. But forced sex work isn’t so bad! (Later, she describes it as a “free and easy” life.) And some of the dudes are nice! Sometimes, she LIKES it. She also befriends the madam and the dead rajah’s Irish doctor comes to see her every night and then he tells her that he loves her and they have some sex and then he gets killed by the prince. I mean, of course. So then Caro and the madam decide to run away to join up with her sister, but there’s a war going on – evil natives vs. kind, benevolent Englishmen – so they just barely make it. But they DO make it and then have to go back out and then come back again – what, you thought this book was uncomplicated? – and then she finally sees ROWLAND STEEL again!!! And he’s like, who are you?! Haha, silly ROWLAND STEEL. So she’s all upset for awhile and then he apologizes and they have a few happy days together, before he gets mad at her again and ruins everything by being a huge jackass. SIX WEEKS LATER, after the war is over and things have calmed down and Caro is back to being an English lady – who, presumably, everyone KNOWS just spent some time in a brothel, but no one seems to care, least of all ROWLAND STEEL, and her ill treatment certainly hasn’t seemed to affect her much at all, so good for her – he shows up to do some apologizing and she’s like, FUCK YOU, ROWLAND STEEL! I’m going to marry my OAF! (Remember him? He’s back and annoying as ever.) And so she marries the OAF, basically just to piss off ROWLAND STEEL. Sigh. Caro? Honey. Married life with the OAF basically sucks and he doesn’t seem to want to have sex with her until Caro’s like, hey how come you never want to have sex with me? And then he rapes her. There’s some backstory shoved in here about how he had a bad experience with a prostitute as a lad and now he doesn’t like sex, but I’m not even interested. Look, eventually ROWLAND STEEL shows up again and after he stops acting like a huge douche and apologies some MORE (here’s a thought: don’t act like an asshole and you won’t be forever apologizing to your lady!) and the OAF gets killed and they save the day and she agrees to marry ROWLAND STEEL, but so what? It’s not even a happy ending as far as I’m concerned, because he’s terrible. Not the worst guy she’s been involved with, but definitely up there. ROWLAND STEEL is a terrible person and this book is a poop sandwich with a side of yuck and I hope Caro gets herself a good therapist and some decent girlfriends because…ugh. Run, Caro! Take your chances with the tigers in the jungle! JUST RUN AWAY!
So, ah, I’m sure this is just a fluke and the other free misfit books are going to be awesome…right?