I’ve read some books with dysfunctional couples. I’ve read abusive heroes, heroines with severe maturity issues, heroes with severe maturity issues, amazingly stupid people, and some of the worst fucking people in the world. I have, as you all know, Seen Some Shit.
This is a pair that could work, but these two are seriously in the most dire need of couple’s counseling with an emphasis on communcation skills that I’ve ever seen. They can’t use words; they can barely articulate their ~feelings~ and it’s the most fucking frustrating thing ever.
This was on a sale post a few weeks ago, and it cost $0.63 (thank god), and it’s inspired by Beauty and the Beast, which is my favorite fairy tale, and my favorite Disney movie ever. I’m a sucker for these stories.
This is set in 1365 England. Post Black Death, so there’s a lot of flux in society at this point, and other than saying “there’s a lot of changes in society” and “people get really really skittish when someone gets sick” this isn’t really explored much. That’s disappointing, but okay.
Our heroine is Gytha, the daughter of a nobleman who has been contracted to marry the heir of a neighboring estate. She’s a little put out by this, especially when they arrive for the wedding to discover the heir they THOUGHT she was marrying had just recently died in a riding accident, and the next in line was reported dead while fighting in France or whereever, so she prepares herself to marry Heir Number 3, whom she is a little bit less amused by.
But, of course, the rumors of the death of Heir Number Two, AKA Thayer, are super exaggerated, and he shows up, very very conveniently just before Gytha marries Heir Number Three, and instead, Thayer marries Gytha. Thayer is not a handsome man- he spends the entire book worrying about whether or not he’s hot enough. He also has battle scars, and no one actually tells him that chicks dig scars.
Thayer gets about twenty whole minutes to accept all of this, and promptly goes “Well, she’s hot, and I’m, you know, a dog, so I’m going to spend our entire marriage ejecting men from her bed and it’s going to suck.” To be fair, his previous major relationship was with a very beautiful lady of the court who gave him a son, and then started screwing around on him. She engineered events so that he walked in on her screwing someone else and he was Deeply Wounded by all of this. (She then naturally abandoned the son to Thayer, so she’s basically the most typical villianess you ever did read.)
So Gytha and Thayer get married, and the sex ah-maze-ing, of course, but he’s (still) all concerned that she’ll discover she likes sex and go bang everyone else in the world.
AND THEN the king calls them to court, because Thayer has to give the king 40 days of service each year, and the king wants to see this wife Thayer got, and Thayer’s all “OMG SHE’S GONNA BE FUCKING EVERY MAN IN COURT” and Gytha is like “OMG HE’S GONNA BE AROUND ALL THESE HOT WORLDY WOMEN HE’S BANGED BEFORE HE’LL WANT TO BANG THEM.”
They basically do this for the entire book.
Anyway, Thayer’s former paramour, Lady Elizabeth, wants to take up with Thayer again, and literally arranges for a guy at court to rape Gytha and for Thayer to walk in on it. Gytha has older brothers who taught her the fine art of ball kicking, and Thayer happens on them pre-ball kick, and recognizes that she isn’t willing, but instead of, I don’t know, hauling this rapist off his wife, he freezes and very clearly has a “I am witnessing my wife screwing another man” look on his face. Then he berates her for being alone with this guy.
Gytha has no desire to tolerate this turn of events and heads home immediately, leaving Thayer to look at his life and look at his choices.
Let me repeat that. He finds a man trying to rape his wife, and doesn’t do anything about it. (Well, after she left he kills the guy in a duel. Long after.)
Gytha goes home and then realizes she’s pregnant, but she’s still super mad (legit). Thayer comes home a few months later, once his service to the king is done, and begs forgiveness, and Gytha, who can passive-agress with the best of them, basically goads him into a towering rage for… no real purpose except to show how angry she is? I’m not sure. Like I said, these two have no communication skills. He forgives her (for….what? IDK) she forgives him, and realizes she loves him, but can’t tell him because he doesn’t actually love her (she thinks) only he does love her, but he can’t tell her because she’s too hot for him and out of his league so she’ll just laugh or whatever and I roll my eyes a lot and then more complications show up.
Turns out, the uncle of Heir Number Three has been a very busy man, killing off Heir Number One, and trying to kill Thayer for years for the purpose of putting Heir Number Three in place as the… Earl? Baron? Whatever, so Evil Uncle can control his nephew and be defacto Whatever. And Evil Uncle has teamed up with Thayer’s ex to kidnap Gytha by playing on her stupidity, draw Thayer into a trap, kiss him, and marry Gytha to Heir Number Three, because the marriage contracts specifies that she is to go to the heir.
So Gytha is waylaid by the Ex’s maid, who says the Ex wants to apologize, and I shit you not, Gytha goes, “Well, she’s not sorry, OBVIOUSLY, but she probably wants to make an appearance of amends so Thayer won’t be mad at her, so I should go talk to her, and maybe I can repair her relationship with the son she abandoned, too!”
This ends as well as you think:
It had all been a trap, and she had walked into it like a blind fool.
So Evil Uncle has Gytha imprisoned, and Thayer finds out and gets all upset and Evil Uncle is all rapey but Heir Number Three turns on his uncle and sneaks Thayer in to save Gytha from being raped (again) and you’d think it stops there, right?
No, because no one who is supposed to be dead is actually dead, and HEIR NUMBER ONE fucking shows up, putting Thayer into YET ANOTHER GODDAMN ROUND OF SELF-FLAGELLATION. Because even though Gytha is literally about to give birth, he goes, “Oh, well, the marriage contract says Gytha is to be married to the heir of this place, and that is no longer me, so Gytha goes to him.” Gytha yells at him, and Heir Number One is like “Is no one gonna ask me what I think?” and there’s three people having about four conversations going around in five circles and I smashed my head against the wall six times. And then Gytha gives birth, right then.
BUT IT GOES ON.
Thayer, still not having suffered enough, goes off to fight for the king because he no longer has a title or lands that aren’t attached to her dowry. He is not worthy for Gytha without a title and lands (because she’s too hot for him, you see) and gets himself nearly killed with MORE SCARS and literally, after not dying for the fifth time this book, tells his best friend that maybe, now that he had more scars and was even uglier, it would be better to either go off and die or let Gytha think he was dead because, again, SHE’S TOO HOT FOR SOMEONE LIKE HIM.
His friend basically gives him the slap upside the head he’s needed for the entire goddamn book and he goes home where Gytha passive-aggresses at him some more and then, mercifully, it ends.
Okay, look. I appreciate the attempt at a hero who isn’t as hot as some of the heroes we could name have been. I appreciate the attempt at self-esteem issues. BUT OH MY FUCKING GOD. SERIOUSLY. Thayer’s whining the entire goddamn book about how she’s so beautiful and he’s so not and everyone is going to get with her and she’s not gonna want to be faithful to him and it’s exhausting. Just…exhausting. LEARN SOME FUCKING COMMUNICATION SKILLS.
“I am anxious because of these reasons.”
“When you act like you’re just waiting for me to cheat on you, it drives me bonkers because you’re being a dick.”
She’s worried that he’s going to cheat on her, he’s worried she’s going to cheat on him, and they can’t have a conversation about it. He just assumes she will eventually. Not to mention the victim-blamey rape shit. And spending the ENTIRE DAMN BOOK going “She’s out of my league, maybe it would be better if I died?” Come the fuck on.
I’m not totally sure how much research Howell did (the names seem more Anglo-Saxon than High Medieval to me, but that’s a far cry better than picking a name that’s popular now), but she didn’t include anything that inspired any potato rage, save an order Gytha gives to her new servants that they are to bathe once a week. (But frequent bathing is a staple of historicals, so…. we’ll let it slide.)
There was no descriptions of clothing or foods, so nothing could be wrong. That could be a feature or a bug, and I’m taking it as a feature. I didn’t notice the lack of description of those things (it’s only now that I’m thinking about it specifically that I realized), and it didn’t bother me at all. If you don’t want to research those details, that’s fine- just please don’t make shit up (like having a Norsewoman wearing velvet JOANNA LINDSAY).
Mostly I was just frustrated and tired of these two idiots. I didn’t care if they worked their shit out. I didn’t care if Thayer ever got over his plain looks and accepted that Gytha loved him for who he was. I really didn’t give a shit if he ever got a title of his own or not. As an entry into the Beauty and the Beast oeuvre, this was a damn disappointment.
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