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Khanh the Killjoy

Once Upon a Tower

Once Upon a Tower - Eloisa James As with Eloisa James' many other works, particularly the Duchess series, the supporting cast of characters and their histrionics threaten to overwhelm the main characters and their plot, but thankfully did not in the end. Like the rest of her "Fairy Tale" series, the fairy-tale-retelling aspect is quite, quite overreaching. For the majority of the book, there was nothing in it that could be remotely connected to the Rapunzel tale besides a balcony scene and Gowan's silly fantasies regarding the loveliness of Edie's hair“Ah, darling,” he had been telling her, “I am looped in the loops of your hair.” Had he said that aloud? He would never do something so imbecilic.There were more Shakespearean aspects and references than anything else. For lovers of Julia Quinn books, there are quite a few references to her Smythe-Smith novels and the Terrible Quartet, but they were by no means intrusive to this book and its plot. Their involvement was merely a side nod to Edie's musicality and their lack thereof.I found the summary misleading; it implies that Gowan and Edie had no clue what the hell they were getting themselves into when they got into their hasty marriage based off a misleading first impression. This was not the case. Gowan may have been initially infatuated with the feverish Edie's dreamy debut ball, but afterwards, they had plenty of opportunities to write each other, meet each other, and get to know each other on a much more personal basis before their scheduled marriage in several months. In fact, they liked each other so much that there were no objections to moving up the wedding date. The majority of the complications comes after the marriage, and I enjoyed the unusual qualities of the complications, which concerns a much more realistic portrayal of sex than any Regency romance I have ever read.If I had to give the book a rating based on the roughly the first half of the book, Once Upon a Tower would have garnered a solid two. The book did not get off to a promising start. It wasn't bad, but I initially found the main characters interminably dull, and the action was completely monopolized by the melodramatic theatrics of Edie's stepmother Layla and her rocky relationship with Edie's father, the Earl of Chatteris. I also found Layla's relationship with Edie unbearable and unrealistic. They're not so different in age, Edie and Layla are only seven years apart, so it explains their closeness, but the kind of bedroom details that Layla shares with Edie is incredibly inappropriate given the time and her status as stepmother: "'He still won’t bed me,' Layla confided over luncheon, a few days later." NO! I don't want to hear that coming from my stepmother's mouth!“...as if Frenchmen were the only ones able to give a woman pleasure. I could tell you—” She caught herself. “You wouldn’t appreciate the details, as it’s your father in question.” “No,” Edie said. “I would not.”And need I mention the When Harry Met Sally scene?“Making love is a noisy business,” Layla said.“It is?” Edie was growing more and more fascinated, if still confused. She hadn’t quite imagined it that way.Layla put down her glass, now empty, and tipped back her head. A husky, sensual moan poured from her lips. She slipped her hands into her hair and tossed her head back and forth. “Yes, yes, just like that, more, more!”Giving your stepdaughter the how-tos of a wedding night: acceptable. Telling her how to fake it? I don't know about that.Layla's relationship with her husband has deteriorated over the years, mostly due to the tension of not being able to provide him with an heir, and subsequently "Layla had taken up smoking and developed a bit of a reckless edge." I can empathize with the pain of being barren in an age where being able to provide an heir to a peerage was of the utmost importance, but Layla's actions makes it so difficult for the reader to like her. She openly antagonizes her husband, accuses him publicly of having a mistress, and in his daughter's presence, at that. She openly flirts with other men---to attract her disinterested husband's attention, and humiliates him in the process. She is a public drunkard, and an embarrassment to herself, her status, and her husband's position as earl and politician. Any sympathy I might have had for the poor Layla was absolutely gone by the middle of the book; I really felt that she was the major contributor to much of Gowan and Edie's marital troubles and miscommunication. Her subplot was also too easily resolved, given the severe difficulty and the years of growing mistrust, neglect, and miscommunication between her and her husband. Thankfully, her stepdaughter Edie's main story is thankfully (and rightfully, given that it is her book) much more compelling.Gowan and Edie themselves are likeable, sweet characters. Their ages are quite young and close together; Edie is 19 and Gowan 22. They are each other's first; in more ways than one. Both are similarly inexperienced; Gowan is a virgin, so utterly refreshing given the glut of Regency rakes who have bedded half the ton's wives and widows. Gowan is nice, rational, and respectful of women: “Lady Edith will be my duchess,” Gowan told him, aware his eyes had gone wintry. “She will be my better half. Why would I stint what she will inherit after my death, or enjoy during my life? We Scots don’t treat our women with the disrespect you do in this country. Even if she and I have naught but a single daughter, that daughter will inherit the majority of my estate.”Can I get a D'AWWWW? How sweet is that? Brutish, clannish, pillaging highlander? Not our Gowan, no. He is pure gentleman, handsome, imperfect, rarely patronizing, and I love him for it. He and Edie have a good marriage, on the surface, and honestly, given their quick courtship and alliance of minds, I had my doubts on the complexity of this book and how it would develop for another half without boring me out of my mind. But then the wedding came. I am pleased to tell you that the story line picks up considerably in plot and complexity afterwards.I loved the portrayal of the marriage bed, the insecurities, the lack of confidence. The pain, the awkwardness, there are no auto-orgasms here. I hate it that in just about every Regency novel, the hero is able to bring the innocent virgin to orgasm multiple times with his horse-sized appendage with just a twinge of pain. It's not like that with Edie and Gowan. Edie is conflicted, because her marriage and her husband is so perfect in so many ways: she loves "the strong column of his neck, his broad shoulders, and the glint of red in his hair. The extraordinary brilliance of him. The incisiveness that was an integral part of him. The way he ruled an empire without raising his voice. The way he had bent his life around her passion for music. She was lucky. She was so lucky, barring that one thing."The miscommunication and the feelings of betrayal are realistic portrayed. If ever a young couple needed the benefits of marriage counseling...so many things that went wrong that could have easily been solved with a simple conversation, but given the context of the time, such conversations, even between husbands and wives, were rare, and more often than not never took place at all. When the climax (so to speak) came, painful words were exchanged, hearts were broken, and I could feel the pain and anger of both parties. I couldn't hate either Gowan or Edie for feeling the way they did or behaving the way they did; they simply didn't know any better, and their pain was completely understandable. We all have been guilty of saying despicable things in the heat of the moment to those we love.This book portrays the act so much more realistically, and the complications of it are so well-written. I still highly dislike the other minor characters in the book, although I suppose without Layla complicating the fuck out of things, there would be much less of a story; and think the Fairy Tale aspect is overreaching it (and the Susannah arc...however irritating, the child is not a toy to be passed on, Gowan). However, I think it comes close to perfection as a romance that deals with some difficult subjects of a Regency marriage concerning two people learning about love and coming to terms with themselves.