Once Upon a Tower
Avon / May 28, 2013 / $7.99 print, $6.64 digital
To win her love. . .
As an extremely wealthy laird, Gowan Stoughton, Duke of Kinross, can have any of the maidens at the ball he attends. The only problem is they are all English and Gowan is not so certain they are suitable. He is accustomed to the hard-working lasses from his Highlands, not these dainty noblewomen who spend their days drinking tea or some other such nonsense. But then he makes the acquaintance of Lady Edith Gilchrist. Utterly bewitched by the emerald-eyed beauty with lush golden locks, he knows he must have her.
He must free her from her tower. . .
“Edie” had the misfortune of being dreadfully ill at her debut ball and barely remembers what Gowan looks like. Even worse, she accepted his proposal the following day. Edie's only true passion is playing music—until Gowan writes a scandalous letter and stirs the most irresistible desire. Yet when they marry, Edie realizes her husband needs a lesson and locks herself in a tower. Somehow Gowan must find a way to enter the tower and convince his new bride that she belongs in his arms.
Rakes, rogues, bad boys, and players are all a dime a dozen in romance, but a virgin hero is a true novelty. In Eloisa James’s most recently reimagining of a fairy tale, Once Upon a Tower, Gowan and Edie don’t have love at first sight or even lust at first sight, but more intrigue at first sight—but that’s not to say there isn’t plenty of attraction blooming between the pair.
Who would have thought that all the romantic tripe about being burned by a lover’s touch was true?
As they danced, Gowan was vaguely aware that the entire assembly was watching them. The Duke of Kinross was dancing twice in a row with Gilchrist’s daughter. The news would be all over London by morning.
He didn’t care. His heart was thudding in time with the music as he studied her minutely, feature by feature. She was utterly delicious. Her lips held a natural curve, as if she had a kiss or a smile in reserve, one that she had never given away.
Gowan’s interested by this delicate English flower, but there’s one tiny problem. Edie had a terrible cold the night they met and wasn’t exactly herself. This doesn’t stop Gowan from immediately proposing…to Edie’s father. In fact, the bride and groom barely meet before the pair is wed and off to Scotland, but they do exchange some very practical and hilarious letters in lieu of actual courtship.
Despite this almost complete lack of a courtship, Edie and Gowan seem to suit each other well. Edie’s own home life hasn’t been the ideal example for a happy marriage. Her mother died when Edie was young and her father married a much younger woman who was not much older than Edie herself. Don’t worry, James doesn’t give us an evil step-mother, but rather a sympathetic woman crippled by her own anxiety about her infertility and paranoia about her husband’s love. In fact, the subplot of Edie’s father and stepmother, Layla’s relationship is one of my favorite parts of this book.
But because of this imperfect relationship, Edie (along with her own practical mind that focuses more on her music than anything else) isn’t exactly prepared for running the household of an equally practical duke. The pair does have two things saving them from what would otherwise have been a thoroughly practical marriage: good hearts and passion.
“A virgin,” he said, growling it because, after all, a man isn’t supposed to be a virgin. Ever.
He released her hands and swung her into his arms. She was a snug weight, a soft female weight that sent a flame right down him limbs. But he made himself walk to a chair rather than topple her onto the bed.
“You?” She was stunned.
“Aye.” He sat down, relishing the way her bottom settled onto his lap. “I was betrothed from the time I was young, so I could not sleep with a woman who might have expectations—or dreams—of becoming a duchess. Paying coin for the act would be distasteful; I would have dishonored my fiancée at the same time as myself.”
There are certain growing pains to two such practically minded people living together. And, oh yes, one thing does get in the way of their happily ever after being perfect and instantaneous—the sex is bad. It’s great for Gowan as these things tend to go, but Edie has only felt pain during their interactions and finds it distasteful. There’s a particularly hilarious scene where her step-mother teaches her how to fake her way through an orgasm.
As much as I cringed during these scenes I couldn’t help but cheer as well. This just solidifies my opinion that one of James’s greatest strengths is writing truly human characters during one of the defining moments of a person’s life when they find love. Well-equipped men who somehow know how to please their women, even if they’re virgins, just isn’t realistic. In reality there’s a lot of awkwardness and fumbling. James perfectly sums this up, but it does lead to a few scenes where I wanted to pat Edie on the shoulder and tell her that it’ll get better.
Despite the sometimes-hilarious misadventures in the bedroom, Gowan and Edie learn a lot about themselves and how to love one another. Once Upon a Tower is one of the most realistic romances I’ve read in a while (towers aside) and exemplifies that love can come in many forms, at any age, and as long as two people are willing to work on it, can be both imperfect and unconditional.
Jennifer Proffitt is a Midwest transplant to New York City. She spends most of her time reading and writing about romance, but you can follow her other adventures on Twitter @JennProffitt. She works for Heroes and Heartbreakers and Criminal Element.