Friday, June 22, 2007

A Brother's Price, by Wen Spencer [1]

*/***** (1/5)

A thought experiment more or less, Wen Spencer stages an intriguing game of What-If and completely turns the tables on gender stereotypes in a Regency Romance. In my quest for a break in convention, Spencer's A BROTHER's PRICE certainly fits the bill as far as breaking from cliche goes. A BROTHER's PRICE is still cliche, but it's the opposite of everything you'd expect: a matriarchal society where women greatly outnumber men, where the women are amazon-like warriors protecting their menfolk and men are nurturing saplings. In fact, the male protagonist in A BROTHER's PRICE plays the meek heroine better than any heroines I can remember! Most heroines in historical romances usually exhibit a streak of defiance, at least some traces of a combative, truculent personality. A BROTHER's PRICE heroine -- err, I mean hero -- is as malleable, gentle and docile as they come; from beginning to end, he's a little mouse.

As a guy reading this, I couldn't get behind such a pitiful, blushing male character, completely dominated in every way possible. Maybe I'm a hypocrite, maybe I'm sexist, maybe I'm too prideful, who knows. In the world of A BROTHER's PRICE, the few men in the world are consorts shared by sisters to produce offspring, essentially a slave bartered and sold for procreation. The men have Seasons, they nurture children, they cook, clean, sew, and are regular housekeepers. They can't partake in any leadership decisions, seemingly forbidden from official court proceedings, they can't fight, can't ride horses, etc. (you get the idea). The men can be "ruined" if they dally before marriage and they're sluts if they sleep outside of marriage. Women go to "cribs" consisting of ruined men to service their desires and produce offspring if the women are unable to acquire a husband by marriage. The entire time, I got the feeling Wen Spencer was murmuring in my ear, "So how does it feel like, hmm?!?" Many times, the novel appeared an exercise in lessons on sexism.

The characters of pretty-boy hero Jerin Whistler and Princess Ren, the Eldest of 10 princess sisters, are drab and I found Jerin's characterization offensive. Spencer reverses the gender roles not only in matters of leadership and fighting, but also in matters of seduction. Princess Ren's romantic advances has our heroine Jerin -- dang, sorry I mean hero -- blushing profusely, and melting in Ren's bold arms. Towards the end, Jerin can't defend himself against the villainous women in the novel, essentially a weak babe. They ultimately capture him to set up a rescue attempt by Ren's sister Halley. Jerin is either afraid or queasy or blushing throughout. He lacks boldness, he lacks confidence, he lacks strength, and he's a certifiable wimp. I suppose that's my pride talking.

A BROTHER's PRICE intermingles a plotting related to stolen cannons the Princess Ren seeks. It isn't a bad plot, but it shared its pacing with Jerin's Season and Princess Ren's efforts to secure her sisters' marriage with Jerin.

As much as Wen Spencer delights in reversing the gender roles here, I was disappointed to see that she still stuck with convention in two other respects. One, the men are taught to pleasure and service the women. In most common Regency fares today, the libertine hero's entire purpose is to pleasure our virgin heroine and ignite her passion. This carries through in A BROTHER's PRICE, as Jerin having knowledge how to use his mouth to pleasure women represents a point in his marriageable favor. Secondly, the women aren't experienced rakes like the men in Regency romances are despite the existence of cribs in Spencer's world. If you're going to turn the tables so thoroughly, why not these two points? You can devise a way for the women not to get pregnant from the cribs if that's the concern, just make up something, this is more of a fantasy anyway.

The love is nonexistent; there can hardly be love with 5 women sharing 1 guy. It's a perfect world though as jealousy isn't factored in because that's the way of things in Spencer's world. Women conquer and enjoy their man.

All in all, an offensive thought experiment with no true romance or love, meager plotting and insulting characterizations.


Anonymous said...

Very interesting. I think I might read this because I love books like this for a laugh.

You might be interested in RITUAL OF PROOF by Dara Joy for another take on the same theme. It features a reverse regency world where the males are the virgins on the marriage mart. The hero is not quite as helpless as in BROTHER'S PRICE. Dara Joy is a guilty pleasure read for me so dont expect Madeline Hunter!

Speaking of guilty pleasures, I see that Virginia Henley is next. I look forward to the review :-)

Caine said...

Having fun with Virginia Henley's THE DRAGON AND THE JEWEL so far for sure. ;) It's like the fun, epic version of Chadwick's LORDS OF THE WHITE CASTLE, even the time period of both are the same.

Thanks, RITUAL OF PROOF is officially on my wish list.

As for A BROTHER's PRICE, it's definitely humorous at times, to see how thoroughly the tables have been turned. By the way, A BROTHER's PRICE isn't a guilty pleasure, it's extremely light on the sensuality factor. It contains intrigue with the plotting having to do with the stolen cannons.