The Six Funniest Things About Bodice-Ripper Romances
1. The Titles
These are not uniformly funny, of course: often they are dull epithets like "Surrender To Love" or "Passion's Slave". However, there are several titling trends that I am definitely in favour of:
– Dreadful Puns: And made even more dreadful because the pun is usually based around one of two things. First, the words knight/night, e.g. Only for a Knight, A Knight In My Bed, Lady of the Knight. And secondly, the name of one of the characters, e.g. Loving Mercy (when the heroine's name is Mercy) or When Dashing Met Danger (when the heroine's name is Lucia Dashing). However, I was rather disappointed to find that Daring the Highlander and Charming the Shrew aren't the hero and heroine's names.
– Ripped Off A Movie: The best example of this I could find was The Viscount Who Loved Me, although I'm actually a bit disappointed that it doesn't have sequels called "The Marquis Who Manhandled Me" or "The Count Who Copped A Feel". Another example is Truly Madly Viking, which isn't even a pun.
– Just Plain Stupid: As well as Charming The Shrew (see above), I'm particularly fond of My Devilish Scotsman and the very similar but possibly even more stupid Devil in a Kilt (this one's particularly humorous to anyone familiar with the plot of Carry On Up The Khyber)
2. The Cover Illustrations
It never ceases to entertain me that no matter whether the book is ostensibly set in mid-17th century Paris, early 19th-century Surrey, 12th-century Scotland, 21st-century New York, or a 47th-century space station in the Andromeda galaxy, all the bare-chested men on these covers look like they just stepped out of Dave Chippendale's Mullet Emporium and Male Waxing Parlour in 1987. Here's just a sprinkling of the worst that's on offer:
a) My Wicked Highlander – A better title for this would be "The Girliest Highlander", or possibly "Other Men In Kilts Keep Threatening To Beat Me Up".
b) Tonight or Never – He's half man, half tropical bush, and proud of it. Digging the vomit-inducing typography, too.
c) The Scarletti Curse – I'm not sure whether the curse is being stuck inside a bad Photoshop montage for all eternity, or being the only hairy-chested man I've ever seen on one of these covers.
d) Wild Land, Wild Love – "Don't look now, darling, but you've got tiny kangaroos hopping up your back!"
e) Divine Fire – You can have a field day thinking up alternative titles for this one. I like either "Pants On Fire", or better still, "Bollocks Struck By Lightning".
3. The Blurbs and Straplines
It's always the same old story. He's a rake, a rogue, a scoundrel and a libertine. She's an enchanting creature, a spirited schemer, and an infuriating temptation. He's probably very hard. She's undoubtedly very soft. Probably one of them needs to be tamed. Possibly both of them do. Some sort of ecstasy is likely to be the result. My all-time favourite blurb remains the one from Viking! – "the fierce longing that kept his hard muscled warrior's body in a constant state of arousal" keeps my own well-honed chocolate-eater's body bent double in a constant state of hilarity, that's for sure. Although yesterday, I did also have a laughing fit over the line "Her unearthly powers are no match for a rugged Scotsman's desire". Which is peculiar, because I would have thought it obvious that unearthly powers were WAY better than a rugged Scotsman's desire – I'd certainly hate to take on the massed armies of Mordor with only a rugged Scotsman's desire to protect me. Then again, maybe it depends on the rugged Scotsman?
4. The Character Names
What can I say about overblown character names that a million Mary Sues haven't already said already? Well, among the petal-skinned heroines I met in blurbs yesterday were Velvet Cavendish (sounds like a designer sofa), Lacey von Schuyler Durango (sounds like an exotic Mexican hors d'oeuvre), Joyous McQuarrie (sounds unspeakable), and Green Tamryn (and yes, the hero does shout "Green! Green!" at the moment of ecstasy – I checked). Boys' names, however, are where this genre really comes into its own. If you read the Viking! blurb above, you'll already have met Thorne the Relentless (personally, I'm dying to meet his brother, Sven the Marginally Less Impressive). But also worthy of note were Greylan MacKeage, Roshan DeLongpre, Tarr of Hellewyk, Jago Ransleigh (the Earl of St Aubyn), and my own favourite, Sir Marmaduke Strongbow, the dashing hero of Bride of the Beast (I only wish the title had been The Beast In Cider...).
5. The Euphemistic Sexual Encounters
The things I do for you, readers. In this case, I read an actual lurve scene from a randomly chosen novel (it was Unmasked by Virginia Henley) to see if what I'd always suspected about bodice-ripper encounters was true. And unfortunately it is. But I did learn a lot about the differences between a man and a lady when they haven't got their clothes on. Apparently a man has a "rampant splendor" and a "heavy sac", and there seems to be a definite risk of being nudged by "the head of his lance". A lady, meanwhile, has "saucy curls" and a "honeyed sheath" and at one stage, "her bud unfurled into an exotic flower whose petals were drenched with dew" (you might want to call Alan Titchmarsh about that). Most jawdroppingly of all, there's a reference to "her scalding woman's center" – doesn't that sound like a rather uncomfortable place to hold a consciousness-raising meeting? I also blame the author for injuring my brain enough with that turgid drivel to make me misread a perfectly innocent line about "one of Whitehall's incomparable cooks"....
6. Actually Attempting To Read The Text
I will leave now to scour out my brain with carbolic soap after the last section, but before I do so, I wish to point you in the direction of one of the handily available Amazon Extracts so you can get a flavour of what a torment the text in these books actually is. In this case it's another timeless classic (hem hem) from the same woman that brought you oh-so-very-wrong cat-lurving novel Rejar, but this one involves no cats (a small mercy) and is called High Intensity. Just read the excerpt for yourselves. The only intervention I will deign to make is to point towards the words "Tyberius Augustus Evans, renowned theoretical physicist", and then point towards the cover image. Enough said, methinks....