- Title: The Prize
- Author: Julie Garwood
- Series: N/A
- Genre(s): Historical (Medieval)
- Publisher: Pocket Books, August 1991
- Format: Audio CD narrated by Anne Flosnik (Brilliance Audio, 2009)
- Source: Public library
- Length: 408 pages (10 CDs, 12.5 hours)
- Trope(s): Conquering Hero, Dimwit Heroine, Battle of the Sexes, Newlywed Woes
- Quick blurb: Saxon maiden vs. Norman warrior
- Quick review: Not a good choice for my first commute-time audiobook, or my first Garwood.
- Grade: C- for story, D- for narration
He never knew what hit him.
I’m glad that’s over with. Also, I now know who Kathryn Le Veque has been reading for inspiration.
The Prize is set in 1066 England, with William the Conqueror on the throne in London and his minions crawling the countryside to claim Saxon holdings. One of those minions, our hero Baron Royce, gets clobbered on the head with a stone flung by our slingshot-wielding heroine Nicolaa, a feisty (god help us) Saxon maiden determined to defend her family’s home.
When he regains consciousness, Royce and his men overtake the manor, mostly thanks to Nicolaa’s idiot older brother abandoning her to “go north.” Our spunky (god help us) heroine disguises herself as a nun and claims sanctuary at the nearby abbey where her other brother is recovering from a serious injury. Royce feels all tingly in his manly parts upon meeting the beautiful young nun, but he manages to get them to the convent without disturbing her maidenly essence.
Somehow, Royce manages to figure out that Nicolaa isn’t really a nun, which allows the tingling to burst forth into full-on mental lusting. Nicolaa is too busy swanning about denouncing the Normans and pronouncing things about her family’s honor to notice much about Royce. Except for the fact that he smells good.
After some unimportant secondary character nonsense, Royce forces Nicolaa out of the abbey and on the road to London, where she’ll be auctioned off as the titular “prize” to a deserving Norman lord. Nicolaa insists on bringing along her infant nephew, who she claims is hers by her deceased husband. There is no mention of a wet nurse, so I have no clue how this poor child is being fed, and we get a first glimpse of our heroine utter cluelessness as she flounders to explain the chronology of her fake husband’s death and her pretend child’s birth.
At some point early in the road trip, Nicolaa decides to escape. She does this in the dead of night, with no plan of whatsoever. No food, no weapon, leaving her infant “son” in the hands of god knows who – but she’s sure nothing will happen because she knows the territory. She then promptly falls into a ravine and twists her ankle. She starts to call for help, but – never fear – hero Royce is near. He followed her, because he’s not a clueless idiot.
So they finally make it to London. Our sassy (god help us) heroine manages to endear herself to everyone in the castle, including her new sovereigns, when she throws herself onto a burning child who just happens to be the queen’s niece. As a reward, New King William allows Nicolaa to chose her prize among the assembled barons. And, of course, she chooses Baron Royce, because she wants to prove she’s just as strong and cunning as he is.
From here, the story flails around endless episodes of newlywed misunderstandings. The general routine goes:
- Nicolaa does something stupid.
- Royce tells her she did something stupid.
- She whines that she doesn’t understaaaaand and he’s hurting her feeeelings.
- He sits her on a bench to lecture her and then gives her the silent treatment.
- She pouts that he’s ignoring her, and then she takes off her clothes and they fuck it out.
Nicolaa is a nearly TSTL dimwit. She’s immature, impulsive and so totally OBLIVIOUS she drove me up the wall. It’s a good thing I listened to this by myself in the car, because I can’t count how many times I yelled things like “Oh, for fuck sake, just SHUT UP” or “oh my god, shut, shut up, SHUT UP, you moron!” The blurb describes Nicolaa as “resourceful, rebellious and utterly naïve” — but how in the hell can someone be resourceful AND naïve? Her thoughts and actions were so forcefully ignorant, every “oh, I’m so confused, why is he being so mean to meeee???” misunderstanding and argument felt completely contrived and manipulative.
Royce is the ever-so-saintly manly man who was fierce in battle and gentle in bed. He even declined to bed his new wife until her burn wounds healed. He can’t tell Nicolaa he loves her, because he’s never known love himself. I know, right???
The best part of the book emerges in the last three or four chapters, as Nicolaa’s injured younger brother Justin joins Royce’s contingent of knights-in-training. Royce’s no-sympathy training methods force the despondent young man out of bed, and Justin slowly fights his way into earning a spot on his baron’s Medieval Olympics team.
No really, the book ends with all the knights of the realm competing (aka beating the shit out of each other) before the king in London. Justin wins glory, Royce battles an Evil Villain, and Nicolaa uses her trusty slingshot to save the king. Luckily, her stone-slinging skillz weren’t needed until afternoon; any earlier, and her morning sickness might have interfered.
In addition to the spitfire (god help us) heroine’s endless fuckwittery, I noticed a lot of head-hopping and repetition (e.g., a bit of dialogue would be immediately followed by an narrative recap of what they just said). And Garwood has a LOT of pet words and phrases – after hearing the word “vassal” for the 29th time, I felt like punching the steering wheel the next 17,000 times it came up.
Overall, not impressed. I’m willing to try Garwood again – but NOT in audio.
Oy. This was an impulse grab off the library shelves, and it wasn’t a good one. The best I can say is that narrator Anne Flosnik was…consistent. Every character had a unique “voice,” and it wasn’t hard to keep track of the often random points of view.
But ugh ugh ugh. Flosnick’s interpretation of our spirited (god help us) heroine probably had a huge influence on my dislike of the character – and Nicolaa’s drunken episode was especially cringe-worthy.
As for Royce, our manly hero sounded like…a robot manly hero with a ridiculous faux-baritone. Every time he said the heroine’s name, I had flashbacks to those Ricola cough drop commercials (Niiiicolllllla).
Audiobooks: Yay or nay?
I’ve tried a few audiobooks before, without much success. But my longer commute gives me an hour of distraction-free listening time each day, and I think I’m going to get hooked on reading while driving.
I’m now starting The Bronze Bow, a Newbery-winning YA historical novel by Elizabeth George Speare (narrated by Pete Bradbury), and next up is Kinsale’s Flowers from the Storm (recommended by Kaetrin). I have a feeling all those reduced-priced “Whispersync” Audible versions of my Kindle books are going to cause even further damage to my bank account.