*Editor’s Note: I don’t normally do this but this was submitted by Aidee on July 21, 2019, and it was supposed to be a TBR Challenge Review. Obviously I have no idea which month/topic now and … *crawls under a rock* so – my apologies to Aidee, and Wendy the amazing organizer of the annual TBR Challenge, and other participants. [It also seems there are two blurbs/back cover copies, and they have sufficiently different information, so I’m adding both.]
On an alternate Earth, where the population is ninety percent female and a man is sold by his sisters to marry all the women in a family, Jerin Whistler is coming of age. His mothers are respected landed gentry, his grandfather a kidnapped prince, and his grandmothers common line soldiers blackballed for treason, trained by thieves, re-enlisted as spies, and knighted for acts of valor. Jerin wants to marry well, and his sisters want a husband bought by his brother’s price.
In a world where male children are rare, a man is a valuable commodity—to be sold to the highest bidder…
It isn’t easy being the oldest boy in a house run by women—especially for Jerin Whistler. The grand-matriarchs of his clan are descended from soldiers, spies, and thieves. That’s partly what’s kept their family alive in the wilderness. But it also means Jerin’s doomed to marry the girls next door—a fate he’s convinced is worse than death. But Jerin gets in even worse trouble when, in the process of a daring rescue, he falls in love with a royal princess who’s as high above his station as it’s possible to be.
Ren knows that Jerin is too far below her class to be an appropriate match for her and her royal sisters. But then she hears rumors of a long-held Whistler family secret—one that might provide a way for them to finally be together. Unfortunately, she still has four sisters to convince. And that’s before Jerin even comes to the capital—where simmering political tensions will threaten not just their love, but all their lives…
I’ve read this book more than once, but didn’t read it when it was first published in 2005. I wasn’t into romance at the time, and while this book has a healthy amount of court intrigue and is set in an alternate universe, a step sideways from ours, it focuses on the romantic relationship between Jerin and Ren, and to a lesser extent, Ren’s sisters. As the cover copy makes clear, this is a world where men have multiple wives, but it is a matriarchal society, not a patriarchal one. The cover image, I’m told, is misleading. I mostly enjoyed this book, though upon thinking about it for the review, I noticed somethings that left me feeling slightly uneasy.
[Slightly Spoiler-y Explanation: This book isn’t erotic, though there is sex on the page. There is no group sex, but J’s wives are sisters.]
I think the author managed to convey the believable nature of the relationship between Jerin and his wives, for the most part. He meets Ren and Odelia first; he rescues Odelia after she is badly injured, and Ren tracks her down to his family’s farm. Ren finds him physically attractive very quickly, and soon thereafter realizes that he is smart, kind, and competent. The trouble comes, I think, in showing this for the others. When Ren and Odelia meet Jerin, he is on his family’s farm, and environment he is used to navigating; he takes care of his younger siblings and runs the household while his mothers and older sisters handle the business side of the farm. When the rest of J’s eventual wives meet him, they meet him on their home grounds–the palace–where Jerin has no experience except for the etiquette his father and grandfather taught him. For the most part, we see him getting to know his wives in this environment. He is depicted with what has, for a while, been understood to be feminine attributes. He cries when he is emotional. He wants to make a good marriage, one that will let him be happy but also be beneficial to his family. And, like I said, he is used to running a household–little kids and all.
Ren is a princess; specifically, the oldest princess of her generation of princesses. The way the society of Spencer’s alternate universe organizes itself is in groups of sisters, preferably ten sisters, though this isn’t a constant. Sisters marry one man. They enlist into the army together, they run businesses together, and they rule realms together. Eldest is not just a designation here, but an honorific. Ren came to be Eldest after the deaths of several of her older sisters and their husband. It is not explicit from the very beginning, but she is still dealing with the intrigue surrounding their unexpected deaths when she tracks down her sister Odelia. It is this intrigue, and her handling of it, that forms the rest of the story and shows us what kind of person she is. She is passionate, but believes in forgiveness and second chances, as proven by the last few chapters of the book. Perhaps because the book alternates between her and Jerin POVs, she feels the most fleshed out. Odelia, the sister Jerin originally rescues, is easygoing, Lylia is passionate but still young, and Trini and Halley have both been wounded in the past. In the end, though, I believed in their happily ever after, even if it was unconventional.
A couple of the things that left me a little puzzled once I put the book down were how men worked, or didn’t, in the society Spencer created. If it is meant to be a mirror to our world, it isn’t an exact one. Men do not do a lot of the household labor outside their own homes (they are not servants, teachers or any number of other occupations held by women traditionally). This would have made sense if, say, upper-class men didn’t do much outside the home, but lower-class men did, but that didn’t seem to be the case, as one character scoffs at the idea of a man working the fields.
Also, you should know that the word “idiot” is used rather prolifically in the first chapters. It is used as a judgment passed on others, in what I’m sure is an unintentional reminiscence of eugenics (where “breeding” tells). It is also incredibly homogeneous; all the characters seem to be white, with no hints at brown anything.
In some ways, this book feels like it was ahead of its time when it was originally published, and now slightly behind, read with the idea that men should cry and otherwise be emotionally fluent, and women should be in charge of all the things.