|Catherine Coulter: The Penwyth Curse|
Jove (Paperback), ISBN 0-515-13436-8
The curse plaguing Penwyth Castle stretches back longer than anyone can remember. If anyone forces the red-haired, green-eyed daughter of the keep to wed, he drops dead before consummation. By the age of 20, Merryn remains a virgin despite burying four unwanted husbands.
Sir Bishop of Lythe arrives at Penwyth bearing orders from the king to rid the castle of its curse. How he should accomplish this, he doesn't know. And in some other time and place, the dark wizard Mawdoor determines to kill a rival and wed the desirable Brecia, a green-eyed, red-haired witch.
After a few days at the keep -- in which Bishop does not force marriage upon Merryn--Bishop takes the lady away for a few days to get away from all the old men openly wondering how long it will take the latest "groom" to die. In the other place, Brecia and the prince begin formulating a plot to defeat Mawdoor.
Many regard Catherine Coulter as a wonderful writer, but this book shows her at her worst. She weaves back and forth between the two stories like a drunken sailor reeling across a wharf. The superficial development of characters makes them seem too similar between the story lines to keep straight. The reader finds it difficult to tell if Bishop and Merryn turn out to be relatives of the prince and Brecia or reincarnations or what. And not giving the prince a name adds to the confusion (especially coupled with a presumed typo that calls the prince "Bishop").
But the torture doesn't end there. Beyond the horrid characterization lies stilted dialogue and boring descriptions. Coulter frequently reuses phrases, especially in her dialogue. Bishop possesses a touch of psychic sense, and his repetitions of "I don't know how it will happen, I just know it will" get old very fast. Although set in medieval times, the chauvinistic and condescending attitudes of men towards women stick out noticeably, especially in how Bishop treats Merryn.
Coulter also creates very stereotypical secondary characters -- a doting, but determined and protective father, an obnoxious jester who spews bad poetry, an ugly stable hand, a noble lord and friend of Bishop's, and the lord's headstrong wife. Stir in some magical sleight-of-hand for no good reason, and the book grinds to a halt. Skip this book, or at least use it for a door stop.
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