Stories of marriage offered and marriage refused are the basis for this book, collecting three tales from well-known writers of romance and fantasy.
"Can He Bake a Cherry Pie?" by Laurell K. Hamilton is the first story. Ellinore is a noblewoman whose father offers her in marriage to a depraved old man in order to grow his fortune and get closer to the throne, but Ellinore is sickened by the bargain. But when she decides to go and try to free Prince True, who tried to best a sorceress and lost her father is angered. The Witch has him, still imprisoned, forever young and handsome.
Many have tried to free him, and many have died in the process. But the truth is he can only be freed by one who has learned the womanly arts. To fail is death and Ellinore would rather die than marry her loathsome bridegroom. But when Elinore sees that the Prince is still handsome and arrogant after all this time imprisoned, will she want to free him and become his bride? Or is there another way that she can have the freedom she wants without death or marrying Prince True?
"The Shadow of Mist" by Yasmine Galenorn tells the story of Siobahn Morgan, a selkie who is a friend of the three D'Artigo sisters from the Otherworld. She's travelled the world over to escape the man who raped her and wished to make her his own, and now, after 100 years, he's finally tracked her down to make her his.
Siobahn fled him, even though her family would have married her to him, because of his cruelty and pleasure in her fear. Now that she has finally found love with Mitch, another selkie, and is pregnant with his child, she must not only protect herself and her child from Terrence, but Mitch as well, plus bring Terrenceto pay for his crimes against her so very long ago. She may not be a fighter, but does she have the courage to battle for the man she loves against the man who is her worst fear?
"The Tangleroot Palace" by Marjorie M. Liu has Princess Salinda, who her father has betrothed to the Southern Warlord in order to save his kingdom from attacks by enemies. But Sally doesn't care to face life with so fierce and bloodthirsty a man. So on the advice of her gardener, she flees into the kingdom, hoping to pass into the Tanglewood Forest and speak to the Queen imprisoned there.
Rescued from a group of horny mercenaries by a three musician/Players, she travels with them, trying to stay one step ahead of her father. She bonds with Mickle, the head of the group, but when she flees into the forest to escape her father, it turns out to be a trap laid for her by the imprisoned Queen, who wishes to be free to wreak her will on the lands around. Will Sally succumb to the wants of the magical Queen, and can she save Mickle when he comes to rescue her and find happiness at last?
"The Wrong Bridegroom" by Sharon Shinn tells the story of Princess Olivia, who has rejected the man her father selected for her and in response, her father throws a tournament of three tests. Whoever can pass all three tests will be her husband. Before the contest starts, she looks around at all the men who have come to win her and is enchanted with a magician named Darius, who in addition to having magical powers, is handsome and cheerful and seems happy- surely this is someone she can live with!
The tournament ends with two winners, both Darius and her father's choice, Harwin. She chooses Darius and sets off with him on a journey to meet his family. But Harwin, and later her stepmother, the Queen, Gisele, comes to accompany them, and Olivia is forced to see what ia really happening in the kingdom, and how much of a monster her father really is. As she does, she gets a new look at Harwin, and likes what she sees. But can she find a way to rid her kingdom of her father and bring back a more enlightened rule when her father will have no compunctions about killing her if and when she gets in his way?
I found this book unusual in that I really enjoyed every story in it. Most anthologies have one or two, or even three really good stpries, but the others are only so-so. Not so much in this case, as each story was well constructed, and kept my interest throughout. I did find the first story somewhat deceptive, as it is the shortest story in the book, but it's still a very strong story.
My favorite story was "The Wrong Bridegroom", because Princess Olivia has a lot to learn, both about herself and her kingdom... and her father. I loved that the story was serious. Yes, there were fantasy elements, but at the same time, it transcended them to be more, and I felt that it was a deeper story than just a romance. All of them were, but this one went the deepest.
I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who likes Fantasy, romance, and fairy tales, as the stories combine elements of all three, each in different proportions, to make a harmonious whole Furthermore, each story is like a sparkling jewel, whole and complete unto themselves, but at the same time wonderful together. Highly recommended.