When Iliana Wildwood’s mother is forced to marry a ruthless and greedy man the only way Iliana can escape and hope to free her mother is to marry Duncan, a barbarous Scottish Highlander. Although there is something about the virile warrior that makes her weak at the knees, Iliana refuses to let him into her bed until he becomes more civilised. Iliana has the perfect device to resist Duncan’s advances… a chastity belt.
However, Duncan is not one to easily give up and accept defeat. Changing his tactics, Duncan decides to romance Iliana into willingly, breathlessly, giving up… The Key.
When in a bookstore there are four things I do, every time. First, I look over the classics to see which titles I can get for $10. I browse the Young Adult section, lingering on L and M, checking for miss-shelving, then, with a sigh, I ask an employee where Margo Lanagan is (they don’t have her, I should check online if I’m ever to read Sea Hearts). The fourth think I do is look over the romance section for the worst and most ridiculous sounding book.
The Key was pointed out to me by my boyfriend while I was doing this at a QBD in Brisbane. I’d all but settled on Sins of a Virgin but followed his pointed finger and picked up the Key to read the blurb. Chastity belt. Sold. (I also bought Sins of a Virgin but it will wait for another day. You’ll be disappointed by my review for it)
There are four plots in the Key; three minor plot points and one main plot. Three of these would make great stories. One is stupidly ridiculous. Guess which is the main story line?
- There is Iliana’s mother’s forced marriage and the need to rescue her from a violent, thieving man.
- Duncan’s sister runs away to escape her own impending marriage and is caught by enemies of Duncan’s clan, needing Duncan to lead an army to rescue her.
- There is an invasion of the castle.
- And Iliana refuses to sleep with her husband, despite desiring him, all because he smells.
That’s it. He smells. The driving plot line. Iliana even straight up tells him, “have a bath and I’d love to sleep with you. I’ll tear your clothes right off you and thrust you inside me myself”*
But Duncan is too stubborn. He has a bath twice a year, January and July, and it’s only June.
I have polled several people and everyone** says “Hell yes” or, alternatively, a quiet, bashful “yeah…”. This is not a realistic plot. Come on, Sands, there is so much more you could do with a chastity belt. A man not being willing to bathe for sex is not one of them. It is simply not realistic. Men have gone to war just to get their willy wet. Look at Troy!
When the sex scenes finally happen they are nothing to write home about. I’ve already forgotten what happened. I think they do it against a tree once? Iliana lures Duncan into a bath and… I think they have sex? The initial interactions between Duncan and Iliana when she is wearing the belt feel as awkward and uncomfortable as a Target customer whose friend is insisting on lodging a complaint that one of the female mannequins looks too masculine. Everyone, particularly the audience, experiences a little cringing, a lot of shame, and just doesn’t know how to react.
The relationship between Duncan and Iliana is also clumsy. Although we see Duncan trying to help Iliana and look after her we don’t really see their relation develop. It goes from hate and lust to plain lust then, suddenly, out of nowhere they’re saying they love each other when really you think they really mean to say “I kinda tolerate you. Let’s bang.”
If we overlook the main plotline and just ignore Duncan. The story is kind of interesting. I like the story about Iliana’s mother. However, there was nothing new or creative. A lot of it I’d seen before and it just seemed re-done. It was just kind of… bland.
If you want a laugh, a quick read, and to cringe a lot, then the Key is the perfect novel for you. If you want something substantial and decent, try a different genre and not an Avon Romance. The Key gets a one out of five on the decent scale and a three on the so-bad-its-good scale.
*May be paraphrased.
**Except my mother who was the single outlier, claiming “I ain’t changing for no man! I’m a strong, independent woman, if he wants me he takes me how I am!”* But she’s kind of bitter.
Next time I’ll review Sins of a Virgin about a courtesan auctioning her virginity, or, if you give me a genre, you might receive a Story Saturday.