Title: Prisoner of the Tower
Original Story by: Gayle Wilson
Manga by: Karin Miyamoto
Publisher: DMP & Harlequin
Available at eManga
After learning that Harlequin manga adaptations would be available at eManga through a collaboration between Harlequin and Digital Manga Publishing, I was consumed with an almost giddy sense of anticipation. My first introduction to Harlequin Romances took place many, many moons ago, when I was in the 6th grade. Back then, Silhouette, Loveswept, and Candlelight Ecstasy Romances had yet to be conceived, and the Harlequin Romance line was extremely chaste. Hand holding was the name of the game, and you could count on one hand the number of times the protagonists actually kissed. Maybe once around page 100, and then again at the end of the book. This is probably the only reason my mother didn’t object to my choice in reading material. Shortly afterwards, after a gabillion imprints and new publishers had flooded the market, I moved away from the category romance. I was bored with the formula, and I had discovered fantasy novels instead. Throughout the years though, I have always come back to investigate new titles and authors. Harlequin has created a very solid brand, and even if I occasionally mock the strict guidelines each of their imprints must follow, I am still entertained by their books.
The Harlequin titles were available at eManga as of yesterday, and I was embarrassingly eager to get through work so I could spend some time perusing the offerings. The first one I read was Prisoner of the Tower, and though flawed, I found enjoyment while reading it. It’s like catching up with an old friend; the plot is comfortably familiar, it has a feel good ending, and it doesn’t tax the brain cells. That’s like a win-win on a Friday night after a long, stressful week at work, and is the reason Harlequin sells oodles of books.
Let’s start of with the ugly – the production values are sadly lacking here. The translation wasn’t bad, and the dialog flowed along without any really awkward phrases. What did stink was the presentation of the title. Text ran outside of word balloons, the cleanup was shoddy, and there were typos. That was disappointing, because it looked very amateurish.
As for the story itself, it’s your typical formula romance. I started with this one because it’s a historical. I believe it was set in Regency England, though the year was never firmly established. This was a time when the wealthy and indulgent traveled to London for the season to sell off their single daughters to the highest bidder. In this instance, Emma’s lunkhead of a brother has squandered the family fortune, so the entire family is expecting her to sacrifice herself for them and find herself a rich suitor. Being the dutiful daughter that she is, she agrees, though in a moment of rebellion, she wanders out in a blizzard in the middle of the night to savor a brief moment of freedom. Why she didn’t freeze to death is a mystery, but she did meet a handsome stranger, and like so many women of her time, she was mesmerized by the delicate folds of his cravat. Yes, indeed, it was love at first sight.
After sharing a forbidden kiss, the exquisitely attired gent disappears into the snow, and Emma is left again to search for her wealthy husband. She snags one, and years later, after raising her step-daughter, the old guy croaks, leaving her a widow. Will the Fates smile upon her, and give her a second chance at love? You’re darned right they will! This is a Harlequin!
The story is as predictable as you would expect. Tragedy has touched the hero’s life, and he has eschewed all hope of ever finding love. A misunderstanding drives them further apart, and Emma has her work cut out for her. There are no surprises here, and I didn’t expect any. What you get is a fairly solid romance with two likeable characters. The framework is always the same, it’s just the outer dressing that is different. The formula works for me, though I wish there had been a little more conflict between Emma, her step-daughter, and the high-society snobs who looked down at them for being too “common.” The hero was a little too wimpy for my tastes as well, and he was too quick to run away from conflict. Usually it’s the other way around, and the hero goes out of his way to create more conflict. There is just something magical about the bantering (or would that be bickering?) that gets the heart racing.
The art isn’t remarkable, but it’s not bad, either. Big, sparkly eyes, frilly backgrounds, and an abundance of screen tones fill up the panels. The illustrations, like the story, are inoffensive and slightly bland, but they effectively set the mood and tone of each scene. There is enough detail spent on the period clothing and hair styles to generate some interest, but it’s not done to excess.
With Prisoner of the Tower, I got exactly what I expected; a pleasant heroine with some challenges to overcome and a happy ending. That’s what Harlequin does best. Now, if only someone would spend a little more time on the production end of things, this would have been a much more satisfying reading experience.