“When Bella was looking at the slowly approaching face of Martin, the image of a pair of silver-gray eyes flashed through Bella’s brain. A thrill of tenseness appeared in her heart, and her body stiffened with her hands on both sides of her body tightly clenched into fists.” (All Started with a Forced Marriage, Chapter Two)
“This man, the hereditary Lord of Vancouver Island, the world-famous ‘King of the Sea,’ Charles Williams, boasts billions of dollars, even the Queen of England would show her courtesy.” (All Started with a Forced Marriage, Chapter Seven)
In her cabin, Bella has what she believes to be a strange dream; two strangers stand over her, one conducting medical tests on her before the other enters the bed beside her. When she wakes, nothing is amiss. The ship lands in Vancouver and Bella prepares for her wedding to Martin Smith. Moments before their marriage is sealed with a kiss, a video framing Bella for adultery is shown to the guests. Bella’s sister Lynn appears in a white dress and gives Martin a document proving Bella’s pregnancy. Bella realizes that she must have been raped on the cruise ship, remembering her strange vision of a man in her room.
After she fled the venue in disgrace, Bella was kidnapped. Waking up face to face with her rapist, she is tied down so that his doctor can examine her and conclusively tell him if she is pregnant. Bella is not pregnant, confusing her because she believed in the accuracy of the medical report, despite the fact that she has never had sex. Her rapist, known to her only as “Lord”, tells her that she will remain with him until she gives birth to a child. Until then, she will be his captive.
It is revealed that Martin, Lynn, and Bella’s family purposefully fabricated the scandal that ended the wedding. Martin believes that Bella had been unfaithful to him because she hesitated to accept his proposal. Though she tries to escape, she is returned to the villa of Lord Charles Williams, one of the most powerful men in the world and the “King of the Sea”. He tortures her for trying to escape, throwing her into a pool to be nearly drowned by his dolphins. It is clear that Bella possesses a special type of blood that is necessary to the continuation of the Williams’ bloodline and Charles cannot imagine why she wouldn’t want to have his children.
For a romance, this novel doesn’t really respect its female characters or readers. A phrase like “Most of the guests were women and the more women there were, the more gossip there was” is insulting to read. The very first chapter subjects the main character to a “virginity” test that checked the state of her hymen while she was unconscious. Bella is strapped down and forcibly exposed to an invasive pregnancy test against her will a few chapters later. All Started with a Forced Marriage seems obsessed with hymens and degrading its female-lead.
I am not sure how readers are supposed to like a love interest that rapes and kidnaps women. He clearly wants her as a broodmare, but refuses to explain why he has selected her to continue his family line. Though nothing can excuse rape, imprisonment, and torture, Charles is not endearing himself to this audience by leaving Bella in the dark. Also, if he were to explain anything, maybe he could tell her why he drinks her blood every morning. Is he a vampire? A sea vampire? A merman? Personally, I’m not rooting for Charles in this work, though I am sure this is not what the novel had intended.
It pains me to say it of any female protagonist, but Bella isn’t that smart. She is confused when her sister pulls out a medical document, checking the paper and seeing her correct name, birthdate, etc. This is enough to make her believe that she might be pregnant, even though she has never had sex! She seems to understand that damning photos could have been staged and edited, but does not understand that a medical document could be forged. When her rapist immediately informs her that she will be his captive until she can produce a child, she can only think of “the unfamiliar male pheromones that escaped from his breath…” and her subsequent desire for him in that moment. Though she has moments of bravery, Bella is not a very compelling protagonist.
One thing that did pique my interest in this story was Charles’ mysterious control of the sea. He seems to be able to create waves at will and it is mentioned how his family has not lost a ship to storms or disaster in three generations. It’s disappointing that such an interesting plot was integrated into a subpar romance. If this had been a better novel, I would have looked forward to learning about the incredible abilities of Charles and his family, but it was not worth it for me to keep reading.
This novel improves slightly as it progresses, though it started on a very rocky note and never really impresses. All Started with a Forced Marriage has many, many issues that need to be resolved before it can be a truly great work. Though some romance novels begin with rape, this work will need to work harder to prove to its readers that Charles Williams can be anything but a supernatural rapist, kidnapper, and torturer. Good luck; you may need it with this book.