Does the Harlequin Romance Unicorn Vengeance Boast The Worst Sentence Ever Published in English? Mayhap!
Each Thursday, your Crap Archivist brings you the finest in forgotten and bewildering crap culled from basements, thrift stores, estate sales and flea markets. I do this for one reason: Knowledge is power.
Author: Claire Delacroix
Publisher: Harlequin Historical, because unicorns are historical
Discovered at: Salvation Army
The Cover Promises: "The Stirring Conclusion to the Unicorn Trilogy." Also, true passion means not caring if your lovemaking smashes your lute or sets your hair on fire.
"Aye, this night Wolfram would know the fullness of mating." (page 226)
"This then was what lovemaking was about? Indeed, Genevieve was quite surprised. No fool was she, for livestock had her family always kept, but this was a revelation." (page 177)
Before we get to what just might be the single worst sentence in any published, novel, let's take a moment to consider how it might have come to be.
First, imagine that you're an author hellbent on knocking out a Harlequin Historical romance.
Step One: Find an old-timey synonym for pants:
"Her tiny fingers caressed him there and he thought he might burst his chausses."
That's from the first, not-quite-completed sex scene in Unicorn Vengeance, a goofy and ambitious Harlequin that at first seems most notable for its failure to include any unicorns or vengeance.
And from the second sex scene:
"The feel of her tongue in his ear was enough to send Wolfram bursting from his chausses."
And just a page and a half later:
"Her loose chemise followed suit with lighting speed, and the sight of her creamy flesh was enough to make him burst his chausses."
From this we can conclude that if you ever go back in time to the France of 1307 - the book's setting - you certainly won't go broke in the field of chausses repair.
Step Two: Stick with old-timey words, no matter how hilarious they make your serious scenes.
That first sex scene ends abruptly in the middle of a handjob:
"Nay! Not so soon! Wolfram felt his seed spill across his stomach in a warm, tingling rush, even as he heard himself moan."
This is historically accurate, at least according to what a lady friend tells me about her summer working at Medieval Times. It also fulfills the narrative obligation of letting the maiden maintain her maidenhood until the book's climax.
Best of all, it gives us this line just a few pages later, as a fully sated Wolfram dreams of hiding out in a barn with Genevieve, the heroine:
"Days might they have to secrete themselves here, and his mind readily enumerated ways of passing that time."
That's secrete meaning hide.
Just keep on shoveling in random, archaic language. If your book is set in France, for example, feel free to abuse the Middle English compound mayhap:
"Well did Wolfram intend to satisfy both their desires this evening. Mayhap over and over the whole night through."
"Mayhap the imbibing of liquor was not as infrequent for the master as it was for Wolfram."
"Mayhap her overwrought imagination had conjured him from nought."
Verily did the streets of 14th century Paris ring with the English contraction 'Twas," first recorded in 1567:
"'Twas clear he had much to learn about the ways of women, for her behavior made absolutely no sense to him."
"'Twas warm, the air redolent of the sweet leavings of the horses."
"'Twas too much to bear. Wolfram gasped at the wave of pleasure that coursed through him and fell back bonelessly against the hay."
Staring down a dreary, plot-moving sentence? Enliven it with a twofer:
"Mayhap 'twas the Master's genealogy."
All this curious diction brings us to what is perhaps the most crucial step.
Step Three: To indicate that your romantic yarn takes place in ye days of olde, invert your subject/verb order like you are Sexy Yoda:
"Almost had he stolen the gift of her virginity from her as well."
"Something unnerving there was about his stare."
"So different was she from the rough men with whom he spent his life, and Wolfram's gaze devoured her daintiness."
Step Four: Invent some lovers!
Genevieve: "As perfect as some ancient Pagan goddess born fully with the dawn," she is a headstrong, lute-playing minstrel/princess whose quest to avenge her murdered brother hits a snag when she falls in love with the dude who killed him. Oh, she's also the last Guardian of the Holy Grail, for some reason, even though that doesn't matter in the story at all.
Wolfram: "A tall man, distinguished of carriage and silver of mane," he's a Knight Templar, assassin, and poison-maker bound by an oath of chastity and poverty. But also he's not really a Knight Templar because of his bastard blood, so it's no great tragedy when his oath proves as weak as his chausses. He suffers page after page of remorse for having lustful thoughts and tipping Genevieve a coin he should have donated to his order, but he never for a second regrets his years as an assassin.
Step Five: Find excuses to keep your lovers apart for 300 pages.
Step Six: See how many hilariously bad sentences you can sneak past your editors!
"His blankets itched as they never had before, and Wolfram longed to rip his sensible long shirt from his back."
A "sensible long shirt"? He also favors Crocs and cardigans!
Add just one comma, and this next one could be a line of Waylon Jennings' narration for the Dukes of Hazzard.
"Well it seemed that the time for confidences was not ripe."
Like slick bars of soap, hearts are hard to keep a grip on:
"The fairness of his flaxen hair surprised her, but she dismissed her heart's whimsical lurch out of hand."
Genevieve never takes vengeance upon Wolfram, but Wolfram does have a dream about meeting a unicorn whose horn he suspects could be ground down to make a capital poison.
After writing well over 100 Studies in Crap, I feel confident in proclaiming that Unicorn Vengeance contains the single worst sentence ever published in a novel. (Self-published ringers like Dangerous Dana do not count!)
Here's two runners up:
"Fear rose in her chest as she recalled the gleam of avarice that had lit her eyes and she wondered whether he coveted her lute."
"Verily, the din of the place would unsettle a man's innards."
And the winner:
"Like the wolf he was named for was he, he realized, for his life was solitary above all else."
Your Crap Archivist challenges you to comprehend this on the first read.
And he challenges you to find a worse sentence in a published novel.
And he challenges you to write a sentence utilizing Delacroix's "he-comma-he" structure that is neither ungrammatical nor ambiguous.
The murderer was he, he realized.
The pronouns lack clear antecedents!
The murderer was he, He-Man realized.
Same problem! Did He-Man realize that he himself was the murderer?
"The murderer was he," He-Man said, pointing at Man-at-Arms.
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