by Sabrina Jeffries, historical (2003)
Avon, $5.99, ISBN 0-06-009213-0
I like Sabrina Jeffries' writing style. Her plots may not be the most original, and her characters tend to protest a little too much about their virtue and honor (but not in this book) - not as bad as Jo Beverley's heroines tend to do though - but damn, her characters often display enough sexual steam to fog up windows even on the hottest summer days. Dance Of Seduction stars two really lovely and compatible characters, Clara Stanbourne and Morgan Pryce. Plotwise, however, I wonder if the author is getting too caught up in some really convoluted epic here. There is a feeling I get that Dance Of Seduction doesn't really know which direction its plot should follow and it is making its decision as the story ambles along.
Clara is a reformer. She runs a Home for reformed pickpockets, inspired by her own past (the relatives from her mother's side are all riff-raff types). Although I admire her for being at least a consistent reformer who is in it because she wants a reformation, I really sigh when she inherits a sizable sum of money and declares at once that she will spend all the money on the home and not one penny on herself, no siree. These women, they really need some lessons in behind human and go on a shopping spree once in a while.
There's this shady - if handsome - guy moving in next door to her Home, and when Clara learns that a boy from her Home is fencing stolen goods to this Morgan Pryce, ooh, that man better watch it! She's not going to stand for this - muah muah - or this - kiss, kiss - oh stop it, Morgan - pinch, pinch - ow, ow stop that, stop this - nibble, nibble - ooh that insufferable man. Fun, isn't it?
While those two are really enjoyable to read as a couple, the plot doesn't seem to gel. There are some Oliver-like save the kiddies thing, a villain, and a counterfeit money conspiracy that spans across what seems like the entire Europe. Morgan's subplot is already pretty ambitious enough to cover an entire book, but Clara's no wilting lily when it comes to adding to the subplot count. In the end, everything seems shortchanged - Clara's potentially schizophrenic conflict of having to juggle between propriety (thanks to her father's goody-goody side) and inherent naughtiness (thanks to her mother's side), for example, is never dealt deeply enough, preventing Miss Goody Two Shoes here from being more interesting than she actually is. Likewise, Morgan starts out with what seems like a mission - catch a counterfeiter - but he starts to lose focus when he spends more time chasing Clara instead.
It is a pity, because the lack of cohesive plot can cause the book to be mistaken as yet another all-sex no-plot thing. It isn't, far from that: Clara and Morgan may start out as stereotypes, but they eventually become something more. For example, Clara's reasons for not marrying Morgan are very valid and not another "he doesn't say he loves me so I'll keep saying no even as I sleep with him" nonsense. She's smart, if a little bit on the emotional side sometimes. Morgan could have been another Regency soldier/hero archetype, but his interactions with Clara paint him as a person who's a little more real than that.
The characters and their really fun and often temperature-rising interactions make my opinion of this book lean towards the favorable side. Indeed, despite the weaknesses in the plot, I have a really good time reading Dance Of Seduction, more than my experiences with the author's last few books, actually. If the plot is a little more focused, this book will have fared even better with me. This Dance Of Seduction is a little on the discordant side, but still, it's a pretty fun book to spend a few hours escaping into.
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