by Lisa Valdez, historical (2005)
Berkley, $6.99, ISBN 0-425-20397-2
While Lisa Valdez's debut sensual historical romance Passion has overused and uninteresting stock evil woman stereotypes typical of works in erotic romance, it is nonetheless noteworthy in how there are actually character and relationship development at work here. By the last page, the characters have become more fully developed and they have experience growth mentally and emotionally after falling in love. With plenty of enjoyable love scenes that are rough, carnal, and erotic without resorting to purple proses (think of, say, Emma Holly's love scenes in her mainstream works), this is a worthwhile book to look into if you are looking for something sexy yet romantic to read.
Passion Elizabeth Dare Redington and Mark Randolph Hawkmore may have the most awkward and laughable names in a long time but they are also having a temporary affair. Passion is in London to visit her aunt and cousin after mourning a husband that she doesn't really miss. Her previous marriage is truly a marriage of convenience and her husband often pretended that she never existed in his life. She intends to stay awhile to be a good companion to her cousin Charlotte, but when she falls down from a tree while visiting the Crystal Palace, she takes one look at her rescuer and experiences an instantaneous sexual awakening.
For Mark, he is trying to sort out all sorts of problems involving a villainous woman trying to blackmail him into marrying her daughter (if he doesn't, she'll expose the illegitimacy of Mark's brother Matthew) and a mother who despises Mark because Mark reminds her of the husband she never loved. Needless to say, this book doesn't provide a nice depiction of women. Mark is as taken with Passion as she is with him and the next thing I know (ten pages into the book, mind you), they are going at it behind the screen in the Gothic furniture room that will make people into outdoor sex proud. They keep coming back to this particular room behind the screen to shag and boink day after day. Good for them, really, but I feel sorry for the people who have to clean up after them.
Needless to say, while both parties insist that this affair is only temporary, they are forming emotional attachments that will make their parting more difficult than expected. Besides, they won't get away from each other so easily - their lives are intertwined and the blackmail scheme has set in motions events that will change their lives in more ways than one.
While the evil women in this book are really too cartoony and their one-dimensional skanky villainy at odds with the depths Ms Valdez provide Mark and Passion with, at least they are instrumental plot devices that the premise of this story can't do without. Maybe next time Ms Valdez will come up with more compelling villains once she's overcome her debut author growing pains. As it is, what is truly impressive in this story is how Mark and Passion actually manage to become characters with depths to sympathize with, if not sympathize, with. Mark isn't perfect - he can be self-absorbed and even selfish, but the end of the book he is obviously a changed man for the better. Violet, being a heroine, has to be on the rather typical saintly side, I suppose, but her sexual awakening is very well done indeed. Fans of heroines exhibiting realistic emotions such as lust and love would most likely enjoy reading about Passion. But readers whose knee-jerk reactions to a heroine having sex without beating people up with a million reasons why she's having selfless martyred sex are to scream, "Slut! Whore!" - well, these readers have better stay away from this book. Because of the effort that goes into making Mark and Passion characters with depths and complexity, their romance feels credible and too heartrendingly romantic for words especially later on in the story.
When an author succeeds in depicting a relationship that becomes stronger once the initial rush of sex has ebbed to a more reasonable level, this means that the romance is this book packs a truly satisfying emotional punch as much as the love scenes sizzle and burn. And ultimately, this means a happy and satisfied reader in yours truly.
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