LoveSpell, $5.99, ISBN 0-505-52504-6
Fantasy Romance, 2003
A frustrating exercise in contradictions, A Stranger’s Desire is much better than the loosely related book A Stranger’s Kiss, but it still relies too much on the hackneyed Power of Innocence cop-out to sell the romance. If you believe that a heroine’s “innocence” is enough to automatically redeem a literally demonic lover, you’ll love this book more than me.
Personally, I find this amorphous concept of “innocence” too vague to buy the whole notion that “innocence” is enough to make a man turn good. If things are so simple, maybe we should start donating romance novels to the Middle-East. There will be peace on earth at last.
Cain is an incubus. He sleeps with women and these women won’t be very happy once their orgasms ebb as a result. So it says here in Kimberly Raye’s Bible of Misogyny. Early on, the Devil contemplates sending Cain to seduce the twin daughters of a Jerry Falwell-type politician who opposes abortion and advocates censorship in libraries. Apparently the Devil finds such political dogma “noble” enough to plot a counterattack. But why then target the daughters and not the dude? Apparently female sex is a greater sin than censorship of libraries. If that is so, guess whose books I suggest we start on the censoring.
But later, the Devil will give Cain a choicer target to ‘destroy’. Who, you ask? Mother Teresa, bless her heart? That firefighter lady that single-handedly risked her life to save kids from a burning building? Nope, we’re talking about our heroine Sophie Alexander. She is a guardian of a girl (daughter of her late best friend) – the closest to an immaculate motherhood, I guess. The girl Kara is dying of cancer, and the desperate Sophie is willing to sell her soul to the devil to complete her cosmetic surgery cure that can also save Kara! Poof! Here comes Cain. Heh heh heh.
But apparently, her innocence and her inability to react to his sexuality are enough to convince him that she is special. Thus begin his mooning and sighing over her and her sighing and moaning over her life. As in the other book, this is one of those stories where sex is just impossible because it will lead to very bad things, so oh, oh, oh, the melodrama of whining!
The good thing is, the author does a lot of damage control by bringing up the fact that Sophie isn’t the typical cannot-have-sex frigid type. She’s just a devoted mother who wants badly to save Kara. This aspect of the heroine makes many of the misogynist “Females who have sex with men are sluts and they will all go to hell!” overtones of this story less painful to read. The angel Celeste’s battle with the Evil One over the souls of the damned is interesting too, although Celeste acts too much like an overemotional romance heroine for my liking.
But really, it is hard to accept that without much from her part, Sophie’s innate “holiness” or whatever can change Cain. The message is already cracked by the fact that apparently motherhood is more noble a female aspiration than, say, saving kiddies from burning houses, so noble that such women are specifically singled out for the Horned One’s Temptation Island show. Then we have things like pro-life, censorship, and other right-wing values implied as the right way (why else would the Devil want to sabotage people who hold these values then?) but at the same time, the heroine works in a cosmetic company and cosmetic cures cancer. Maybe God wants all good American women to part in beauty pageants to prove their devotion to ya-ya, beef, and God.
Sophie’s varied sexual history isn’t portrayed as something to be ashamed for much – nice – but here we have incubi running around seducing innocent women to eternal damnation. Of course, you could wonder too where the succubi are to seduce innocent men to eternal damnation. And my favorite: Sophie is a moral person but she and Cain happily break the covenant she willingly made with the Devil after it can be argued that she has gotten what she wanted from the Horny Dude. Apparently you don’t have to honor the vows you make with the Devil. This story’s concept of right and wrong, like so many religious and political propaganda floating around out there, can be so charmingly flexible that I almost had a religious calling there and then. Almost.
Overall, this book will be much better if the author has gone the extra mile to show me why Cain will change for Sophie, and don’t give me that inner goodness/purity thing, please. And of course, some consistency in the dogma won’t hurt too. A Stranger’s Desire is more bewildering than bedazzling.