Avon, $6.99, ISBN 0-06-055583-1
Historical Romance, 2006 (Reissue)
Angel in a Red Dress was previously published back in 1988 as Starlit Surrender by Zebra. Back then, Judith Ivory was writing as Judy Cuevas and this is her first published romance novel. I don’t think this book is revised in any way. There is no indication of any rewriting being done in this book or on the author’s website, at the very least. It seems like back in the 1980s, Judith Ivory woke up one morning and decided that she was going to try and write just like Rosemary Rogers. That would explain this book, I think.
The plot and the characters have “old school” stamped all over them. We have the exaggeratedly oversexed hero Adrien Hunt, the pouty foot-stomping heroine Christina Bower who’s the little rich brat that will get a figurative spanking from the hero, and the nice Other Man who at the end is turned into a ridiculous villain just to make our heroine seem sane when she chooses to go along with our He-Man, Man-Slut of the Universe hero here. There’s a convoluted and not very believable plot involving Frenchies gone wild and our hero becoming a spy and liberator of French aristocrats from the Revolution-ridden France. There are some recognizable trademark writing and characterization styles from this author that she would polish and use to a more effective degree in her later books, but on the whole, this one is too over the top to be anything more than the closest thing I will ever come to a campy Judith Ivory novel.
It is quite tough to summarize the plot of this story because this is a road trip adventure in an epic manner typical of those old-school romances where our hero and our heroine will be going places as the plot develops. Adrien and Christina first meet when she is a young lady making her debut and they almost kiss during their flirtation. She all but dares Adrien to discover who she is and he retaliates by sending some roses to her town house in a very public manner. Her father, who’s in trade but is very wealthy, is looking for a titled husband of good reputation for her so he doesn’t approve of the attention of the womanizing half-French Earl of Kewischester towards his daughter. They will meet again when she’s a divorcée (she and her ex-husband believe that she’s barren – but I’m sure we all know better, don’t we, folks?) and staying in his house. Don’t ask. I don’t feel like explaining the tortuous developments that lead up to this. Anyway, eventually she discovers that he’s a spy and he will drag her to France and later back to England where there are all kinds of plot and mayhem designed to separate our twosome in an epic manner. There’s also the Ambiguously Gay Villain here because it seemed to be all the rage back in the 1980s to have psychotic homosexuals wagging their aberrant genitalia at our noble hero and heroines.
While there are no lurid depictions of sexual perversions or heroine abuse as one could normally expect from a romance novel in the 1980s, Angel in a Red Dress however has the hero and heroine playing tedious coercion sex games. That’s my biggest disappointment with this book – the romance between the hero and the heroine seem to consist of nothing more than sexual fascination. There’s nothing wrong with two people falling in lust, of course, but if Ms Ivory wants to sell me these characters’ happily-ever-after, she needs to do more than increasingly tedious and monotonous scenes of Christina saying no and trying to shake Adrien off until he gets between her legs and then, voila, it’s oh-oh-yes all the way. There are not enough scenes here that show me how those two are falling in love. More often than not, it’s Christina protesting until Adrien grabs her magic button and then weee, she’ll happy until it’s over and she’ll then pout at him all over again.
Christina and Adrien get a major boost in characterization at about the late quarter or so in the story when they finally start to act like… well, Judith Ivory characters instead of two people trying very hard to pretend that they are in a Rosemary Rogers story. Ms Ivory skilfully depicts the psychology of her characters to the point that the two characters, especially Christina, come alive vividly as they try to sort out the confusing mess of emotions inside their heads to come to the conclusion that they may be in love with each other. I also like how at the end of the day Christina is aware of all of Adrien’s faults when she decides that she loves him. Should this relationship doesn’t turn out well when Adrien impregnates their kid’s governess or something like he tended to do in his past relationships, I believe she will easily move on because if there is one thing Christina is in this story, it’s that she is one lady who can think and make decisions for herself.
Angel in a Red Dress is not even close to being the best book I’ve read by this author but it has some amusing campy moments, especially the ridiculous fever-pitch melodramatic final few chapters of this book. If I read this book back in 1988, I’d make a note of the author’s name because there are many things here, such as the prose and the characterization, that I like about it. Since I’m reading this book in 2006, I’m just thankful that Ms Ivory has clearly improved on her strengths since this book. I’d say fans of the author may want to get this book if only for the sake of completing their collection but anyone wanting to try this author’s books for the first time should probably skip this one and look for her subsequent books.