Jove, $6.50, ISBN 0-515-13308-6
Historical Romance, 2002
Emma Holly’s latest, Beyond Seduction, is a very difficult book to grade. It is a very uneven story, the first 100 pages one of most excruciating ordeal of tired Regency plot devices I’ve to read. But after that, it’s smooth sailing interrupted by sometimes painfully trite scenes and other times exquisite scenes of erotic poetry and tenderness that make my senses tingle.
In the end, it’s all about how I feel, I guess, and I feel good. The heroine Meredith “Merry” Vance starts out like the usual brainless nincompoop “independent dingbat” sort, but at the end, she has undergone a nice (if rather unconvincing) metamorphosis into a more mature and well-rounded character. Yet at the same time, the hero Nicolas Craven never gets the depths he deserves and his melodramatic antics towards the denouement make little sense as a result.
Like I said, a frustrating book indeed.
Merry is in a bind. She wants to marry for love, not that… that… nice childhood friend her parents are forcing her to marry. While one day running away at night – alone, of course – to see some sights, she gets assaulted and is rescued by Nicolas, a womanizing artist. She lets him believe that she is Merry Colfax, a maid at her father’s household, and she has a brilliant plan: she will be his nude model. That will put her marriage-mad parents’ plans to rest once and for all!
But you know things are. There are many things a man can do to a woman using paintbrushes. The easel and the tripod can be used most interestingly if one has the creativity, and Nicolas has enough to service the entire population of China.
Merry starts off a complete dingbat. Drop dead gorgeous while whining that she is the “plainest deb” in the world (oh shut up), no common sense, horsey best friend (no, this is a romance novel, so no horsey games here), antagonistic momma (sigh), and innocent, innocent, innocent, someone please poke my eyes with a blunt pencil. Her ordeals of stupidity in 107 pages are excruciating to read.
Then comes Chapter 7 (page 108 if you want to do a quick browsing at the bookstore) and ooh. Here we have a group of guys and gals, including Merry and Nic, listening to a bawdy story of sex and “for hours it seemed he wanked his monstrous prick until he feared both for it and his weary arm”. Merry gets so turned on that she and Nic soon get down to business to prove to me that no, Emma Holly hasn’t been kidnapped by the Aliens of Literary Celibacy. Sex-a-thon! Onan! BJs! Bunnies! Monkey see, monkey tell, monkey do. Ooh. Ooh.
But sex isn’t everything, because at this point Merry is still pretty much a dingaling dunce and Nic, well, I don’t what or who he is, because I am given little glimpse of his personality. But the good thing is that the author tries to flesh them out even as she puts in an actual plot (admittedly not much of a plot, but still one nonetheless). Merry especially is a tremendous improvement, and the end, she’s actually real and her love for Nicolas seems to transcend lust. After all, she has grown up, and grown up love always make more sense in a romance story than kiddy crushes. Nicolas is given some dark angst and baggage, but they never seem to gel or come together well, so he’s a watered down dark hero.
Still, thanks to Merry’s emotional development that provides the anchors of poignancy and drama to complement the scorching eroticism between the pages, I like this one. Beyond Seduction? In this reader’s case, well, yeah, probably so.