The Secret Lover
by Julia London, historical (2002)
Dell, $5.99, ISBN 0-440-23694-0

What's this? Julia London trying to be some Edith Wharton of Romance or something? Still, The Secret Lover, with its heroine-centric core and all, is not a bad effort. Several inherent weaknesses in the plot and characterization, however, prevent this book from being prime high tea drama of Regency London.

Eight years ago, Sophie Dane left England tainted by the scandal of elopement and subsequent divorce. (This is, of course, long before England is introduced to a charming lady called Camillia Parker-Bowles.) She soon becomes the companion of a lusty French lady who, for some sad twisted reason only romance authors can comprehend, just want to see Sophie married. Still, Honorine's reasoning (orgasm makes a woman live longer) is one we should all take to heart. Let's everybody orgasm together! Er, wait.

Never mind. Still, it's nice to see someone enjoying her orgasms in romance novel.

Honorine drags a reluctant Sophie back to England. To Sophie's pleasant surprise, it seems as if her family and old friends have forgiven her, and they welcome her back. So our heroine wanders around town, catching up on old times, saying hi to you and me, and generally having a jolly old good time. Ugh.

Still, our heroine has a libido she tries so hard to hide. And it's Caleb Harrington's manly bulge in his pants that get her all hot and fired. I'm not kidding - she's really looking at his thing there. Her Lady Chatterley fantasies are dashed when she realizes that he's not a working class porn fantasy stud, but actually the son/probably-impostor of a nobleman who is contesting with his brother/maybe-not Trevor for Daddy's money and thingies. This Trevor who is also paying Sophie his attentions. What is a woman to do?

Well, I can tell you what Julia London shouldn't have done. She should've played around with Trevor's personality. With Trevor so obviously a Mr Wrong, and a borderline psycho Mr Wrong at that, there is no suspense at all regarding the potential love triangle between the three of them. I am also puzzled by Sophie's waffling regarding Caleb. Sure, Caleb's reputation as a fortune-hunting impostor (a rumor abetted by Trevor) may put a lady off, but she's already seen his private parts up close, and she loves him, so what exactly is her problem? Reputation? Image? Family? I'm never given a clear picture of Sophie's motivations in that regard, so seeing her waffle around in-between orgasms and male-bulge squashing is quite exasperating.

Still, I like Sophie. The author does try to make Sophie more realistic, ie she has selfish thoughts, libido, and genuine vulnerabilities sometimes that make her stand out from the usual thoughtless, libidoless, martyr-happy bluestocking braindeads in too many romance novels of this sort.

But at the same time the author also makes some rather cheesy and annoying concessions to the mediocre romance novel formula. The Secret Lover is an uneven mix of moments of exquisite brilliance and just plain boring ham moments. Julia London's still not quite there yet. If you listen closely, that's Judith Ivory, releasing a big sigh of relief.

Nonetheless, The Secret Lover is really not bad at all.

Rating: 76

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