Tea And Spices
by Nina Roy, historical (2000)
Blue Moon Books, $7.95, ISBN 1-56201-383-1

Nina Roy's Tea And Spice is set in Uttar Pradesh, 1925. It tells the story of a free-spirited Englishwoman, Devora Hawthorne, that comes to this part of India to join her diplomat officer husband Gerald. India, however, will set Devona's desires free, so to speak, thanks to the Gerald, the Maharaja (Devona sure knows how to pick 'em), and especially the loyal servant Rohan. There are also the conveniently bisexual maids Kalindi and Lota to provide the gratuitous lesbian love scenes for Gerald's threesome fun. No male-male scenes, BDSM, or even anal sex in this book - the love scenes are mostly vanilla ones despite the author's predictable bringing up of the Kamasutra, the worship of the genitalia, and erotic statues in temples.

I find the sex nothing too extraordinary, but they are very well-written. Ms Roy has a way of making the simple missionary position comes off as the most erotic thing ever. But a bigger bonus though is her taking the time to tell a story instead of focusing on erotic scenes alone. There's a Jane Campion movie feel to Tea And Spices, as this is ultimately Devora's story of how she comes to discover the real her that need to be free from conventions and what not. If you find the coupling of Holly Hunter's character with Harvey Keitel's in The Piano erotic, you may like the story of Devona and Rohan here. Personally, I find Rohan a little too distant and stand-offish to detect any chemistry between he and Devora. In the end, Devora chooses Rohan for her happily-ever-after, but Devora actually has better chemistry with her husband Gerald. Rohan never comes alive to me.

I should point out though that while in the end every character is reduced into being a stereotype, Ms Roy at least provides enough depths to all three - Devona, Gerald, and Rohan - to enable these characters to become more than oversexed cardboard cutouts. Oddly enough, the weakest character of the three is Devona. Rohan is stand-offish, as I've said earlier, but I know more about him than I know about Devona. Devona's behavior often comes off as erratic. She's either too cold or too impulsive, with rarely any in-between, and often I find it hard to reconcile both extremes of Devona's personality. Devona also does a too-stupid thing towards the end, which lowers her even further in my estimation.

Ultimately, an inconsistent heroine and a stand-offish hero fail to provide Tea And Spices with a compelling romance. Ms Roy is able to evoke a great sense of the exotic in the setting of her story and some of the love scenes here really sizzle. Towards later parts of the book, Ms Roy decides to concentrate on telling a story instead of merely pandering to the reader's carnal instincts. It's commendable, this decision of the author, but the story here is pretty dry thanks to the chemistry-free main couple and the Rohan/Devona relationship comes to a head too late in the story to actually make me care about them. I am ultimately short-changed in the erotic love scene department for a story that doesn't deliver enough to pack an emotional punch. Still, at least Ms Roy tries, and for me, that's good enough actually.

Rating: 71

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