St Martin’s Press, $6.99, ISBN 0-312-99282-3
Historical Erotica, 2004
Erotic romance is so year-1999/2000 but Cheryl Holt is still writing as if she’s trying to mow hay while Robin Schone‘s sun is still shining. Deeper Than Desire is a formulaic erotic romance in that it features a familiar “hero tutors heroine” theme padded with irritating double standards where the women that do the same things the heroes do are demonized as villains.
Olivia Hopkins is engaged to marry the “aging” Earl of Salisbury and she is not happy about it (she only wants to draw and find true love, that sort of thing). But she has to marry because that’s the only way she can take care of her mentally-slow three-year old niece Helen! Then she finds a book featuring mostly naked women and gets turned on. Because the romance genre doesn’t acknowledge homosexuality unless the book needs a psychotic villain or a Fab Five buddy character, Olivia’s arousal is because she’s really in need of a huge bratwurst for dinner. The Earl’s bastard son Phillip Paxton, who’s working at the stables, catches her in the act of studying female nipples and tempts her into an affair with him. Meanwhile, the poor relation-cum-companion Winnie is tempted into an affair with the Earl.
To pad the story, Ms Holt chooses to demonize Margaret, the mother that merely wants her daughters to marry well, as well as Olivia’s less gullible and more proactive sister Penelope. Margaret’s the bitch and Penny’s the slut, the latter because she chose to sleep with and trap a man into marriage, in order to escape her mother’s clutches. Unlike Olivia, who humbly embarks on an affair with a man she’s not engaged to marry, and unlike Winnie, who can’t help being ravished by a man who’s marrying her niece – they aren’t sluts because they are portrayed as meek, gullible, and hence “virtuous”. And the Earl is certainly a catch, I guess, even if he’s just repeating the same mistake of sleeping with the household help and then abandoning this help for a loveless marriage the second time now. The fact that without Margaret forcing the men to make a move (a move the men aren’t even pleased about – some catch that they are, I tell you), Olivia and Winnie would be nothing more than glorified uncompensated mistresses under the guise of True Love – at least mistresses know to ask for compensations for services rendered, mind you. And Margaret’s reward for saving these idiots from themselves is total humiliation.
With a plot that is nothing more than the glorification of unpleasant double standards, Deeper Than Desire celebrates meek and passive female nitwits and whiny men with self-entitlement issues while demonizing women that try to take control of their lives. Is there a point to this book, other than as a display of how the lack of self-awareness on the author’s part of her characters’ behaviors and the overall hypocrisy of the plot can really spoil a book?