Avon, $7.99, ISBN 978-0-06-235885-1
Historical Romance, 2015
I actually thought, while reading Lady Sarah’s Sinful Desires, that Sophie Barnes must be a new author or something. Oh dear, it turns out that she has had seven other books and one novella pushed out while I was… distracted by better stories, I guess. I feel like a judge in a talent show, watching a girl clumsily stomping on stage before she smiles and says to me, “How was I? I’ve been doing ballet for three years and everyone who saw me told me I’m awesome!” How can I respond to such a situation? Well, maybe I can pretend to have a seizure and scream to be escorted out of the room before I have to actually answer? Alas, I don’t have the luxury in this particular instance, as I already spent money on this book and I’d never sleep peacefully if I knew that I let my $7.99 go to waste like that without even a word on my website.
The story first. Sarah, the Cinderella of Lord Andover’s family, is ruined. I have to give the author credit here: the heroine is really ruined. Nothing fake about this at all. Sarah’s ruination hasn’t become public knowledge yet, so her family bring her to Thorncliff Manor, at the party where they would throw her to Mr Denison, a wealthy man who actually likes the fact that Sarah has been ruined. It’s a win-win situation for the family. They get Sarah off their hands and the stepmother can now focus on giving her daughters a proper debut in Society, while the father can take joy in breeding his prize horses on Mr Denison’s own famed horses. Mr Denison is happy – he gets a bride who, from all appearances, is sexually experienced enough to be a hot wench in bed. He can’t wait to bed her, actually!
Sarah, however, doesn’t see things this way. You see, she wants to marry for love. Don’t worry if you take a big yawn and miss reading the previous sentence – the author will have Sarah remind you every few handful of pages just in case you forget. You may be wondering, “Hey, who knows, maybe she can find true love with Mr Denison?” Oh please, don’t be such a silly darling – you know these heroines, surely. They may claim to want love and will rend their clothes and impale themselves on stakes if someone dares to suggest that they are putting out because they want it bad, but in truth, they are all superficial hormonal girl-child creatures who would settle for nothing less than flat abs, hot face, and fat wallet. Indeed, Mr Denison is old. He is ugly. He has no teeth where it counts. Like, eww! Even if Mr Denison lives and oozes true love, Sarah is not settling for anything less than hot abs and a big bat. So, no way, not a chance. Oh, she has no choice but to lament that she is never going to marry for love, and the world is bleak.
Of course, Mr Denison turns out to be vile and disgusting, because that’s the easy way out for everyone.
Also at Thorncliff Manor is Christopher, Viscount Spencer. Spencer has been hurt before by a woman, so all women are bitches, liars, et cetera. But one look at Sarah and he’s smitten, but she’s a woman, so she must be a lying bitch… what is she up to, hmm? Oh, yes, she must be trying to trap him into marriage? She wants him bad, of course, but she has to avoid him because she’s promised to Mr Denison. To Spencer, this means she’s playing hard to get. She then tells him that she’s pretty much another man’s wife in all but name, and then he’s pursuing her. His family and friends are all, “Go get her, stud! Oh, and readers, buy our books!” And then he discovers from her that she is ruined and is no doubt destined to a miserable life with Mr Denison, and he’s furious. She lied to him! She tells him reasonably that it’s not like she can tell everyone she meets that she’s not so pure downstairs. Spencer doesn’t care. She lied to him! He knew it – all women are bitches!
I’m sure you’re gagging to read this book by now. Wait, let me tell you: it gets better. The author plots like an amateur who knows all the clichés by heart and can’t wait to vomit them all out on the pages. She plots like someone who is determined to lose at the gambling table by giving away the game too early: there are secondary characters practically urging the hero to have a go at the heroine with an intensity and urgency that never feel natural, the resident matriarch urges women to go wild and enjoy life like no sane lady of that time would advocate so liberally, and all these characters are so transparent as author avatars… I mean, god. Talk about the author inserting herself so blatantly into so many characters in her story.
As a result, I am repeatedly told that Sarah and Spencer are perfect for one another, without being shown much. Then again, it’s hard for the story to develop organically when the author is too busy pulling the puppet strings of her characters without realizing that everyone in the audience can see her hands on the stage.
Worst of all, this story assumes that contemporary values – or what pass for them in romance novels – are the norm, and that I am fine with that. Hence, Sarah repeatedly claims that all she wants is love – provided that love comes in the form of a hot guy, of course – and the “good” secondary characters cheer her on and encourage her to explore her impulses when doing so – especially when she is already ruined – is a notion crazier than crazy. I mean, Sarah never learns – here, she still runs off to be alone with Spencer and allows him liberties on her body. Meanwhile, Spencer, a nobleman, can’t imagine why Sarah would want to marry Mr Denison – even after she’s told him of the arrangement between her father and her husband-to-be. He apparently has no clue that Sarah has no power to say no in her situation, and he has no problems vilifying her for going along with her family’s plan for her. Is this guy for real? To think like he does, he must have zero contact with his society, no clue whatsoever about how his society works.
In other words, “right” in this story is acting on impulses regardless of what society wants or the costs on oneself, and “wrong” is trying to make the best of one’s situation due to the limitations imposed by society norms of that time. If I am sensible – which I’d like to think I am – and if I want to hold this story to even a little degree of realism, then both the hero and the heroine come off as extremely spoiled creatures with no impulse control or common sense, and there are times when I’m convinced that they are both stupid to a degree that requires psychiatric evaluation.
Now, if you have been following this website even for a little while, you will know that I am not one of those readers who would shriek and reach for the smelling salt if the author has a few facts off in a historical romance. I don’t care if the heroine is wearing a wrong dress or the titled hero is addressed wrongly. But here, the only concessions the author made to the “historical romance” label are that Lady Sarah’s Sinful Desires has mentions of “Lord”, “Lady”, and some titles here and then, and oh look, everyone is speaking in English, drinking tea, and going stupid in a big manor. I think I’m way too old for such nonsense.