Bantam, $6.99, ISBN 978-0-440-24394-6
Historical Romance, 2007
Lessons of Desire is one of those stories that may feel right but a close scrutiny at the plot will cause everything to crumble like a house of cards hit by a typhoon. But what ultimately seals it for me is how dull I find the story. The hero and the heroine have no discernible chemistry and reading about them is as a result a most boring experience.
We have a self-professed feminist heroine, Phaedra Blair, although like too many heroines of her kind, her feminism extends as far as lip service and some superficial “oh yeah, free love, whatever!” traits. Phaedra’s mindset, however, is recognizable as that of a typical heroine, and in her case, a far from smart one at that. In this story, she is doing her ninny act in Naples that causes her to thrown in jail because she’s one of those nitwits who use her so-called principles as a way to get into trouble and stubbornly insist on being in the right even when she’s waist-deep in the smelly stuff.
Our hero, Elliot Rothwell, wants her to edit and remove the unpleasant parts about his family in her late father’s tell-all book that she intends to publish. He’d prefer that she cancel the plans of publication, of course, but Phaedra is the kind of heroine who will not budge even if there is an iceberg right in front of her, because she’s too virtuous and principled that way. So he decides that instead of wining and dining this stupid cow into seeing things his way, he’ll mock her, coerce her, seduce her, and throw her inability to stick to her principles to her face. In other words, he’s so romantically “alpha” that way. How can any virtuous feminine woman not succumb when confronted with such a masculine specimen?
Of course, with Phaedra being Phaedra, she’ll eventually decide that it’s okay to sleep with Elliot but she will never marry him. That only makes him more resolute in his determination to roger her until she’s completely docile and agreeable to his every whims. So let the games begin.
The thing is, I feel that Ms Hunter spends way too much time chronicling how Elliot can push every one of Phaedra’s buttons – and he does it way too easily too, not that this is surprising considering that Phaedra isn’t particularly clever in the first place – that she spends not enough time showing me why he can grow to love her. I can imagine that he likes toying with her and making her flail around, but I don’t think I am convinced that he loves her. These two spend too much time playing the angsty emo pseudo-alpha male chasing nitwit heroine game that there is not enough time spent on showing me why they can fall in love at the end of the day.
And before you ask, I consider Elliot a “pseudo-alpha male” because he starts out like this ten-ton stone trying to crush Phaedra’s will but by the last page he’s pretty much her lapdog, begging and pleading to be loved. I will normally be perversely thrilled by such a situation where the hard-hearted male eats a big slice of humble pie if Phaedra isn’t such a hypocritical idiot in this story. Or that I actually have an idea why the hard-hearted fellow suddenly decides that he must marry this sanctimonious woman who judges him so poorly solely because he’s a man, when the woman herself can’t even keep to her principles – or her legs shut – despite her constant and irritating “Oh, but I am a feminist!” protests.
Oh, and as I’ve mentioned, if you are hoping that Phaedra is a bluestocking feminist type, you’re going to be disappointed. Not to spoil anything here, but the author cops out considerably by placing Phaedra in various situations that force her to behave like a more traditional heroine. I personally wish that Ms Hunter has done more with the heroine’s supposed feminist stance, but alas, in this story, the heroine’s so-called principles are only a cheap plot device to have her ignoring the hero’s sensible advice (because he’s a man, you see) when she’s not wailing that she cannot marry him because marriage is apparently so horrible. Feminism here is a pretty word for “clueless dingbat heroine behavior”, in other words. I really wish Ms Hunter hasn’t dumbed down the legacy of the suffragists in the past by turning the whole movement into a ridiculous concept revolving around how free love is just an excuse for unhappy women to slut around or blindly being down on men because of their gender. She’s a better author than that, right?
At any rate, this wretched story features a couple with no chemistry, only plenty of antagonism and sometimes juvenile bickering, in a plot where the heroine behaves way too often like a hypocritical unprincipled twit who can’t spell “clue”, much less find one. And to top it off, despite all the rampant stupidity running back and forth in this story (thank you, Phaedra), the story still manages to be a dreary read. The main characters do not generate even the slightest spark in my opinion, so it’s not as if there is any enjoyable banter system or red hot sexual tension to make up for the hero and the heroine running around behaving like silly kids. Lessons of Desire only teaches me one thing: this, I do not desire one bit.