St Martin’s Press, $6.99, ISBN 0-312-99283-1
Historical Erotica, 2004
More Than Seduction is a hodge-podge of erotic romance clichés that came in fashion and outstayed its welcome, ever since someone decide that readers may get too carried away by having too much fun in their spicy books and hence, the author must restore the order by inserting as many gruesome non-sexual elements as possible in her story. The result is a book for readers who still find Catholic guilt the way to live. Oh yeah, baby it was good for me alright but oh, I hate myself now, oh Jesus, save me from my sins – that kind of thing.
It also doesn’t help that when they aren’t shagging (and not even as regularly as I’d have liked because at least then they would shut up), the main characters are whining repetitively. When the only way the story moves along is by piling up the skankies courtesy of his ex-lover, a nasty neighbor of hers, and a remarkably detailed violent demise of a character towards the end of the story – especially when it’s a story that’s supposed to be moving in a different manner, if you get my drift – this book is really in trouble.
The story starts out simply. Anne Smythe runs the exclusive women-only Healing Spa and Bathing Emporium and she is happy at it, thanks for asking, until a client dumps her brother Captain Stephen Chamberlin at her doorstep. Don’t worry, Stephen is wounded hero of that war with France, but that doesn’t mean he’s technically no longer a man and hence can join Anne’s club, if you know what I mean. Instead, he’s high on opium and alcohol, and it seems that Anne is now the last hope of his fed-up sister to get him back on track. Sex and other things ensue.
Stephen is an unappealing hero. He is whiny, spoiled, arrogant, and for the most part determined to marry that woman he left behind in London for poor Felicity’s money, as if him being an alcoholic and drug addict isn’t bad enough. But of course, Anne will somehow come to some realization that she is not worthy of his love because she’s just a commoner, so she will start playing that broken record again and again. Both characters have only a few shticks that they repeat again and again during their non-sexual scenes that the story becomes repetitious, unless the reader has patience to find some variation in the prolonged acts of whiny self-pity that these characters indulge in. I guess that “I hate my life!” and “Life hates me!” can be considered two different kinds of self-pity, for example.
Along the way the wonderfully jovial secondary cast adds to the fun: the psychotic neighbor who wants Anne obsessively, this psycho’s abused sister, the skanky ex-mistress of Stephen (why are these losers fighting over this pathetic drug addict?), and Stephen’s martyr wife-to-be all contribute enough sunny moments to make sure that sex will never be an issue anymore because we will all be drinking poison Kool-Aid at the end of the day.
With all the double standards (slutty men are great catches after they are redeemed, slutty women are skanks to the core and must be dispatched without mercy) and the gratuitous skanky moments flying around, it is a pleasant surprise to discover a well-written, sensitively-handled lesbian secondary romance amidst the swill in the pages. Come to think of it, I don’t think I have ever come across a lesbian relationship depicted in this manner (or they are depicted at all!), so this is one redeeming factor for this book.
If this one wasn’t padded with so many subplots that are merely unpleasant rather than entertaining, maybe it would be a better erotic romance. But man, I can’t even enjoy a sex scene without the characters either going all moping and sniveling on me or becoming flat-out psychotic once the earth stops shaking. This book isn’t More Than Seduction, it needs Then, More Seduction. Oh, and the characters can shut up now.